Round and round the carousal went. Still no signs of my luggage. And so it begins, my return to India.
The woman at the Delta counter is both polite and philosophical. I think you should wait some more before you file a lost luggage report, she says, with the 'sir' that seems obligatory in India whenever anyone speaks to you. Be patient, she says, and I am no longer sure that she is just talking about the luggage. Let me take one more look. Not yet ... not this one ... not that one ... no, no ... hey, isn't that ...?
Maybe there is a lesson here for my life in India. Be patient, the Delta representative had said stoically. Wait, and they turn will come.
"Appa it is hot!" Those are officially the first words my daughter says on stepping on Indian soil. So predictably American, such a cliché. But all I want to do is to hug her and promise that I will protect her. For all my bravado, I know I am scared to come back. Scared for me, scared for the future, scared above all for her. Scanning, searching the sea of faces turned expectantly at every bedraggled traveller spit out by the automatic doors of the airport, I hold her hand tight. Don't worry, my darling, I will keep you safe. So keep hold me tight, and don't let go. "There!!" she squeals, prying out of my grip and running towards my parents. For a moment I am in shock, staring at my empty hand, the grip my four year old wriggled out of. And then they are all here, the noise, the hugs, the smiles that reach ears, the tired relief of finding your loved one at two in the night. I am grinning. I am screaming to make myself heard. I am asking my daughter to 'be careful'. She doesn't seem to know what I mean, and ignores me altogether.
The first night is the worst. I am severely jet lagged, and can't bring myself to sleep. The din, the excitement, the sheer chaos of the airport is still pumping adrenaline through my body. And my mind, much as I try to tame it, is running wild. At every toss and turn, I find myself assailed: Did I make the right decision? Is it going to be worth the price? Is this all going to work out?
A week has gone by. A week since the craziness of an airport screamingly awake two hours after the time when tomorrow turns into today. A week since my sleepless night. And I am loving it!
Life is crazy, but (dare I say it?) a tiny bit less crazy than I had expected it to be. So maybe that is the secret - Expect worse than the worst, and everything feels good in comparison. The commute from my transit apartment to work is interminably long, but on the positive side, I am getting more reading done than I could ever have imagined! I finished my first book since my return - Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, a dazzlingly inventive piece of fiction by Geoff Dyer. (More on this startling book in a separate book review post.) Work is even more exciting than I had imagined, the opportunities even more promising. I have had lunch or dinner with friends every day of the week, and the list of friends I haven't yet called is still long (Sorry Zen, I will call you tomorrow, I promise!).
Bombay is more attractive than I had given it credit for. Driving into town every morning, as I get on the Bandra Worli sea-link (which is one stunning piece of engineering), you have only to look left - this is becoming a truly modern skyline. It isn't quite there yet, but there is enough here to make it easy to visualize - one day soon, this might resemble a Manhattan, a Hong Kong, a Shanghai. Did Haji Ali always look so beautiful? So resplendent at night, gloriously reflecting its image in the lapping waves? Was the drive from Bombay to Pune always so scenic? Was VT always a World Heritage Site, and I never noticed? And talking of VT, every time my car crosses the machhi-mar slum, with its colorful, docked wooden boats, its drying nets and loud undecipherable music, my driver reminds me "Kasab yahin se ghusa tha sahab". And I feel scared all over again.
It is early on Sunday morning. I am sitting in the balcony of my parents' house in Pune. The air outside is crisp, cool and very still. All is quiet. Or almost all. Unseen birds are chirping. An auto rickshaw revs. From the next apartment building, I hear the tinkle of a bell. Someone is evoking a reluctant God on a weekend. If I strain my neck, I can just about make out his hand, this man clad in white dhoti shaking his bell. My father is reading the newspaper, lounging on his favorite deck chair. The air is carrying the wafting smell of something nice, something very ... familiar. "Coffee?", my mother asks.