(Two days before leaving for two week-long holiday to India.)
Sister on WhatsApp: "Sidin chettan! How are things going?"
SV: "Things are pretty hectic. Desperately tryi..."
Sister: "Yeah all that is ok. Don't forget to bring a lot of Milka chocolate when you come ok?"
SV: "But let me fini..."
Sister: "YAY. Okie bye."
(One day before leaving for two week-long holiday to India.)
Sister on etc. etc.: "So how is your packing coming along? Hope everything is ready for India baby!"
SV: "Yes. So far so good. We are somewhat concerned about how the bab..."
Sister: "Good to know. Don't forget the Milka chocolates. MILKA. Under any circumstances Milka is compulsory. Don't bring Galaxy instead. I hate Galaxy. I only like Milka. All my friends are waiting for Milka."
(Hours before boarding the flight from Heathrow to Dubai.)
Sister-zilla: "Any updates on the Milka?"
SV: "I amputated my arm by mistake with the toaster."
Sister: "Excellent. See you soon. Don't forget the Milka chocolates. If there is sale in London then buy more and more Milka."
(Halfway from Heathrow to Dubai. Perhaps over Istanbul.)
Missus: "Where is that Milka we bought from duty-free?"
(Ten minutes later.)
Missus and SV: "NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM."
(Nary a millisecond after landing in Dubai for 2.5 hour layover.)
Missus wiping large chocolate stains off her clothes: "I think we should buy more Milka for your sister..."
SV: "Goddamit I think my next book is going to be about Milka. Bloody nonsense. Fed up."
(Hours later in Kochi as we line up at passport checking counters.)
Missus: "Look at that advertisement on the TV screen behind the counters."
SV looks and sees: "SPECIAL OFFER ON MILKA CHOCOLATES! BUY TWO GET ONE FREE! EXCLUSIVE KOCHI DUTY FREE OFFER!"
Two photos from Dubai Duty Free.
From left to right: Kerala Sheikh, Kerala Lake.
The Economy Class meal on board the Emirates flight from Heathrow to Dubai is one of the finest, if not the finest, meals I've ever eaten on a plane. Nonetheless the Kapoor-Vadukuts were feeling a tad peckish after landing in Dubai, and after due consideration we decided to partake of the excellent offerings of the McDonalds outlet inside the airport.
Oh McArabia Chicken! I have missed you verily.
There's more than one way to enjoy our chicken. And you'll like it like this! Two grilled chicken patties with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and garlic sauce lovingly folded in Arabic bread.
Not just normally folded, my friends. But lovingly folded in Arabic bread. Shudder.
Whilst we settled into the food court, one of the cleaning staff ambled along and began to coo at Whataybaby.
Staff chap: "How old is she?"
SV: "Nine months!"
Staff: "Awww! I have one back home who is a little older."
And then he went away, just as he had come along, like an enigma wrapped in a puzzle ensconced inside a private cleaning company's uniform.
So I told the missus about this funny thing that happened to me many years ago. This happened way back in the late 80s when we used to live in the small building on Abu Dhabi's Old Airport Road near St. Joseph's Church. One day the guy who runs the Malayali hotel downstairs knocked on the door. Or perhaps he rung the bell. I don't recall. My dad went through alternating bell-knocker phases.
"Salaamalaikum Sunny chetta. Is your eldest son at home?" hotel uncle asked dad.
Turns out that it was hotel uncle's son's birthday. So naturally hotel uncle was planning to leverage core competency and throw a birthday party in the family section of his hotel. There was only one problem. His son was back home in Kerala. I don't recall if his son ever visited the gulf at all. I sincerely doubt it though. I don't think the hotel made very much money at all. Keeping family in the gulf has never been cheap. At least not for us brown folk.
So he decided to have a real birthday party with a fake birthday boy who approximately as old and chubby as his boy back home.
Later that evening, for the first and last time in my life, I stood in for someone else's birthday party. I wore a good set of clothes, polished shoes and posed for photos and cut a cake, and awkwardly waited for a large crowd of hotel workers and other bachelor Malayali NRI types to sing a song to some other boy. Obviously my brother tagged along and insisted on helping me cut the cake.
I used to have a photograph of that somewhat strange birthday party somewhere.
"That is so sweet Sidin," the missus said. And you know what? It actually was. It was also a little sad. All those towers and parks and gardens and shopping malls are built on foundations of lonely lives all crushed together into soul-concrete.
But still! I made hotel uncle happy! Yay.
And then, with moist, thoughtful eyes, we boarded our flight to Kochi.
SV to Passport Checking Officer at Kochi Airport in order to appear jovial: "Hello. Good morning. Enthaanu visheshangal?"
SV after noticing that officer's badge says Gupta: "Oh. Sorry sir. I assumed..."
Guptaji: "Arrey kuch nahi sir. I can understand if you speak Malayalam slowly. After some time you learn these things. And madam..."
(A few moments of silence.)
Guptaji: "Aap Delhi se ho?"
(Miscellaneous North Indian utterings and pleasantries ensue. These people are so tribal I tell you.)
Guptaji: "Aur is Malayali ko kahaan se pakda? Ha ha ha ha ha ha."
Missus: "Ha ha ha ha ha."
Whataybaby: "My father is a Malayali???? LIES LIES SO MANY LIES!"
Finally! Home! Thrissur! Oasis Housing Complex! Numerous bottles of Slice in the fridge!
You know what they say in Kerala?
They say "Home is where the elephant temple festival ornament hangs on the wall."
Oho! Already this blog post is spinning out of word control. Also I have some other things to do that actually involve income. So why don't we catch up on the rest of my trip in the second part of Notes From A Brief Journey?
I will leave you with this lip-smacking culinary item from local Thrissur restaurant.
Actually their food would prove to be most excellent. But rest all in next blog post.