I’m sitting on a lounge chair overlooking a vast swimming pool. The sun is out but the giant umbrella above me is keeping it at bay. Basking under the cool shade, I slide further down into my chair. My eyes are shut, but somewhere in the distance I can hear a child-like laughter.
I’m lost to my surroundings: the calm, the breeze, the laughter, the peace. I wouldn’t say I’m living in the moment though; given how I’m imagining it – the moment is living in me.
A few weeks ago – on a whim – my mother booked 2 nights at a resort on the coast of a fishing island around 40 kms from our home. It seemed like she booked us a mini holiday, what she really did was book 3 days away from the familiarity of our regular life.
You see, in September last year – on what appeared to be a very ordinary Saturday morning – I found myself experiencing extraordinary joy by just choosing to do everything I loved rather than do what was necessary. I took the first cab I could find to the NSCI club library, my favorite place in the city. There, I wrote, I read, I listened to music and dreamt of the Chinese food I was going to eat later that day.
Nothing elaborate, just small things that make a world of difference in the vast constitution of our daily existence. And, somehow that whole episode resulted into an article that came to be known as ‘A Slice of the Good Life – An Excerpt about Daily Choices’. It reflected on the importance of intentionally choosing joy as an integral part in our ‘everyday’ lives.
But at some point after I wrote that article, I stopped implementing that ‘happiness’ theory. Life caught up and with it, its endless responsibilities. So, to remind ourselves that it is okay to take a step back and enjoy small moments of unprecedented joy – my mother and I took 3 days off from the monotony that had come to become our life.
Below is a documentation of what I did, what I thought and what I felt during those of those 3 days of unfamiliarity (actually, just 2 and a half).
We were up at 7 a.m., bags packed – all excited for these 3 days away! By 10:00 a.m. our Uber driver had arrived and by 10:05 a.m. we were on our way. The contents of my carry-on bag consisted of my camera, a hard copy of Joan Didion’s ‘A Year of Magical Thinking’, a newly loaded playlist on my phone and a small pouch for headphones, hand sanitizer, tissues and house keys.
After a 2-hour commute we reached the lobby of the resort 20 minutes before our check-in time. In the wait period, I requested my mom to take pictures of me.
We also spent another 10 minutes skimming through the menu of the in-house restaurant: making mental lists of everything we were going to eat during the lunch buffet. I’ve never been a big eater – but I don’t remember last when I felt so hungry, as I did when I walked out of that restaurant.
Noon & Afternoon
By 12:37 p.m. we were finally in the room. After about 12 minutes of “oooohing” and “aaahhing” at the bed covers, the fluffy pillows, the mini fridge and the marble polished bathroom floor, we washed our faces and headed down for lunch.
Five plate refills later my mother and I were back in our room. It was sometime when I was horizontal in bed, that Elizabeth Gilbert’s last lines when she left Italy (from Eat Pray Love) came to my mind:
“I exist more now than I did four months ago. I will leave Italy noticeably bigger than when I arrived here. And I will leave with the hope that the expansion of one person – the magnification of one life – is indeed an act of worth in this world. Even if that life, just this one time, happens to be nobody’s but my own.”
If there is a more beautiful and remarkable way to say ‘God, I’ve eaten too much!’, it has to be this.
My mom was already awake when I woke up. She handed me a cup of powdered milk coffee and then we went down together. There was no fixed plan – I wanted to shoot pictures for Instagram, she wanted to help.
Sometimes she’d carry my bag, sometimes my camera-stand; for the rest of the time she angled the camera and shot the pictures.
After we returned to our room and looked over everything we shot, we both agreed the pictures with Magnolias were the best. They were in full bloom.
Completely satisfied with how the first day of my 3 days panned out, mom and I decided to stay in and order room service for dinner. Still full from the lunch buffet, we kept our dinner order limited to only two plates of Aloo Parathas. In the 15 minutes they took to come, I washed my hair.
When the parathas arrived my mom suggested that we sit by the coffee table and eat the meal together. It was the opposite of my assumption that we’d be eating it on our individual beds while watching our individual movies on head phones. I didn’t ask why she wanted to eat that way, but since the main focus of this trip is to do what makes you happy, I obliged. And might I add: I enjoyed.
After dinner, tucked in bed, I pulled out The Year of Magical Thinking and start reading from where Quintana Roo collapsed at the airport in Los Angeles. It was 10:34 p.m. when I started. I stopped when she was shifted to the inpatient facility at Rusk Institute. It was 11:42 p.m. when I stopped. I had been reading for an hour and eight minutes – the longest I’d read in months.
It was one of those mornings you see in the movies – where the scene moves in time-lapse to create an illusion that a lot of time has passed – but really it’s just a moment stretched into an eternity.
It started with the breakfast buffet and after a long bath I headed for the poolside while my mom chose to stay in. When I reached the pool, it was mainly empty barring a small boy and his dad. Somewhere at the far end, I found an empty lounge chair. I took off my sandals and seated myself. After a few minutes of contemplation, I shut my eyes and slid down further.
There was something unnatural about this situation – I’m not entirely sure if I know how to truly relax. I’ve seen pictures of my friends at it – relaxing by the pool or on the beach. I’ve never really given it much thought, but given I had a chance – I had to try it.
Nothing happened for the first few minutes, but then I remembered once having a conversation with my grand mother about my inability to unwind. She told me “you know how I sleep at night? I trust my surroundings; I clear my mind – I let go.”
So that is what I did: I purged my thoughts and let my surroundings inhabit my senses. Within minutes it felt like someone had turned up the volume of the world; drowning the sound of my own thoughts. I could hear the cooing of the birds, the splashing of the pool water, the boy’s laughter and the soft husky sound of the sea breeze. When I opened my eyes I felt rested.
When I looked at my watch, it had been only twenty minutes, but then again, like I mentioned before – sometimes twenty minutes is all you need.
Noon & Afternoon
I was back in the room just before lunch time. As decided right after our ultra heavy breakfast, we were going keep lunch a simple affair: a cup of Cup Noodles each. I set the electric mug for boiling and changed into pajamas. Once the hot water was poured into the noodles, I washed my face and decided which movie I was going to watch.
In the ten minutes that followed, I was tucked in bed, a cup of spicy noodles in my hand and Adam Sandler’s ‘Bedtime Stories’ playing on my I-pad. If relaxing at the pool felt so good, you have no idea what this felt like.
I don’t remember when I fell asleep, but what I do remember is seeing the glee on my mom’s face first thing when I woke up. She was excited for our photo-shoot at the beach. So much more excited than even I was.
So, after a quick cup of coffee, I got ready and we left.
The ‘thing-in-itself’ is a concept coined by German philosopher Immanuel Kant. What it means technically is: an object as it is, independent of observation. In simpler terms it is when the reality of something is apart from experience.
I had bigger expectations from the beach, than what it turned out to be: dirty, crowded, overly breezy. But here’s a confession: I took 3 days off with a strong conviction to savor every moment I could, the good or the bad – and nothing, not even the disappointing beach was going to damper that spirit.
When the wind got too much, we just returned back to our hotel room. I rushed in for a shower and when I emerged out – my mom was as cheerful as ever, all ready to head down for dinner.
After feasting on a helping of Thai curry and rice, we were back in bed by 10:30 p.m.. I didn’t read any more of The Year of Magical Thinking that night. I don’t know if it was exhaustion or contentment – but I just felt like I didn’t have to.
The first thing I remembered when I woke up was: it’s almost time. I still can’t tell what I was feeling at that exact moment: unhappy that it’s the end of my 3 days of unfamiliarity OR happy at the prospect of going back to a life that is known, that is familiar – even if at some level it also meant going back to monotony.
Then I also remembered we had a check-out time. And so, without minutes to lose, my mom and I got about commencing the morning. We had our baths and headed down to the breakfast buffet. After that, my mom went to settle the bill; I went back to the room to squeeze in a last minute photo-shoot.
By 10:30 a.m. we were back down at the lobby, and 10 minutes later: seated in our Uber.
We reached home exactly 30 minutes past noon. Nothing was different from when we left – nothing changed after we came back. From the minute I entered my house – my regular life – till days to come, I just had one thought: after 3 days of unfamiliarity, I was back home – to familiarity.