Sunday, February 06, 2005

Second Coming to America

Thirty years ago, on a night such as tonight I was conceived in Mumbai. Back then, my parents lived a postage stamp sized home. The kitchen was in the living room which was in the bedroom and so forth.

At nineteen my mother was too starry-eyed to notice much except the hopelessly lovely spell of new marriage and living independently. She was the mistress of this brand new household for whatever it was worth. There were carefree evenings at Chowpatty and Juhu - the raw tangy taste of new found freedom. She always speaks of Bombay with acute nostalgia - the time of impossible dreams, fierce optimism and impending motherhood.

I have clear memories of all the places that I've ever lived but not of where I first came to be.I was in Bombay for a year after I was born - and like the umbilical chord, those early memories have just dropped off. From the window of an airplane, many cities shine like a rich jewel, holding promise of something as intangible as that of intelligent life in planets around a distant, flickering star.

Maybe because it is Mumbai and because I'm back after thirty years, I read too much into the patterns made by street lamps, moving vehicles and that the sea has been humbled into a silent pool of water. I see an India I haven't seen before - Mumbai feels refreshingly vibrant, delightfully different - I feel a slow a stab of pain in my heart as one must feel near roots and origins.

As we come closer, the city's under belly begins to show - the bamboo scaffolding that someone neglected to remove after its work was done, the ubiquitous general stores - selling a little bit of everything the a householder may need, without a sense of larger purpose.

There is no future, no king size dream or daring. Just like the country herself, this shopkeeper is the victim of acute existentialism, reducing life's basics needs little by little until there is merely "shunya" and "shunyanta" everywhere.

Chatrapati Shivaji is all I get to see of Mumbai and it's well past midnight. Something tells me that this journey is going to be very different from my first time to America - even beyond the very obvious reasons.

I see real Parisian women - they're so completely different and chique - the allure of Paris grows a hundred fold just from seeing a random slice of life at the Charles De Gaulle. It's a different matter that French immigration almost cost me my connection to Atlanta. The skies were overcast and I did not catch a sight of the mythic Eiffel Tower. Maybe there would be a better time for that, maybe one bright sunshiny day J and I would walk down Champs de Elysses. There is so much I want her to see - so much I want to see through her eyes.

This time I am on an aisle seat and alone - all around are immobile clouds, Switzerland is uneven marzipan icing under an ashen sky - a metaphor for who I have come to be. My mind drifts back to that momentous flight from Delhi to Amsterdam - Stoh’s beer, a blanket for two - many wisps of faded memories - and with it the pangs of failed mother-hood. I have not heard my little angel say "Mamma" for a good twenty -four hours and that time would only spread.

I remember that lost look on her face at the airport as she said goodbye to me, she would not let go of me - we both cried a little. It was a goodbye from a big chunk of her life, from the little daily miracles that she makes possible. There is so much to accomplish before we can be together again.

I feel a sudden rush of sadness sweep over me - how long will it be till I see her again - her hair would have grown longer and have big curls, she may say new words that I would not at first understand. After nine months of being in my womb could she become a stranger ?

Am I coming back to America ? The touchdown offers the comfort and tranquility I have missed in several years. It seems like a lifetime ago that I had come to the United States for the first time, what dreams they were and what burning passion to forge the impossibly beautiful out of nothing.

I think I carry all my mother's home-making genes -maybe some of the mothering ones too. I had a window seat all the way back then - he had thought of it - like so many other little details that he was so infallibly thoughtful about - he knew to kindle my romance and wanderlust just like he knew to bring out the darkest and the ugliest in me.

Published First at Sulekha as NM (my pen-name)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1. This Sulekha link is dead too. The new link is

2. There is a typo. "I feel a slow stab of pain" is "I feel a slow a stab of pain" (4th paragraph, 5th line).

3. I am yet to travel in an aeroplane! Cant' afford it! We also lived in a 'postage stamp sized home'! But I will move heaven and earth to get a window seat in my maiden ride! By the way, a recent study has found that window seat increases the chance of deep vein thrombosis!