Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Life as a Caraceño

There is something about Deepavali that always brings back memories. I remember writing about it from a previous life in South America a few years ago. Now, in Denmark, where there are thousands of Indians, hundreds of Indian restaurants and a million reasons not to miss the festival of lights, I still found myself, for no particular reason, missing my first home away from home – Caracas – this festival season .

As a bachelor I used to wonder what life would be like once marriage takes me over and now, as an extremely well settled family man, I look back at my days of detachment as if I were looking at a box of chocolates. In it, so many different flavors I find – cookie cream, mint, strawberry, dark, nutty, hazel... And through them I see ways to acknowledge the blissful nature of my days en la tierra de los caraceños – the land of the caraceños (people in Caracas).

I remember those evenings of whimsical outings as me and a few fellow colleagues would venture out into the neighborhood in search of dinner. We'd walk down Calle la Cinta and stand at the red light near the Texaco gas station. From there, we'd make an absolutely spontaneous decision as to which way to go. Straight ahead to get cheesed up Arepas and Empanadas, left to get spicy Perricos or vegetarian Caraotas Negras, right towards either the Chinese place or the Italian for pizza or just walk into Subway for a simple foot long delight with coke. Then there was Papa Johns, with their pickled chilli and thick garlic sauce. Ah brother – paradise!

I narrated these stories out of the blue to my wife the other evening as we made festival dinner and I couldn't believe that I had actually survived 7 years in a place that had pretty much no Indian presence whatsoever. Except for the few handful Indian families that gathered to celebrate major festivities in a strictly limited way, there was never such a thing as an 'Indian grocery' or 'Indian restaurant'. And yet, I guess I just got used to it. Of course I knew I had to but I certainly don't remember ever disliking it.

I still recall letting out an extremely subdued shriek when I walked into the Indian grocery here in Copenhagen for the first time in August 2007. The exhaustive bounty of products that I saw there made me feel like pinching myself once to ensure I wasn't hallucinating. That I had actually left good old mostly-desi-less Caracas behind and entered this desi-rich land in Scandinavia. That I could now buy tur daal without rationing it to last an entire year; that I no longer needed MTR's 'ready to eat' packs to make Paalak Paneer; that I could actually buy both Paneer and fresh spinach leaves separately and prepare it from scratch...all this took some time to sink in. As I've already made it quite obvious, 'unbelievable' was the only word I could think of in those moments.

Today, having spent more than three glorious years in this wonderful country, I still look back at my old nest in the main land of America del Sur, and miss it. I miss it for the warmth it fed me with each time I returned back to it after 20 something hours of nauseating flights from India. I miss it for the comfort that those weekend walks to my supermarkets Cada and Supermercado Veracruz used to give me. I miss being fascinated when I would spot extremely rare short green chillies in the frozen section. I miss talking politics with the friendly cab-wallah who always dropped me home for a generous 2000 Bolivares. I miss walking into Pedro's hair salon and getting a wonderful haircut whilst updating his knowledge about the Indian continent. Oh, I just miss being a good old Caraceño.

Such is the endless cycle of life, I feel. We crave what we don't have and when we have it, we think about the days we didn't have it through such memory pools. This Deepavali, I dedicate my new found successes and joy to my good friend for life – Caracas.

Hasta luego, mi querida. Hasta luego. I hope our paths cross again.

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