Growing up, I always lamented the fact that I was never allowed to live outside home, in a hostel. I knew some people who did, and the celebrity status they received on visiting home blew my teenage mind. As a kid, I was attached to this drama of going somewhere far away so that coming home would be a celebratory occasion, a big deal. I used to fantasize taking an overnight train while people waited for me at the Howrah station, to hug me and tell me how much they missed me and how thin I have become.
So after high school, I got this random idea of moving to New Delhi. I didn't know where or what I would study there, but I knew it was far enough for me to gain celebrity status whenever I visited home. When I mustered enough courage to vocalize my wishes, Ma said, ask your Baba, and Baba sternly said that there were enough good colleges in Kolkata. There was no need to go to New Delhi, or Pathankot, or Ludhiana, or even to nearby Chandan Nagar. "We grew up in the hinterlands of Bihar, studying in Hindi and Bhojpuri. If we have done well, you will be fine living in Kolkata." These words had a finality that marked the death-knell of my wishes.
Many decades later, I have had my wish fulfillment from a different person living in an entirely different continent.
G is the first friend I made when I moved to Seattle in 2006. Naturally, we have a little bit of history. I left Seattle in 2010, traveled the entire world from Virginia to Nebraska to Germany and then landed back once again close enough to Seattle. Now, every few months or so, I take the train to Seattle and receive the same treatment I had wished for while growing up.
First, there would be excitement about my arrival. Counting weeks, and then days. Then, a lot of phone instructions- "Pack light, don't bring slippers or night clothes, you left them the last time. Don't forget your ticket printout. Call me when you cross Leavenworth." She would be waiting to pick me up (since I live and travel alone, I am not used to people waiting on me, but this is different). In between meeting me and getting to the car parking lot, she would try to catch me unaware at least twice, pinching me hard around my arms or waist (She plays in attack mode while I play defensive, we share a pretty dysfunctional bond that way). She has a new name for me every time, a name I'd rather not disclose in public, while I continue to call her Gundamma. There is also a bus that leaves directly from the Amtrak station and drops me close enough to her place. It is a good 45 minute bus ride through Lake Washington (and a view of Mount Rainier on a clear day) that I immensely enjoy.
In preparation of my arrival, G would have soaked the rice for the dosa batter, because that is what I love to do, sit on their hardwood floor and eat dosas and idlis and vadas to my heart's content while chatting up with the kids (aged almost five and almost nine). I have my own room with shelves full of my stuff. I bring a list of everything I need to take back- Indian spices, food, and she will mostly open her pantry and give me stuff, asking me not to waste money. She will pre-order any medicines or books I need, take me to the bank, the hair stylist or the doctor, and help me do my laundry. She would drive me to the Indian store where I buy frozen coconut, curry leaves and laddoos to take back.
As the weekend gets over and I prepare to take the 4:40 pm train on Sundays, she will pack me a bag full of home-cooked food to take back- sheera, pongal, aviyal, poriyal, and another bag of curry leaves. She will ask me to visit the Swami room (prayer room) and bow to the two dozen deities living there, smear vibhuti on my forehead, put an apple in my hand, and ask me to text and let her know once I reach Spokane after midnight. She would drop me off to the train station, but not before making a pit stop at my favorite Indian restaurant and pick two boxes of goat biryani, my favorite, to go.
I always wanted to experience a similar drama (and I do not mean drama in a derogatory way, but more as an action), a situation where I move away, but not too far away so that I can still visit periodically and experience this comfort of predictability; expressed through soaking lentils and grains to prepare my favorite food, taking me around to buy whatever I need, drinking tea together twice a day (I drink tea only when I have company), taking me to Inchin's Bamboo Garden because I love their garlic lamb, and making me look forward to my next trip. Because going back to someone is always a nice feeling, and while a few hundred miles is not too far, it is just the right distance to make me feel the excitement of going home from another home.