Going Cuckoo

“Time and tide wait for no man”- says Chaucer. My Cuckoo clock drives that point home rather gleefully.

Our mornings start with the dog reminding us politely that it’s time for her walk. Juliet is stingy with her barks. She reserves them for squirrels or unidentifiable objects such as a balloon or a plastic bag floating around in the wind or the occasional backside of an old woman bent over her garden.

Every morning, instead of barking, she rises noisily from her bed and does a series of loud downward dog poses. When we ignore that, she sighs in the manner of a tragic heroine. If that doesn’t work either, she starts shaking herself vigorously from nose to tip of tail. It must be a glorious sight to behold. That golden retriever hair, shining like spun silk caught in the rays of the early morning sun, descending soundlessly in every corner, on every fabric and furniture. I grimace a little even as I keep my eyes tightly shut.

The man, who is of a kinder and more selfless nature, gets up then. He softly draws the window curtains closed and tiptoes around like a ballet dancer while I pretend to be fast asleep. Over the years I have become an expert at that. I even snort a little just to keep it real. Nice even breaths and ears sharply tuned in to every movement and sound around me. I know exactly how many steps there are on the staircase and where the floorboard creaks the most.

Then I wait, morning after morning, never giving up on the hope that he would forget to wind the Cuckoo clock.

He bought that clock on a visit to Germany with his friends, a few years back. These are his childhood friends, who have remained close through many decades. Back in India, they used to go on trips often. But that was years ago, before they all ended up in different parts of the globe, before they became husbands and fathers and when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Discussion about another trip would come up often, but life kept tripping up one or the other and it kept getting put off. Until Germany finally materialized.

He left and I proceeded to valiantly hold down the fort here, using wit and wisdom in my temporary situation as single parent. Anyone who has a couple of teenagers will understand the challenge. In return, my expectations were humble. Some marmalade and chocolate, maybe a bottle of Eierlikor, the egg liqueur, and if he felt compelled to empty his pockets, a few kitchen gadgets, the likes of which you find nowhere else in the world.

He returned a happy man with a skip in his steps, a twinkle in his eyes, an empty pocket and a Cuckoo clock with a stamp of authenticity attached. Certified by the Black Forest Cuckoo Clock Association. There was a stampede of questions in my head. The most pressing one- there is a Black Forest Cuckoo Clock Association?? He read the incredulousness in my face as the joy and fascination I saw in his, and proceeded to explain, with tremendous gusto, the wonder of its mechanism. My eyes started to glaze over and I thought of cakes and fairytales. Also the thought- isn’t life noisy enough? Apparently not.

Now I chose to be a stay at home mom for all the usual reasons. It was hard for the first 8 years or so and then both my kids were in school. Monday mornings, to me, was everyone else’s Friday evenings. Happy hour happened at 9.00 am when I sat down with a cup of coffee, a book, and the blessed silence of a weekday morning. For a bit, I would forget the aftermath of the weekend and a house that somehow ended up looking like elephants had trampled through. Even the dog was aware of how essential this routine was for the continued sanity of an introvert. She would glare down every chirping bird before ambling over and curling up beside my chair.

The routine made off with much of the sanity once the cuckoo clock was hung up on the wall. Here was a bird that could not be glared down. That cuckoo would pop out to announce its presence every 15 minutes. Every hour, it was preceded by a musical march by a bunch of very small people who lived at the top of the clock. Quieter the day, louder the clock’s ominous tick-tock. I tried keeping the TV on but the bird was a stern reminder of time being wasted. I’m used to the many mild annoyances in life, some of which grow on you to become as indispensable as a limb. Such as eyeglasses and little sisters. This was not one of those.

I don’t wear a watch. I never have. Time, to me, is somewhat of a vague concept and I prefer it like that because it somehow helps stretch the present. Not anymore. The clock made sure I was aware of every passing second. I used to be the picture of composure when the girls got home from school. All ears and advice even if they didn’t ask for it. Now, they walked in and my eyes darted about frantically searching for a quiet corner. Trying to catch up with time was exhausting. My brain was spent questioning my purpose, my productivity and my relevance in the larger scheme of things.

The thing about life is that much of it happens in one’s own head. It’s all about perception. The other thing about it is that life, like water, rushes on. Filling up every nook and cranny, pushing till most obstacles give up, get dislodged and meekly sail along with the current. Usually because the universe has a giant boulder ready and rolled right up to the edge. Once it’s dropped on your head, what came before will seem like a wee pebble in your shoe.

When the pandemic broke out and quarantine began, there was an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. The dread of not being able to get to loved ones. For the first time in my lifetime, all of humanity had one common enemy. The world turned itself upside down and in the process, out fell some profound revelations. The oven is more than an extra storage space!! A virus is not nearly as dangerous as apathy. We have already established ourselves as a special species of superior intelligence. Now we know that we can’t be on the same side of any battle for too long. If the pandemic doesn’t kill us all, lack of common sense just might.

Besides the fear and uncertainty, there was also an expectation that life would change in unimaginable ways.

Weeks later, I can confidently confirm that mine has not. No new skills acquired, no new goals achieved, no grand novel completed, I remain the average cook, an observer looking in on life. Other than the fascinating mix of colors my hair has exploded into, I am more myself than ever before. No social commitments, no small talk, no products, denim, boots or bra stand between me and my most authentic self.

Meanwhile, time marches on. Tick-tock it goes, calm and steady. Stick with me and this too shall pass, it assures. Loved ones will be more than faces on a phone. Good days will be back soon. Happy hours of Monday mornings, a cup of coffee and a book, a dog that makes no noise and a clock that drives me cuckoo.

8 thoughts on “Going Cuckoo

  1. Lovely as always….I too have a treasured cuckoo clock from the Black Forest in Germany..but in my case it is only every half hour that the cuckoo would come out and every hour the farmer couple sitting outside their farm would turn to each other as if to kiss each other and on the other side the water wheel would churn…

    Now I didnt know that you too are an introvert like Guru Padmaja…that may be why the lockdown caused by the pandemic didn’t affect you too much…my kids often ask me if I feel lonely and bored when I sit by myself..and I do like certain times of solitude with just emptying my mind or listening to some music quietly and the answer I give them would resonate, I am sure, with you and Guru Padmaja- I tell them that if I feel lonely and bored when i am by myself then I obviously make for poor company!!!

    I am still waiting for that book…keep writing. I am reminded of immortal words by Aristotle who said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, it is a habit”…

    1. Thank you Rohit. The farmer couple on your clock sound charming! Your statement does resonate with me. Only on very few occasions have I been bored in my own company!

  2. So beautifully written…. well done! The man has magic……clearly….
    G says….Nothing changes between the two of them, however long it has been. For S the synonym of USA is Shanky uncle. So that’s that is this part of the world.

    Quarantine has a different definition here…..The only nation we are visiting this spring is imagination. Wanto join?

    Lots of love to you all.

  3. Mickie aunty, I think you are an amazing writer. I love how you wrote about normal life but made it soo beautiful. Even Julie is like a heroine in a Bollywood movie.
    Can you please send me a picture of the Cuckoo Clock. I don’t remember seeing it in your house.
    – Nidhi Pakulath.

    1. Nidhi, sweetheart, I’m flattered and overjoyed to read this comment from a talented writer like you- thank you! No you wouldn’t remember seeing the clock, it’s hung up in a ‘special’ place behind a wall 😉 I will send you a photo. Thanks again and I’m looking forward to more of your writing.

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