Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Landing in style

Landing in Calcutta for me is landing in style. I live dual lives, and with time, I have learnt to switch between the two. My life in the west can best be described as calm, methodical, and predictable. I know exactly what I am supposed to do every day. In my free time, I read, write, and ruminate. Sometimes, I work on my own and do not talk to anyone for days. If I want space and privacy, there is ample of it.

Then, I take that flight to Calcutta, and my entire way of being changes. I step out of the air-conditioned airport lobby, trying to identify my parents in the crowd. However, my glasses fog momentarily due to the humidity, and I am unable to see anything. While I am still trying to recover, a pair of hands grab my luggage, and wet, sloppy kisses start raining on my cheeks from nowhere. As I regain my composure, I realize that dad has taken charge of my bags, and mom, my cheeks. The first time, I was extremely disoriented, but this is routine now. Glasses fog. Baggage is gone. People grab me. I know I am home.

As we make our way to the car parking, the first thing I notice is that I have started to sweat. The feeling, although not quite alien, is uncomfortable. Back there, I only sweat under controlled environs, when I am working out. I am still wearing sweaters and coats because it was freezing cold when I had started. I might have parked my car at the airport parking and taken that flight singly, but the rambunctious crowd that awaits me at the other end of the world always consists of mom, dad, siblings, siblings-in-law, and an assortment of neighbors or close friends. All of them have stopped whatever they were doing in life and have showed up to come pick me up. I suspect that if dad owned a bus, more people would show up at the airport. Kakima and her family always send their car to pick me. As I am finally settled in the car, my hands involuntarily looking for the seat belt although knowing that there is none, the fun ride starts. Dad is more restrained in showing his joy, so he sits in front and instructs the driver in his baritone voice what roads to avoid. But the rest of the family goes wild, laughing, joking, pulling my cheeks, and saying inappropriate things. My mom had rechristened me "bachcha" (kiddo) at some point, and although I made her promise that she would never call me that outside home, she forgets her promises and shouts my name from the opposite street, making a dozen heads turn and my head shake in embarrassment. The car moves through the bumps and the potholes, shaking me as I squint outside and try to recognize the streets. I do not, because every time, there are new flyovers, new streets, new malls, and more people. For a change, people who look like me. 

"Chul koto jhaakra jhaakra hoye bere gechey. Eto mota hoye gechish. Kaanchkolar jhol khaabi aaj theke. E ma chul peke gechey. Hagu hochhey to theek kore? Jaanish paraaye ei cholchey. Eder breakup hoye gechey. Ei cinema cholchey. Ranbir er cinema dekhechish? Ebaare ekhane ekhaane khete jaabo, bujhli?"

("Your hair is so grown now, we need to get it cut. How did you manage to put on so much weight? We need to feed you green banana curry. My God, look at the graying hair. Are you still suffering from constipation? Do you know so and so in the neighborhood eloped with so and so? Do you know so and so broke up with so and so? Such and such movies are in now. Have you checked out the latest Ranbir movies? We should try out these restaurants this time.")

If you have seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you will exactly know what this crazy family of mine is like.

As I get off the car and make my way upstairs, all the close neighbors are waiting to greet me. Suddenly, there are so many people, and so much commotion. Hordes of people show up to meet me, and the commotion continues until I go back to the other home, a home where there is no one to pick me up from the airport, carry my bags, or shower sloppy kisses. I am blessed that even at my age, this is the celebrity treatment I get. I can literally get away with anything here. I can ask for anything I want to eat or drink, travel anywhere in the country, and my wishes will be fulfilled. Even as I am walking towards my apartment in Germany, my head buzzes from all the commotion. It feels like I just woke up from a dream where I showed up at a party and thousands of people were merry-making. And then, I insert the key in the lock and open my apartment door in Germany. Absolute silence. Everything just the way I had left it, orderly, in place. The calm and the silence is back. The only mementos I have brought back with me from the trip are memories, hundreds of pictures, and home cooked food that will last me the next month or so. 

Old age is going to be very hard for me to get used to. I am well aware of that.


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