There are some memories worth hanging on to. I’m not talking about the regular ones that everyone expects you to remember, milestones like graduation (or passing if you were particularly challenged), or marriage, or child birth (ha there’s no way memory cells are likely to let go of that little thing) or death (and no, I’m not talking about one’s own!).
I’m talking special memories here, little nuggets of flashback to take you away to a time in your life that is still special to you despite there not being any obvious-to-the-world reason why. I’m talking about memories that make your bones melt like warm honey, memories that make you catch your breath, or make you smile a wistful smile every single time you think of them. I’m talking first dance, best kiss, full throated praise from your anal retentive boss, a coming of age incident, family get togethers, that kind of stuff. My special memories seem to be about freedom, self realisation and a general mish mash of things that can still today eat into several minutes of my day and it is time I consider well spent.
Getting ten Nancy Drew novels for my tenth birthday. Complete unadulterated bliss. One new book to read a day for the next ten days. And the most exciting part was not in just getting these books but in being able to scour the bookstore all by myself for the better half of my birthday, select these books with no adult interference, read the backs of about a hundred books and the partial contents of an equal number and finally shortlist these ten books from about twenty ones that I was dying to read. To those of you obsessive about reading, you will understand why I say that this was bliss. Now looking back I realize the things that I didn’t know then. That this was when we had just moved abroad and before the open economy had come to India (yes it’s true, I really am that old)) and while we were reasonably well off, giving your ten year old child enough money and the freedom to choose ten books was a far bigger deal then than it will ever be today. That back in the days, reading was considered an indulgence by many, and I was never made to feel that it was a wasteful indulgence. That my mom knew that I would read these books in ten days flat (or eight days or six) and then probably not look at them again for a very very long time. And that was okay. Now many years later, I still have many of them.
The first time I attended a ‘party’ at a friend’s house, unchaperoned. All the cool kids from school went to these parties. Since I was significantly un-cool in those days (I'll have you know that I have since upped the coolness factor just a tad bit), I had never been to one of these. This one was however being held by one of today’s top Indian tennis players (no name dropping here, but he and I are family friends and we also went to the same school for a few years) and so I was allowed to go for it. It was all very Beverly Hills 90210 meets The Hills. There were hours of discussion on what to wear, stockings or no (I unfortunately chose yes), who would pick up whom, which guys were going to be there. All the life sustaining things that occupy a young teen’s mind. The party experience was so surreal for me, partly because I refused to go in my glasses and am a bit sight challenged without them. Well, I wasn’t blind enough to trip over someone, but I was blind enough to not be sure if someone standing twelve feet away was talking to me. Hence I spent the entire evening smiling ramdomly at people I did not know and looking right through the people I did. But the reason this party was so memorable was that it was the absolutely first time that a guy told me he liked me and would I agree to be his girlfriend. He was one of the coolest guys in school to boot. I have no idea what I said. I was probably trying to focus my vision to ascertain whether or not he was actually talking to me while simultaneously trying to pick my jaw up from the floor, but I do remember us dancing together for the rest of the evening and his friends whistling and cheering loudly (oh teenage boys, how subtlety eludes them).
Sunday mornings, about 5 years ago with Ro. Lazy Sunday mornings. Wake up naturally (for me that’s about eleven in the morning, precisely the reason why all things natural are not necessarily good. Er, slight correction here - between peels of laughter, I am being reminded that eleven was early for me in those days), put some John Mayer on loud, order in some breakfast and just lounge, lounge, lounge. Potter around the house doing absolutely nothing except the really important things like exchanging stories and slow dancing in the afternoon and falling asleep against his shoulder. And drinking beer and losing at Scrabble. Sometimes reading. Sometimes watching tv. Loved those days. Loved the indulgence of a spending the whole day in selective solitude. My sundays now are so busy, they actually make Mondays look good! I crave those lazy sundays with a quiet desperation.
First day at NYU. Adult+alone+U.S.= self discovery of the best kind. New York University College of Dentistry is the oldest and one of the best dental colleges in the country. Being there was like entering a surreal educational world. I knew I was there, but it was almost too good to be true. It was magical to feel Manhattan’s cold March wind blow across my face and to look all around me and see the most fashionable women in their work attire with full make up on. I’m talking foundation, eye shadow, blush, shimmer. I was so taken in with these women, I spent an extra hour the next day getting ready and yet compared to them, I still managed to look like something the cat dragged in. I loved first day of class. In fact I loved every single day of class. World class lecturers (and good looking ones too, which always helps in getting the class motivated about the biologic width of gingiva!) wooing me with their expertise in dentistry and in lecturing. Each lecture was a work of art, you just knew that hours had been spent lovingly pouring over each slide. And most importantly, that first day of class made me feel proud to be a dentist and made me passionate about it. I went to the library out of choice!!! But what I loved most of all was the Smell. I remember how when I was little, cousins would come visiting from the States. They would open their suitcase, and there it was – the Smell. The Smell would cling to their luggage, their clothes, their gifts, their skin. I remember not wanting to wash the clothes they gifted me because it would then lose the Smell. It was only when I started doing my own laundry in Manhattan, did I realize that the Smell was the smell of fabric conditioner, copious amounts of which were poured into the washing machine and this was the smell that I was in love with.
Attending class at Harvard Business School. Being surrounded by what was supposed to be the best of the best. Being in the same classrooms as those occupied by U.S. Presidents, business leaders and revolutionary thinkers. Drinking coffee in class (liberating), cold calls (scary), case studies (always appeared simple, very rarely was), eating in the cafeteria (competitive – everyone was health conscious, slim and good looking!), being able to give feedback on teachers (empowering), teachers who could recall verbatim what each student said even ten classes later (impressive). The entire time I was there, I spent in awe. Today this experience has other added advantages. For example, all I have to do is say – When I was at Harvard – and it never fails to stop all conversation!
My first dental patient. An elderly woman. I was so nervous, my hands were shaking. I was repeating post surgical instructions to myself just so that I wouldn't forget anything. I had to check with my instructor on several things right through the procedure. I finally finished the procedure, not quite sure if I had done the right things (besides there was plaster in my hair and instruments had been knocked to the floor). And then before leaving, she said thank you and kissed my hand. I felt like a complete and utter fraud. This memory is special because I realised that the only other profession where people would kiss my hand would be royalty!!
The day my grandfather was buried, about 5 years ago. He had finally lost his battle with lung cancer. That night, the house was filled with close family – my granddad’s siblings from around the world, his children (my mom and aunt), his grandchildren and friends who had been like family for over half a century. There was laughter, lots of conversation, memories being re-visited, incidences being recounted, his favourite songs being sung. People walked in crying and walked out smiling. My granddad lived for gatherings like this and everyone commented on how much he would have loved to be in the thick of it all, laughing quietly. I also knew that this would be one of the last times that the entire family and so many of his friends would sit together and talk about the man he was and how much he meant to us. It was not a night to waste mourning, there would be plenty of time for that later. This is a memory that often reminds me of why I am so proud to be a part of this family. We celebrate life, no matter what.
That’s the funny thing about memories. To share them is to keep them alive.