The present times, cooped at home reminds me of so many things. One of the times, I am transported to, is Almaty. In my head, Almaty is almost dreamy. Snow capped mountains surround this tiny and almost sleepy city, a frozen lake that is breathtaking, apple orchards in the backyard, long straight roads full of old rickety cars driven by old men with wrinkles that are deep. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that I used to live in that sleepy place. My friends tell me that it is no longer the place it used to be — “things have changed”, they sigh. But, the place is still there in my head — a picture perfect postcard.
In this city, I lived, with one old telephone connection that cracked every time I called home. The cost of that telephone call was something else altogether — it used to cost the heaven, earth and everything in between. I lived in a small house which could be reached by a stairway that reeked of old tobacco, dampness and something that I cannot put my finger on.
Although my husband worked a job that was not far from where we stayed, I was mostly on my own. I didn’t speak Russian, internet was for the privileged lot, and I had absolutely no one in the vicinity whom I could call friends. Many days, the only familiar face that smiled at me was my husband and of course, the grocer who always used the word, “Kraciva” which I learnt later meant beautiful. I was flattered and thankful for that one sided conversation.
Watching the time go by
On many cold mornings, I would sit by the window and watch old men stagger under the influence of vodka. “They probably need it,” I would say aloud to myself and I always imagined a conversation within me — that was the best I could do. I called home, once a week and I would watch the clock as the time would tick by. Man! Were those clocks so loud or what?
On some cold winter evenings, I would take a walk and come back home just after 10 minutes because, it didn’t make sense to walk through that snow with a headache, painful fingertips and gnawing toes. “I am better off,” I would tell myself and stumble back home.
I would sip hot tea by myself and watch the snow flakes fall down gracefully. I would hum numerous tunes and almost always find an odd flake that swayed to that beat. I watched it swirl and swing before joining its brood.
To this day, when I think of those days, I wonder how I lived then? It was magical, it was boring. I felt damaged, I felt enriched because I wrote some of the best stories then and I also wrote some of the worst tales sitting in the long dinner table. I longed for human contact, another familiar face, just someone to talk about anything.
Today, many moons later, I gratefully reflect on the path I have travelled.
“I don’t get it,” I told my husband, “There is nothing much to lament about!” I sighed. “Not everyone lived in Almaty like you,” he said with a smile.
Well, with my graph of Almaty and cancer journey, this time now is super easy.
I feel alive — thanks to the warmth of the sun. I can push open the window and let the fresh air gush in. It is incredible to be able to pick up the phone to hear your family on the other side. My eyes brighten up every time I see many faces on a screen — thanks to the magical world of internet. No pill. No needle. What more can I ask for?
Perhaps, Almaty was not so bad after all. It taught me the meaning of Kraciva — the Kraciva of life.
— Sudha Subramanian is an independent journalist based in Dubai