Small talk is probably cultural. Because the content of small talk, although mostly meaningless, varies across cultures. While talking to many in Kolkata, a question I am often asked is, "Ki kheyechish?" What have you eaten? It always baffles me. First, it takes me some time to even remember what I last ate. But then, how does it matter what I ate? Not that you are going to eat it too. How is the knowledge important? I keep forgetting that this is small talk. It has no meaning, no purpose, perhaps other than a cultural basis because food is considered god (Annapurna) and having enough to be able to eat well is a sign of prosperity. The other question is "Kothaye jachhish?" Where are you headed? This also perhaps comes from the imagination of a tighter-knit society where everyone used to watch out for one another. If a woman is venturing out alone, one needs to know where she is headed. I don't think my dad will get asked this question as much though. It still takes me by surprise when someone I barely know asks me this question. Maybe they do not care about the answer. It is just small talk after all.
In this part of the world that is Germany, when we make small talk, we talk about the weather a lot. What a lovely day it is! What a gloomy day it is. The weekend is going to be nice. August and so cold already? When we meet at work first thing in the morning, we talk of the weather. When we meet in the office kitchen to heat up our coffee, we talk about the weather. It could be perhaps because it is so cold for most part of the year that good weather makes news. But then, bad weather also makes news. It is cultural after all. No one talks about the weather with as much gusto in Kolkata.
Talking about weather, the week started on an extremely cold note. The first day, I went to work shivering. I still did not want to believe it, I thought that it was a figment of my imagination. This is early-August after all, and only last week, I was wearing summery clothes. So I conveniently told myself that I am so cold perhaps because I am PMSing, or the hypothalamus (the temperature regulator) in my brain has blown off a fuse. The tendency to point to the self for everything gone wrong around you is also perhaps cultural. When I boarded the bus on Monday, my teeth chattering despite my jeans and full sleeved shirt, everyone in the bus was giving me strange looks. They were all wearing sweatshirts, jackets, with snug fitting tights and woolen socks. It was reassuring to know that my hypothalamus wasn't malfunctioning after all.
I continued to chatter and shiver to work the next few days. The leaves are still green, and it is nowhere close to fall. How can winter come before fall? Just like at first I did not believe the eminent signs of winter in August and blamed it on PMS, I also didn't believe that my new work visa is still not here. I am officially to start work next week. I have started to get all the group emails from my new workplace that start with "Dear faculty members,..." Wait, am I still a postdoc? Or am I already a faculty? It's probably as confusing as being single for a larger part of your life, and then suddenly one day, not being single anymore. The rational mind knows, but belief takes longer to sink in. But how is waiting for a visa related to not wearing winter clothes? Well, you see, my suitcases are all packed and ready to be shipped. I neatly packed and weighed and labeled them back in May, when it was the peak of summer. I was about to ship my stuff in June, hoping to open them in the US by now. Thank god an inner voice asked me not to ship them so soon. After four days of living and shivering in denial, I finally came home to open those bags and take out my winter clothes today, all neatly folded. Although I am slowly exhausting all my kitchen supplies (rice got over yesterday), I keep telling myself that maybe I could wait a few more days before I start restocking on the grains. Maybe a few more days, and I will not need to buy anything. What a shame it would be to leave things behind. I keep reminding myself to stay calm, keep breathing, and not lose perspective because there are greater troubles than a delayed work start that afflict the world right now. I have a job to be thankful for. I keep telling myself not to lose hope and enjoy my last few [insert time span] in Germany. However, I find it a little hard to stay calm right now. Because just like me, my apartment manager hasn't realized that it is freezing cold already. She hasn't turned on the central heating, making me cocoon inside the only two blankets I have. It's a relief that I have a candle that still has a few hours of life left. As I write this, I am cupping my hands every few minutes and holding them by the flame for some much needed warmth. Because my fingertips are freezing already. I have a feeling that I will have to stock up on candles sooner than rice.