Tuesday, December 27, 2005

In Between

Dawn finds me 30,000 feet over the Atlantic. The horizon is a parabola of fire, the air is the thin blue of freshly laundered sheets. On the screen above my head this plane is a tiny butterfly, flirting with the snout of Scandinavia.

Rubbing my eyes open, I put on my headphones, tune the in-flight entertainment system till I find a channel that sounds promising. Jazz. Monk's Blues. Monk and Coltrane, day and night, earth and sky. I hang suspended in the betweenness of things, trapped between these two continents of my self that stare at each other across a sea of stereotypes. It occurs to me that I am not simply travelling between cities - I am making a journey from one way of life to another. The change is there already, in the very language I hear spoken around me, the accents at once forgotten and familiar. This is not a trip, it is a voyage, an expedition into lands grown the more treacherous for not being entirely unknown. To revisit the country of my upbringing is to revisit my assumptions about whom I have grown up to be.

The significance of this visit - which has lain buried under the logistics of check-in, security, boarding, beverage carts - is beginning to dawn on me, its thin, cold light streaming through my window. This is not just another vacation, a voice in my head screams in panic, you're going home! I wonder if I went and asked the pilot nicely he would consider turning around and flying us back to Newark. Or failing, that, maybe I could just not get off the plane when we get to Delhi. Just keep sitting here. This seat's not so bad. Okay, so they designed the legroom with a one-legged dwarf in mind, but otherwise it's kind of comfy. The screen tells me that the temperature outside is -72 F. I try to imagine how cold that is. About as cold as loneliness, I figure.

I change audio channels. Frank Sinatra comes on, singing the theme from New York, New York. If I can make it there / I'll make it anywhere. I laugh delightedly, causing the couple sitting next to me to start in surprise. One of the best things about being a pessimist is that things always turn out so much better than you thought they would. I bury my nose into my Murakami, tell the hostess when she comes that I'll have idlis for breakfast, not the french omlette, and settle back to enjoy the rest of my flight.

What if this trip back turned out to be a lot of fun? This is a possibility that I've never considered before. I mull over it happily for a while, then the optimism tires me out and I fall asleep again.

11 comments:

Accidental Fame Junkie said...

Welcome home!

Going home sometimes may seem daunting but is like getting into an old unused pair of shoes. It's uncomfortable at first but then it gives away to a forgotten sense of coziness.

Nasha said...

Very well written blog but I must say it always strikes me as weird when NRIs make such a to-do about coming home - why is it such a profound experience (capable of reducing a rational man to a gibbering mass of fears) to contemplate coming back to India?

Yes its different, yes its noisy and unpleasant and awkward - but you knew all of that when you went abroad, right? In fact, it may even have been the reason you went away in the first place.

What you are experiencing is nothing more or less than what all displaced people - who have left their home in search of opportunities elsewhere - experience when coming back. So why the need to romanticise it and dwell on it as a mystical 'rite of passage' experience defining who you are or have become?

Grow Up!!!!

Raj said...

I am on my way to receive a friend, Falstaff by name, at the airport. Hell,this is no ordinary pick-up, I tell myself,I am going to receive an NRI returning home. With all his prejudices, old notions and stereotypes about India. An Indian who chose to leave India version 1.0 because he was sick of its filth and squalor and convinced that he had no future here. What if he finds that the India version 2.0 that he is returning to is different and has moved up the scale ? Will the shock of having his old assumptions invalidated, send him into a deep guilt trip? Why should I be the one to handle his depressions ? Should I just turn back and go home ? Let the guy fend for himself ?

Falstaff said...

AFJ: Thanks. What was it Gregory Corso said? Something about how It's not that I've got anything against Love, it's just that I see Love as odd as wearing shoes.

Nasha / Raj: Huh? Who said anything about India? This post doesn't even mention it. And I certainly don't say anything about it being 'noisy and unpleasant and awkward' - I'm not sure I even agree with the last two. Just in case there are other people who are getting this wrong - this has nothing to do with India - it has to do with returning to stay with one's parents after eighteen months away - if I'd been going home from New York to rural Idaho I would pretty much have felt the same way (though admittedly it's unlikely I would have been flying over the Atlantic) - the fact that it's Delhi that I'm coming back to is incidental and I'd be grateful if you didn't foist your assumptions about NRIs on me.

P.S. FWIW I'm actually entirely underwhelmed by India 2.0 (if we MUST call it that) - i have a hard time adjusting to a land where malls are a sign of progress. Sigh.

Raj said...

Heh ! Now that you have pointed it out, I find that I am the one guilty of sterotyping the NRI! Sorry and welcome home.

Nasha said...

Not to put too fine a point on it, but your parents and your eighteen month absence are not mentioned anywhere in your post - your retun in contextualised in terms of 'the country of my upbringing' and 'lands grown the more treacherous for not being entirely unknown' - I think one could be forgiven for assuming you were referring to the country and not the family?

Assumptions on stereotypical behaviour are easily made - both on the part of the NRI and the resident.

Equating India's progress by the number of glitzy malls would be one of those, to my reckoning.

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