Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Shetland Sabbatical

We often postpone what our heart desires, in the hope that there will be a good time for it. That we will be free of the mental clutter and worldly stresses when this or that or our next assignment is over. I was either pursuing a degree or a job or a prospective mate for as long as I can remember. It was a rat race and I was in the running. But, I had always wanted to take some time off from the race and pursue whatever my heart desires for a while. I had been dillydallying with the idea and kept waiting for a correct time for it to happen.

The chance came when I made the choice to move to a remote island in the middle of nowhere (read north sea) a year and half ago. I had never known such a place on earth existed but since it was just after I got married, this whacky (and quite shocking to many) decision to move up here seemed more like an adventure of sorts to me: exploring islands, assimilating cultures, expanding horizons, the feeling of being stranded in an island with the man I love, getting lost amidst nature. And what a year and a half it has been!

The islands, an aerial view
 For the first three months I had a triple existence: I was a couch potato by weekday, a homely wife by weeknight and a vagabond on weekends. No I did not watch TV from that couch, I used to incessantly drink tea, read books, gaze at the sea all day and then wait for my husband to come back from work. I would dream of picnicking in little places in nooks and corners of the island - on desolate beaches, rocks, piers, abandoned harbours, solitary benches all day and then by weekend go about making those picnics happen. The walk to the nearby grocery took a walkway by the sea where I could see the seals playing in the water and not surprisingly one of my most favourite wife's chores was to do the weekly grocery. I can safely say, those will be one of the best 3 months' of my life.

On a cooking spree, Shetland, 2010
Then one day, the honeymoon was over. I had a job opportunity to pursue, a left behind life to lament on, a new life to set up and to figure out what I would want to do with this time off. Just in time, I came to know that there was a food festival coming up in a few months. This was an ideal opportunity for me to get involved in the community through food. I learnt about Shetland's local food heritage, met some great chefs, re-discovered Scottish smoked salmon, experimented in my kitchen fusing Shetland's produce with Indian flavours from my larder. This is also when the first seeds of creating Curious Homecook were sown.

It is about the same time that I started growing a green finger - I became the proud owner of a potted garden on the windowsill. It started with herbs and grew into an eleven pot wonder of hanging flowers, marigolds, lettuce, mint, beans and carrots. I joined the BBC Dig In campaign, became an ardent follower of Hugh's River Cottage, introduced myself to local stores to cut on food miles, dumped the gym membership for good and started walking more.

That the library was housed in an old church close to where I lived, was a blessing. Because on rainy days, when walking was uncomfortable (and here there are many) - I would find a warm spot in a cosy corner of the library, sip a hot mug of coffee and lose myself in a good book or two.

 Scene from Up-Helly-Aa, a fire festival
celebrating the island's Viking links

The island and its people have been lovely. We had the warmest reception we could imagine from the locals. The islanders are simple people, who greet you with a smile. They may not know your name but they recognize you by your face and wave from a distance if they catch you on the street or the ferry. They stop to ask how you are even when they are in a hurry. They celebrate their centuries old traditions and are proud of their origins. They leave an open fence gate open and close a shut gate behind them when they pass it on the field, leaving the surroundings just as they were before.

In this year and half my lifestyle and the whole outlook on life has turned upside down and reorganized itself. Some of my friends think I have been very fortunate, yes that is true. Some of them have complained that I haven't called them up enough. No I didn't - I have been so engrossed in myself and the world around me. I hope you will not take it to heart. I have completed two cookery courses, launched my own website, dipped my feet in Britain's northernmost beach, walked many miles, worked with local school children, harvested carrots, danced a few steps with complete strangers, got back in touch with poetry, gazed at the night sky in anticipation of seeing northern lights, had many great laughs, made a few good friends. I have also managed to catch up on my reading list in this good life. But the most important of all I have learnt a few lessons by living them. There is never a right time for anything, for one. Or ideas that seem the whackiest at first turn out to be one of the best.

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