Postcard from the UK – 2

July 5, 2023

Continuing from the last post, this post is about our stay at Reading, UK, my first port of call during this trip. My niece, Aparna, her husband, Sandeep, along with their 3-year-old daughter, Meenu, stay in Reading. My son, Siddharth, and my daughter-in-law, Prerana, were also at Reading, making it one happy family gathering.

Both Aparna and her husband, Sandeep, are HR professionals.

Ah! Meenu!

Their 3-year-old daughter, Meenu, is quite a handful and is known to royally ignore people, and that too in style, if she is not keen to be ‘associated’ with them. Last time, when Meenu was in Bangalore a few months ago, I had whistled her favorite old Hindi song by Lata Mangeshkar, ‘Lag Jaa Gale’, and Meenu, seemingly happy with my performance, allowed me to hold her for a bit (see the below picture from Bangalore). It was a big breakthrough for me.

As I was entering Aparna’s home in Reading, I only hoped that Meenu would recall my whistling at Bangalore and allow me some indulgence.

The weather at Reading was perfect at 22 degrees Celsius. All the adults were present at home and I received a very warm welcome.

Feeling @ home

Aparna & Sandeep live in an elegant, well-appointed 2-story home. With a small backyard, a garage, and a garden patch including some outdoor seating, I loved the setting. It is a quiet neighborhood. I was shown my room. As I settled down, I was served hot Poha & a cup of hot tea. Aparna & Sandeep had made plans for the next couple of days when I was to be there.

Meenu was at her nursery and we would go to pick her up later. Whether she would indulge me or not would be known only later.

I was surrounded by international travel experts and they were advising me on how to counter jetlag – very useful advice. I followed their instructions and rested for a bit.

I was asked pointedly what I would like to eat for dinner. As a guest, I try to align with the proceedings and not make any of my preferences known. One never knows how convenient it is for any host to cater to my preference and I don’t want to cause any misery to anyone. However, when I was still not being specific, Sid stepped in and said, ‘Appa, they are wanting to know what YOU want. Why don’t you tell them?’ One of the ideas floating in that conversation was the Mexican dish, Quesadilla – my favorite. I made my preference known to Aparna.

Towards the afternoon, all of us left in Sandeep’s car.

Reading City Centre

As it was a Friday, both Aparna and Prerana, were having work calls and they headed to a cafe waiting for their workday to end. Sandeep headed to Meenu’s nursery and Sid accompanied me to the Reading City Centre playing the role of a happy chaperone.

In a typical City Centre, there is so much to see. For a traveler, a keen eye comes naturally. Curiosity serves as a useful trait. I can endlessly watch the people there, and their outfits, especially their shoes – I am fascinated by the sheer variety. Then there are those outlets and kiosks selling all kinds of merchandise. If you are lucky, you could spot a performer.

On this day, a young girl was singing into a microphone.

I could relate to some old songs by Lionel Richie. Most of the songs were new. Sorry, let me clarify: most of the songs were new to me. For someone who used to be a die-hard fan of rock music, who attended all-night rock concerts, and owned a fancy music system with LP records and music cassettes during my youth, my brush with obsolescence in this regard is quite telling.

A vacation is meant to slow you down

While the trip was just beginning and I could afford to take it easy, there is always a sense of urgency to experience as much as one can.

A seasoned traveler knows it too well. Instead of frantically rushing through a visit in order to tick all the boxes, it is important to savor the moment. One can never visit every place and experience everything. In the time that we have, how much do we immerse ourselves in the here and now, that’s the critical question. Isn’t that applicable to Life’s journey as well? Making the best of what we have rather than focusing on what is missing…

We reached the nursery. Meenu was already in the car. I entered the car rather nervously – how would she react? My fears vaporized as soon as she looked at me and smiled. Ah! The game was on.

Family games!

As I was to realize later, things had changed. Meenu had become extremely social now. In her typical Brit accent, she was now also very talkative – still not fully clued on to a Brit accent, borrowing from the world of movies, I was missing the subtitles. Her vocabulary had swelled – at 3 years, she was using words such as ‘dangerous’ – cautioning me when I slipped under her table while playing with her.

Some things had not changed. She still referred to me as Vamana Mama. She continued to be very much attached to Prerana (Pennaa Mami!) and found ways to involve Prerana in everything she did. Prerana happened to be a very eager participant and the two bonded very well.

We returned home to Quesadilla. A meal of Quesadilla is fully qualified to trigger a sense of urgency even in a seasoned traveler like me.

Meenu kept us very busy. While Penna Mami was a constant, I was included occasionally in her activities. In her colorful room, she played with her toys and included us in every game. Then there was a round of distributing stickers to us. I was to stick those stickers on my T-shirt and then on my phone. We had a photo shoot in the kitchen where she played the director’s role. In this picture, she wanted us to sit back-to-back and scream. I happily complied.

Meanwhile, Meenu went into her room and wore some of the gifts that I had brought for her from India…and she posed for a picture.

During the next couple of days, I was served delectable food. Homemade croissants, Puri-Bhaji, and Sathoo Ka Parantha with Tomato Chutney (the North Indian dishes made in typical Jharkhand style).

Think Global Act Local!

During my travels abroad, I love living like a local wherever possible. It provides insights into the opportunities and challenges of living in a foreign land while trying to stay connected to one’s roots. Therefore, when Sandeep & Aparna were going out for their grocery shopping, I tagged along. We headed to TESCO and COSTCO. Sandeep’s car was playing Sunrise Radio – Bollywood songs interspersed with advertisements catering to the Indian community.

I recall that several decades ago, when I was visiting the US, I accompanied my cousin to COSTCO. As I entered the premises, I was blown away and must have stood there transfixed. To me, COSTCO was the Mecca of Abundance. Rows upon rows of items of every conceivable brand were neatly arranged and we dragged shopping carts containing household items including grocery. How things have changed in India now! Every month now in Bangalore, we shop likewise at the METRO Warehouse. In every which way, India is no longer playing catch-up.

Que at the barbecue! The final act at Reading!

In the evening, Sandeep and Sid set up a barbecue in their backyard with Paneer, Pineapple, Potato, Onion, Capsicum, Corn and Zucchini in various combinations. With Bollywood music playing and Meenu entertaining us – or was it the other way around, I am not sure. We ate – and interacted with each other – to our heart’s content. There was abundance in every sense of the word.

The barbecue turned out into a nice family activity with the prep work included. As always, Meenu was attached to Penna Mami and given that I was a guest with zero responsibilities, I just hopped from one place to the other participating in the proceedings. I did feel a little guilty for not doing anything much as Meenu could also be seen playing a role in sharing the workload by picking stuff from the outdoors and taking them into the house.

Our Reading trip drew to a close. I had had a memorable time.

Thank you, Sandeep, Aparna, & Meenu!

The featured image is from our HQ of this trip – Cambridge.

Coming up next: our stay at Cambridge as my wife, Jyothi, too joins me on this vacation.

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