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.