I’ve got the painters in - that’s not a euphemism - they’re painting my empty, white apartment even whiter. Last week I had the packers in - they took everything except the white linen sofa, TV, laptop, white goods and a mattress. By the end of the day we’ll be living like John and Yoko and I am finding it strangely liberating.
We are not leaving Mumbai - far from it, we have just renewed the lease but I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by all the stuff in this apartment (stuff we brought with us and stuff bought here) and, with Polly starting her new school in the UK in September, I felt it was time to unfurl, to spread out a bit.
More than 100 boxes have been shipped back home - we’ve gone from ‘Steptoe’s Yard’ to the ‘Imagine’ video in one easy step and it’s made me realise just how little we actually need day to day. So far I have missed nothing. We used to have seven mirrors in this house and every time I passed one, I would have to have a little inspection or critique which would inevitably leave me with a mild depression. With no possessions I have more time to NOT do things like that and that makes me happy. With all the paraphernalia out of the way, I am free to concentrate on what I really want to do, which is, er.... what?
It’s amazing how you can fill the time when you are not working. Every morning Mick asks me what I am going to do today and somehow it feels like an accusation - maybe that’s just guilt on my part. So let me think. What do I do all day? I either go to yoga or the gym in the morning, maybe go for a run on the beach. By the time I’ve come home and had a shower it’s nearly lunchtime so I pop into Nature’s Basket for a snack. After lunch I go into the office and write a bit but I have been known to get sidetracked - last week I cleaned out a drawer, right down to the last pen top, paperclip, marble and fluff ball, while listening to the Archers Omnibus - that’s 75 minutes on one drawer!
But all this clearing out has been wonderfully cathartic. The only person who has enjoyed it more than me is our maid Lucy. She has had to arrange special transport on some days for all the stuff she is redistributing. I suddenly realised when sorting out the children’s books - more than a thousand of them - that, at the ages of 13 and 15, they are never going to read Mr Pinkwhistle or Teddy Robinson again. I opened a science encyclopedia to find someone (Hugh?) had cut through all the pages to make a hiding place which was filled with empty sweet wrappers. I saved just 10 books and gave the rest to Lucy’s son’s school so we're all feeling good.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to confront myself by taking everything else away because I am easily distracted. With both my children soon to be living apart from me, it’s time I considered my future. But what do I want to do?
When I first came to Mumbai I could barely use a computer and had a crap phone I didn’t know how to use and worse, I didn’t even care that I didn’t know how to use it! With no job to go to and with Lucy in the house all day, I’ve had the perfect opportunity to attend all sorts of courses. I can now do almost anything on my Apple Mac and have learnt to operate my DSLR camera without having to rely on the idiot button. I have uploaded all the photos and CDs and am lost without my iphone. I barely recognise the incompetent techno-buffoon of yesteryear.
Editing the mag for Mumbai Connexions has kept me busy -not exactly throwing myself into the humanitarian cause (as I know some people do) but I haven’t been sunning myself by the pool at Waterstones everyday for four years either.
So I’m going back in June to sort out my house for re-rental and to buy a small 'lock 'n' leave' flat to keep our stuff in. I will settle Polly into her new school and then come back to Mumbai to start a new phase of life - one where I am not a full time mum anymore. Mick will be OK here on his own for a bit - with his one fork, one knife and one spoon. There is a hair-shirt quality about my Michael so I think he will secretly enjoy it. He will be quite happy lying on the mattress listening to Radio 4 and he can watch as much cricket as he likes without me telling him it makes me want to stick pins in my eyes. I will eat Cornflakes every night for dinner and he will doubtless live on masala Pot Noodles, both doing what we need to do to improve our lives longterm, but we'll miss each other.
I have no idea for how much longer we will live in India or where we will go to next. Our family life is very different to what it was four years ago. Maybe we will never all live under the same roof again, apart from holidays, who knows?
So there I was,counting down the weeks, biding my time and whistling 'Dixie' while my possessions were bobbing about on the high seas - when I got a phone call.
Dripping wet (I was in the shower at the time) I picked it up and spoke to the vice president of one of the big construction companies behind India's new mass transportation system. Would I consider collaborating on a book documenting the displacement of tens of thousands of people from the Mumbai slums?