Have you ever read an obituary or been to a memorial service and been moved by the tributes paid to friends, family, and loved ones? These are some of the most beautiful, thoughtfully articulated messages of gratitude about a person’s impact on the lives of their loved ones. Yet, the person whose rich life is being celebrated often doesn’t get to hear, enjoy, and cherish their impact. These ruminations along with ongoing conversations with my dear friend Suzanne (who is battling Stage 4 cancer) propelled me to write notes of gratitude to ten women who enabled my life as an immigrant. Why Wait for Eulogies chronicles my experience in this journey and my witnessing first-hand how the expression of gratitude spills joy many times over. In doing so, I’m urging people to celebrate love and friendship; to take the time to express gratitude to the people that matter in big ways and small, before it is too late. Why Wait for Eulogies is ultimately a joyful celebration of friendship, love, gratitude, and powerful themes that unite each of us.
I grew up all over India and despite those moves, there was one constant in our lives. Every summer, we had the exact same routine. Months before school closings, we would bring home our student “concession” forms, dad would book the discounted second class train tickets for my mom, brother and me and the three of us would embark on a day to two-day train journey to Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala where both sets of grandparents lived.
In the last decade or so, every travel magazine has featured Kerala as one of the most beautiful destinations on Planet Earth and the state slogan for tourism is “God’s Own Country”.
Well, to put it bluntly, I did not appreciate our vacations and in fact resented them. All my rich school friends were off to exotic locales like London, Singapore and the US, and when I was asked about my plans for the summer, the answer did not budge. Yes, I was off to spend two months with my grandparents, there was no TV, we ate our meals with groups of 50 people, went to the temple every day and everyone was in bed by 10 at night. So much for idyllic childhood summers.
As clichéd as it might sound, I credit so much of my gratitude and strong sense of family to what I learned through those summers.
– Our train journeys took us through some incredibly arid areas and when the train crossed the border into Kerala, the palm tree fringed waterways, the small boats, the traditional homes, the women with their waist length hair, the smell of the moist air all shocked your system’s appreciative senses into full gear. And to this day, the simple things continue to take my breath away.
– My grandparents had coconut groves, banana trees and cows at home. Before the concept of reusability and environmental consciousness were buzz words, every thing was used and re-used to its full potential.
– My grandparents were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination and yet, every member of the immediate and extended family along with anyone they knew was always welcome to partake in a meal
– Since all the cousins had summer break overlaps, the house was always filled with food….entire branches of bananas and jackfruit, freshly roasted cashews, sweet and savory foods of every kind in abundance and non-stop eating became our only pseudo occupation over the summer.
– Our cousins, who we spent each of these summers with now live in different cities, but our closeness continues over Skype, Facebook and face to face meetings, a legacy to the strong sense of family left behind by our ancestors.
– At the end of every summer, the entire household would be in a state of frenzy packing a plethora of much beloved food items for each family to take back to Mumbai or Delhi.
Today, I have traveled to places that I never thought possible. And despite the proliferation of ready-made foods, to me there is nothing more valuable than a family gathering over a home cooked meal. And of all the gifts I have in life, it is the gift of my family and the love of those still around me that I cherish the most.
“A Turkish Idyll Lost in Time”, read the enticing headline of an article introducing readers to the tranquil island of Buyukada, a two square mile island in the Sea of Marmara. Less than a month later, on a clear but somewhat chilly August morning, we were on a ferry watching the Istanbul skyline fade away and the small town of Buyukada welcoming us.
For many years, Istanbul held this special place in my heart. The history was fascinating, the Turks I knew built an even greater longing to visit, and the yummy Turkish food, especially the Imam Bayildi and Baklava we had sampled in Washington and Germany, left me craving for the authentic culinary experience.
Alas, when we arrived in Istanbul in August, it was overrun with tourists. Every place we went, we had to stand in long lines and crane our necks to see things. Travel to us is all about blending into the place, experiencing at least a slice of the local people and life, and unfortunately, every place we went to felt like a giant contest to get in line with half of Europe who seemed to be in town.
It was in this frame of mind that we set out to Buyukada, hoping to get a dollop of old world authentic Turkish charm. And the island did not disappoint.
As we got off the boat and sauntered onto the island, we were immediately drawn by the small town feel….horse drawn carriages, bikes, people afoot and no cars. This was already feeling good.
After a quick pick-me-up cup of coffee, we headed over to rent bikes. Our goal? Spend the day biking across the island, stopping to take in what our hearts fancied.
The day was indeed the ideal antidote to the rest of our trip, giving us a palette of audio-visual treats.
- The Ottoman era mansions lining the streets were old, beautiful distinctive structures with architectural interest and ample greenery and foliage. Many an affluent family from the mainland own a home here and rentals are popular among authors and poets.
- The horse-drawn carriages transporting people to the two peaks, the clickety clack of the horses’ hooves creating a consistent background score throughout the day
- Children racing one another, yelling and laughing
- A set of teenagers racing their bikes, trying to pause, gawk and overtake us
- People weaving through the market place eating lokmas (turkish donuts) and ice cream
- The spectacular views from Agia Yorgi, a tiny hilltop church
- The mares resting for a potty break on the roadside, their smells melding with those of the fragrant flowers carried by the fresh breeze
- The many small restaurants each vying for our attention by yelling out their menus
- Just us sitting at the top of a peak, with nothing but the ocean in front of us, reminding us of how gratifying even a small moment can be
As we watched the sun going down, we returned our bikes and made our way to a ferry packed to the brim with people heading back to the mainland. As Buyukada gradually faded away and the distant lights of Istanbul twinkled on the horizon, we reflected on the day and agreed that this would be one Istanbul memory that would stay with us forever.