My son Kavi, now 3, continues to be a savage beast, a wild animal, an unstoppable violent force with the charm of a tsunami and the promise of an earthquake. I am very proud of him and I am encouraging his thuggish tendencies in this dog eat dog world. Since he lives in a country entirely blanketed by video surveillance I fully expect his every encounter to be documented on YouTube so you can see for yourself (or perhaps he should have his own YouThug site?). I also expect Kavi to take out several policemen at the next G20 summit. If he were a Muslim, al-Qaeda would already have recruited him.
I’ve not drunk any alcohol for four months now. A friend who I met at a conference recently remarked (with surprise) that my behaviour seems to be the same drunk as sober. Others have remarked that I have been more subdued of late. It’s true that I have lost the spring in my step and that glimmer in my eye about what could be and instead I stand still wondering about what was. I plan to start drinking again on April 17.
Cambridge continues to sap my spirit and I can almost feel my soul being sucked through my extremities into the grey Disneyland of spires. However, things are improving and we’ve recently met three couples here who share my unreasonable fixation with food and drink. The men in two of the couples are British-Indians like myself. Both have lovely partners: a white American and a Californian-Korean. Together we look like an Indian Public Service warning broadcast about what can go wrong when the parents fail to make the arranged marriage work out. The third couple comprises Indian-South African and a Scotsman with an excellent taste in traditional dress. My chain smoking friends Steve Hand and Rolf Neugebauer have done much to keep me sane.
I visited California recently for a conference and landing at San Francisco airport felt like coming home. My heart started to beat faster and my palms started to sweat from excitement. As soon as I stepped out of the aircraft I could smell the dry bay air and I got that spring back in my step and I felt that once again I had a discernable pulse. I felt the pores of my skin open up and draw in the ambient energy which swept through my body as if I were being resuscitated by electric shock. I was moving from a state of denial to the State of Denial where you can always check out but you can never leave.
Kiran, 6 in May, had an unhappy year in reception at a local state school (she started at 4 and reception is not a mandatory year in English elementary education). She did not take to her teachers and she did not have any friends in the playground. However, this year (primary 1) things have completely changed and she loves her teacher who is a very charismatic Irish woman who clearly has a gift for making each child feel special. Kiran attended a Montessori school last summer in Mountain View and this has distilled an insatiable appetite in Kiran for doing number and word puzzles and her primary teacher feeds the flames of this desire. She also has a couple of friends in her class and now it is amazing to see how happy and settled she is. However, the unfriendliness of the British has defeated me and after one and a half years of trying to engage with the parents at the school gate I have given up in disgust at their coldness and I no longer take Kiran to school most mornings (Susan, however, has been accepted by the schoolgate parents).
I was trying to buy some clothes from a store called Club Monaco in California but looking around at the other customers and staff I felt like an intruder or impostor who had accidentally wondered into this store thinking it was Burberry/M&S or some other stuffy 40-something store. I decided to check out the website of the store to see if I could identify with its image which seems to be about “updated modern classics for young urban professionals”. A quick self-check confirmed that I did not work for Google in Manhattan and live in a loft above an art gallery in Midtown and I did not drive a hybrid Toyota Prius or have iPod headphones permanently soldered into my ears and most devastatingly I was certainly not young. There were several other indicators that I did not belong in the store. Most clothes were not available in my size (i.e. Fat Bastard). The music in the store had been released in the last year or two and was made by teenagers who clearly did not have the appropriate level of deference to the classic masters (you know, Waters, et. al). The staff seemed to keep trying to subtly nudge me into a nearby GAP store. Perhaps I should just give into the reality of my advanced years and swap Radio 6 for Radio 2.
A recent highlight was the birthday dinner of my friend Katie (finishing her physics PhD at Harvard) hosted at the Campbell (Silicon Valley) house of Liesl (uber-physicist at Hitachi) and James (her man who designs golf courses). A group of about 14 of us arrived for the dinner. Most of us had originally got to know each other through a hiking group that my friend Geoff instigated. I felt immense pleasure and comfort being surrounded by friends and associates that I have know for around ten years and each time we meet it is as if I have never left. Several of us automatically walked into the kitchen to produce a wonderful meal and I made up a cashew-chilli-cilantro-mint based sauce for a spicy chicken dish. As we sat at Liesl’s long dinner table with sunshine streaming in through her patio doors I basked in several superimposed conversations about what is happening in each person’s life and I felt a sense of belonging and acceptance that has eluded me since leaving the Bay Area. Even stone cold sober I felt drunk and elated and my soul felt nourished and I left that night feeling turbo-charged and ready to conquer the world. I live with a wonderful woman, two great kids, close to my family and I have a great job. However, I am a greedy man and this is not enough.
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of entertainment cooking in an attempt to try and break down the British reserve and I’ve also hosted a few “comfort food” parties where I invite a large number of people and cook large amounts of food. My cooking recently has adopted Japanese influences (e.g. I am working on a series of variants on Nobu black cod) and Indian-French fusion and Indian-Scottish fusion (I’ve been refining haggis samosas). However despite all the effort in the kitchen I find that we get very few return dinner invites or offers to take us out to restaurants and I am thinking of largely giving up entertaining cooking. Once again UK 1 Satnam 0.
I stood by the shore of the bay, high on the salty sea air and wafts of eucalyptus, and in one sweep I could see the beautiful red Golden Gate Bridge and the hulking great Bay Bridge which bracketed the breathtaking view of the city skyscrapers and the sparkling azure bay and the somewhat Tellytubbyland-esque rolling green hills. However, it took jut a slight turn of the head and the view changes to encompass US-101 (the “road the hell” as I used to call it), the salt flats and then the ugly vista of Interstate I-80 along Berkeley and at once I could see simultaneously what I loved and what I hated about the Bay Area and why I wanted to leave and why I want to come back. Like many other aspects of my life I find that the same thing commands desire and repulsion in anti-phase which ebb and flow to leave debris of confusion. This results in a hair raising emotional rollercoaster, a rickety ride through the tunnel of love, and knocks and headfirst crashes on the bumper/dodge-em cars. It feels like a mixture of the film Track 29 and Simply Red’s Fairground Attraction.
Just before Thanksgiving Susan and I spent a week in Manhattan without the kids and we lived my dream life (i.e. reading restaurants reviews in The New Yorker and the New York Times and then eating in the restaurants with the best reviews (I want Frank Bruni’s job) whilst running an FPGA-based data centre during the daytime). Our Chelsea hotel was next to the apartment block where Debbie Harry lives and although I stalked the Starbucks between our buildings I never got a glimpse of her. However, we ate at some amazing restaurants and we also saw a fantastic production of All of Our Sons as well as catching up with Fergus and Rulande Ferguson (including a rather good lunch at Google) and we also visited friends at Columbia University. I also paid homage to one of my food meccas Dean and Deluca in SoHo. In my ideal life I would live half of the year in Yosemite and half of the year in Manhattan.
The abstinence was motivated by the need to lose weight to help reduce further damage to my knees (I was recently diagnosed with early stage arthritis). I analyzed my calorie intake and realized 75% of it was from alcohol so I decided to eliminate that component. However, I have actually gained weight as I comfort ate to offset the misery of being sober all the time. Nobody thought I would make it to four months with absolutely zero alcohol consumption. However I can be pretty bloody minded and determined and stubborn when required and I defeat most problems I care about enough. Love in a cold climate is next.
Another recent highlight was a 70s/80s disco birthday party for the afore-mentioned Indian-South African. Susan went as Madonna but got confused for Olivia Newton-John. I wanted to go as John Travolta but I was banned because I might have made sudden arm movements which would have maimed innocent bystanders. We also went to an excellent concert by the band Calexico in London and their American-folk-Mexican-fusion sound is one of my favourites right now. I now own about 1000 physical CDs and music continues to provide much needed nourishment and mental balance and is also a source of creativity.
My mother now lives alone because my younger sister has left home to take up a lectureship at a university near London. Overall she is doing quite well (she does not speak English so simple things like a phone bill are a challenge). She goes to a local community centre for Asian women which is an old elementary school (the one I went to) in the block next to her apartment and this is a valuable source of support. However, we’ve heard that she has developed cataracts so that is yet another thing to worry about (I heard the same news about another friend in Sweden). During a recent visit to see her and attend a funeral I ended up at the same crematorium I went to in 1988 when my father died. Standing in roughly the same spot it was hard not to reflect on the changes during the last 20 years and to this day I feel the same explosive cocktail of love-hate-anger towards him. My father’s ashes were scattered in Loch Lomond and I sometimes joke with Kiran that some of the black specs floating at the water’s edge could be her grandfather. She peers intently at each spec and asks if it is him and has never agreed to swim in the lake. If I follow in my father’s whisky-based alcoholic self-destruction I too will end up as just another spec in the lake.
I continue to live life in fear of the usual suspects: Guardian readers (the Guardian is a UK entertainment daily paper with a unsuccessful sideline in news reporting); invites to pot-luck dinners; having to eat lunch at West; flying Ryanair; children’s’ parties; guests bringing bad wine to dinner; cyclists; sanctimonious claptrap about how green everyone allegedly is; and Oasis lyrics.
Through all the turmoil the love of my life has remained a steady rock which has acted as a counterpoint to my chaotic energy and I still wonder why she has not walked and I can only put it down to a masochistic streak or lack of upgrade opportunities. We’ve been together for 19 years now. It’s been crashing AC/DC guitars, Elton John heavy chords, Motorhead thundering drums, Dido swooning violins, Lloyd Cole heartbreak lyrics, uplifting Horn synthesizers, Joy Division tragedy, Madness fanfare trumpets and Dylan mellow harmonicas.
I can no longer tell wrong from right, black from white, bitter from sweet, dark from light or pain from pleasure. If only I could install a religion service pack to help me know what I should think and feel. Until then I hope I can enjoy a glass of Lagavulin whisky with you as we drink our way through the night and discuss your demons and angels.