My first hand experience in The Netherlands..
A nearly empty plane landed in the dead of a dark, Christmas night. A bunch of sleep deprived, airplane-food/scotch-smelling passengers spilled onto the jet-way. Who would travel on Christmas, those without a life? Possibly. Or maybe there was someone trying to get a life in there. Me.
The most liberal city on Earth, said a banner in Amsterdam’s Schipol airport.
A new place. A husband. A new life. Or so, I hoped. Tightly wrapped in sweaters, gloves and scarves, I trudged along the airport corridors taking in the sights (or in my case, you could say stores). Bodyshop, Prada and Diesel, it was a long alley of such shops- all shut of course, yet they seemed to stretch out their long invisible hands to pull me towards them. Shooting a wishful glance at them, I tried to match my pace with that of my long legged husband and was soon walking out into a wet, cold night where a taxi was waiting for us. The chauffeur was a turbaned Sikh called Muhammad and I realized that no matter what we lose upon migrating to greener pastures, we Indians still carry with us the core of our existence- contradictions.
Home to Spaarwaterstraat in The Hague.
I was occupied the first few days, trying to keep myself warm and fearing the cold outside. Oh, and also with calls to my parents and extended family, assuring them that I am fine and haven’t married a demon who threatens to gobble me up for a snack. And then with constant chivvying from my dad who wondered and then got appalled at my apparent lack of curiosity, I slowly ventured outside, taking walks in the park that is bang opposite our apartment and going to a supermarket where I spent at least an hour each day.
The BGM is always the same. Rooks cawing, fat grey pigeons gurgling and an occasional vroom of a car. Misty skies and the bright flowers against a gloomy background constitute a scenic landscape. And babies. Babies everywhere. Blue eyed, green eyed babies sucking pacifiers and shaking mitten covered wrists at people are a common sight. Parents, mostly smart looking mothers push the trams. I see baby carts of every shape and size. Double and triple carted, with covers and some that resemble a vendor’s cart. I wonder where I read about the woes of thinning population in continental Europe.
I see scores of dogs being taken for walks. A few are etched in my memory. A tiny one that could fit into my handbag, a noodles-maned dog and a violently violet dog that matched its owner’s hair color. Trust me, life of a dog in The Netherlands is coveted, if you ask me. I walk on cobbled roads, peeking shamelessly into windows that are open, taking in the decor and vowing to grow potted plants like the residents here. Until now I have managed to kill and revive a coriander plant, I guess I will let my green fingers practice the greenness before getting them on to orchids and croutons.
I miss India.
It’s only when I step into the city center do I see people of African, Chinese and Indian origins. I get regularly excited on seeing fellow countrymen, but might as well be one of those aimlessly pecking pigeons, as far as they are concerned. They speak a curious mix of Dutch and Hindi that sounds like one is gargling and also spitting simultaneously.
Oh, the Indian market. It is quite an adventure to get there for it requires travel in bus and then tram through a creepy looking neighborhood. Nobody stops or meets the others’ eyes here. And if you see anyone stationary, they are the ones puffing cigars in those corners where wind blows papers and eerily clanking tins. There are a few Indian (read Punjabi) stores here that sell everything from curry leaves to canned sambhar for a fortune.
How do I feel?
I miss India. I miss her in the order and discipline people possess here. In the market which is as bleached and quiet as a mortuary. In the impassivity of people. I miss her. A lot. I can’t wait to go back and wear just a single layer of clothes, bask in the scalding sunshine, eat panipuri on the streets, play with stray dogs , get shoved by huge aunties in trains, haggle with vegetable vendors who give away free curry leaves, and most of all feel at home.
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