‘Orthopadie’; ‘Bandagen’: I saw these two neon-lit signs from the window of my hotel room in Berlin. I thought of my father, an orthopaedic surgeon.
I tried to imagine how it had been for him when, for five months in my childhood, we’d had to live apart. He was in London, and my mother and I had returned because my grandmother was dying of cancer.
Drinking an espresso at a cafe on Unter den Linden (the boulevard of the lime trees, one of Berlin’s most famous streets), I wondered what my daughter’s chain of filial associations will be like.
You know those biscuits they give with espresso, one of those and water in a shot glass, in certain cafes in Europe?
I got those with my espresso on Unter den Linden. And I thought of being in Nice with my wife and our girl (she was then five) three years ago. After a bottle of wine and several beers with the meal, I’d order one espresso after another — so that Oishi could have those biscuits — once dinner was done.
She adored the damn things.
Chain of associations, see?
On this visit, I recalled not so much the Berlin I’d seen previously, summer and people sunning themselves in parks and floating down the River Spree in those quaint boats.
My instinctive memory was of Nice, of course, and also of Paris and Barcelona and Florence and Naples and sunwashed and moonlit squares and espresso — and those tiny biscuits.
Fatherhood makes me schmaltzy and self indulgent in certain ways.
Walking along the Spree, the icy wind snapping my coat against my back, the trees turned into spindly caricatures of their summer selves, I received a text from Oishi. “Baba, what are you doing? I am missing you so much.”
It was one of her many texts. One of them turned up as she was going to bed (it was only 5pm in Berlin), and I was at the Reichstag, the seat of German parliament, interviewing a civil rights activist.
I excused myself. I went out. I texted her back. And she called me. She told me of the minutiae of her largely unremarkable (yet always, in some way, remarkable) day.
So it goes, and so it goes.
Having linguini for dinner with Orhan Pamuk’s new novel my only company, the rain a gauzy, illuminated, shimmering curtain outside, I thought of how my girl adores the seafood linguini at Taj Land’s End in Mumbai. I made to call her. But it was 3 am where she was. I felt guilty for having ordered the linguini.
And I wondered how, when Oishi will travel on her own, she will remember me, what her chain of associations will be like.