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This blog is named after one of my poems. Even thought its not the best of the lot, I just fell in love with those words- The Psyche Unknown...

Quotation of the Day

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Returning home-1


From 39000 feet above the ground, I looked down the multi-layered window on a bright Wednesday morning. It was almost blinding; the sunlight that I had missed for a long time had woken me up from a slumber position that would have split my spine in half  had it waited any longer. The pilot announced that we had begun to descend and I could see the clouds move upwards now and the mountains inching closer. Luke, the sinfully cute steward stopped by to collect the headphones. “Wait's over..almost home..Ready for it eh?” he said in a deep set voice that was a total contrast to his twinkling blue boyish eyes. Wondering how he knew it was my home, I just nodded with a groggy smile but thought “Ready? For what?? This is home!”
At that moment he handed me a pamphlet and I assumed it had something to do with the airlines and looked at him like- “Alright! If its a feedback form you unequivocally get an Outstanding” and I open it. It had nothing to do with the airlines. It was an immigration form. It did not occur that I was required to fill it in. After all, who questions you if you are returning home, right? It must be for the firangis.

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I got off the plane into the almost empty Bangalore airport (literally! Except for the signboards) I saw people standing randomly across the room filling in some form. I just peeked into one of the closest ones and it was this immigration form that I thought was meant for outsiders. But no, apparently it is mandatory for all who land! One of the idiosyncrasies of India. As I took the filled out form to the immigration officer, he saw my Dutch RP, the form and my face in consecutive loops and said “You have answered the column under 'Indian'”. I looked down at my passport emblazoned with the four lions and said “Yes, I did, I am an Indian!” Ah! The pride that swelled inside me like an acrylic bubble. He curtly shoved another form to my face and asked me to fill the NRI column. A cruel needle trying to squash the bubble. I stood there and stared at him, with lot of things running in my head. Some which included the possibility of the guy being demented or drunk early in the morning! He must have recognized the look of “Are you chaffing, crazy old man?” on my face. “You are a resident of another country, you are not just an Indian anymore” he said with the evilest grin I had ever come across. The polymer just gave away. The needle had been too sharp for the bubble. I mutely filled it and handed over the form for approval. The seemingly empty baggage carousel, a bad headache that I always get after air travel and the stamped form in my hand that questioned me about the purpose and duration of visit did not help alleviate the nausea I felt towards myself and the damned Indian Immigration officer. A face that would haunt me for quite sometime.
I had always detested the term “NRI”. In its expanded form it still didn't sound that bad. May be I hated it because of the false glory that used to be associated, still is sometimes, with the people who hold the tag. Now I was deemed one of them, even though I was more Indian than ever in all the good ways after staying away for 1.5 years. It suddenly didn't feel like home, it felt like a hotel. I just had checked-in. And I had to check out sometime......

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No, its still home, its still home.. I chanted on my way out to find a cab. The thought of being just three-quarters of an hour to my family who wouldn't call me a NRI and an 18 deg temperature with bright sunlight put a smile on my face. Only when I couldn't recognize half the streets, malls and counted every second of almost two hours of intolerable noise and atrocious traffic that actually scared me for the first time in my life, I realized the meaning of the label I just was stuck with. But that was it. What more could be worse right? For some odd reason that old man's grin appeared in front of my eyes.

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I reach home and rush to grab a glass of cold sweet Cauvery water and to my own surprise I couldn't find a glass! Mom had apparently changed all the culinary arrangements over time. There was a new giant Donald Duck sticker in my room(!!) and the books that I had treasured/ detested-but-still-refused-to-part-with were all bundled in the attic to make way for cook books, old speakers (again-!!!) and electronic manuals. There was a plastic creeper hanging in the porch and real creepers on the terrace. Mom's collection of potted plants had grown in size, variety and shape largely. Those little bluebells and hibiscus that I had seen a very long time ago were again joyfully sprouting on top of my house! The insides had been re-done and things ran much differently within too. W.O.W. "Of-course You weren't here to keep up with the changes. Definitely Not(n)-Residing." yelled that little patch of stamp from my handbag.

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One of the evenings, on a walk with Mom, I held her hand while crossing the road. I was rooted to the spot when vehicles gushed in from all directions at once on a small service road! Not everyday you get to see a 23 year old girl hold her mother's hands while crossing the street! She laughed. The most beautiful laugh that somehow made me feel secure. But of course I had lost the habit of being able to navigate between moving vehicles, something I excelled at before! "Alas, one needs to reside in such places to retain confidence levels in beastly situations like this" reminded that immigration officers ghostly face.

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Lots of monster like pillars erected for Metro, some of them that are half done, has changed the face of the city. One can't see what is on the other side of the road. Some of the landmarks I often used for navigation weren't visually accessible anymore. No wonder that my Aussie RP-holder buddy or I could recognize the Mysore road in the darkness and ended up reaching the actual toll gate that lead to Mysore! Of course we needn't have reached Mysore road at all had we known where to deviate from the conventional Malleswaram-Vijayanagar route that was closed due to Metro construction! We both weren't here for a long time and we had missed the small changes to the routes that were made everyday and followed without a written rule. Few days and I realized everybody were taking the smaller residential area short-cuts so that traffic could be avoided. Of course I tried doing it myself again and I was lost. "You need practice. You need to commute daily in such a web to find your way out." grimaced that evil old man..

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In parts, may be I had been influenced by the western life. Sitting down on the floor for a long time turned out to be difficult. Walking bare foot on the cold tiles seemed stranger. Although using pressure pipes instead of paper, especially after Indian food, felt awesome; use of water in lavs seemed...different.... Sigh...Small things that one gets used to while consorting with the place. Survival outside demands adoption of many of THEIR ways of life that at first seems strange but generally becomes THE norm few weeks later. I had adopted and adapted in many ways too and in the process the native practices had taken the last row in my brain. It did lead to some insane moments like me telling mom to get the glowing vitrified tile floor fully carpeted and just vacuum it instead of hiring help for sweeping and swobbing. A simple “Get lost!” from her was sufficient to remind me how much trouble she had taken to select those tiles and how she prided on making the house look pretty. "How did you miss that in the first place child?" said a face in the back of my head.. I had to erase some memories....

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To be continued..........

aeroyogi
17/3/2011

3 comments:

Ann said...

things do change, dont they! :) but some things remain... like the feeling of belonging to one's own country..

a warm read :)

keep em coming! cheers! :D

alittleoaktree said...

I see a theme, one I've seen before.
I sense a feeling, one I've felt before :)

--Sumeet

aeroyogi said...

yeah Shooo.. I can imagine.. :) After writing I just realized this part 1 of 'Returning home' is almost like one of yours. Guess its something most of us have in common..