Have a pleasant stay in the cultural capital of India Sir”
“Virgin mobiles welcomes you to Chennai. For details on international roaming tariffs, text “BILL” to customer help”
“Neenga kettukittu irukkirathu 98.3 FM Radio Mirchi…Ithu semma hot machi”
“Ayya…ethavathu dharmam pannunga ayya”
“Moonu pathu rooba sir.Moonu pathu rooba”
“Meter-ku mela ethavathu pottu kudunga sir”
“Kausalya supraja Ramapoorva sandhya…”
The air hostess, my cell phone’s operator service message, a hyperactive RJ, a beggar at a traffic signal en route to my destination, a kid selling god knows what , the taxi driver, a sharp reminder that it was morning and I was to suffer the symptoms of jet lag. My journey from the airport every year hasn’t been any different. It’s like those deranged VJs say “Same place, same time, we’ll meet, next week.” Not this time…
I reach the doorstep of my ancestral home. My grandmother no longer stands at the doorstep, clad in saree of 9 yards, awaiting my arrival. A temporary hire received me at the airport with a placard, my name plastered on it impersonally. No longer a feeling of belonging. Just the previous year, her (my grandmother’s) long life ended, and she was finally reunited with her husband after a gap of seventeen years.
I walk across the familiar house, where I’d spent a major part of my childhood. Nostalgia, I now realise, is the best feeling in the world. I smile as always, on seeing the well where my mother used to bathe me when I was a toddler. Memories of the time when I used to run into the kitchen when the ladies were cooking, grab the first utensil I could, and throw it into the well before anyone could catch up with me, flood my mind now. It’s like a cinematographer is working inside my brain, as I picture the agraharam styled house back in its prime, when there was always something good cooking in the kitchen, the sight of a well maintained Tulsi plant in the inner courtyard, and the smell of incense from the pooja area.
My mind now jerks me back to the present, where just looking at the place, sans granny’s touch, gives me a feeling of gloom.
I ask myself, “Why did I come back this year?”Was there really any point? Who is here for me now? All kith and kin have shifted out of the homeland, and the only one who didn’t, was not in any land now.
I now sit cross legged on the straw mat in the middle of the living room, while the maid serves me coffee and breakfast, both lacking the rich flavour which only my grandmother’s hands could produce.
I reminisce all the preceding visits we made. The first few years were normal, when I was more than happy to be reunited with my childhood playmates, spending afternoons playing cricket in the neighbouring street, and they used to sit, awe eyed, listening with rapt attention as I told them stories about America, the land of dreams.
Then, one fine day, back at “home” in the U.S, my father brings the happy news to us that our family has been considered for American citizenship. Both my parents were overjoyed, while I was too young to realise all the implications of the news my old man had brought to us.
It was the next year that I noticed some change in the treatment we received when we came home. We were no longer in the “Indians” waiting line when we awaited our baggage. Instead, we were made to sit with Whites, blacks, and Orientals in the lounge labelled “foreigners”. Mom wasn’t at all happy with this. She kept telling papa that we should be given different treatment as we were born of this soil, while the poor man patiently tried to explain to her that in order to enjoy the benefits of being citizens of America, we must accept the fact that we aren’t Indians anymore.
Why this happened, I did not, and still do not understand. Ever since this episode, during our annual visit, she used to cry herself to sleep the first few days. I thought it unnecessary and showed no sympathy to her, and even rebuked her for the same on a few occasions.
This year, no one accompanied me on my yearly visit. I came alone, traveled my city alone, and left alone. And yes, I cried, finally understanding how my mother felt. I cried for having lost my grandmother. For having lost my homeland. For being treated a foreigner here as well as there. For not having the courage to come back. For being so materialistic.For being lost between two worlds, both of which I cannot rightfully call my own.