The pastel colored buildings, the toasty sun, warm breeze, the smell of conch fritters frying in hot oil, honking cars, colorfully painted taxis, loud music and the languid flow of life around me take me back to the home of my childhood. Traffic is fairly chaotic but we are able to walk through intersections, in and out of the winding alleys back to the main street. Policemen are controlling traffic the good old fashioned way using their arms and a shrill whistle. I tell J this is a little like time travel - I am back to being her age in small town India where I grew up.
I show her trees she has never seen before - coconut, banana, papaya, custard apple, sugarcane, palm and mango. In the courtyard of our home, we had most of these trees - back then they were nothing remarkable; everyone I knew had them in their backyards too. Our neighbors had a gigantic jackfruit tree in addition to everything we had. Their guavas were infinitely sweeter than ours. I did not know that I would feel this huge pang of nostalgia at the sight of a fruit laden mango tree worlds away from the home of my childhood. We managed to sight a bread fruit tree which was new for me too. The last time I tasted bread fruit was on a beach vacation at Goa over fifteen years ago.
Even ten years ago, India was already a far cry from what I feel nostalgic for. Every year that I have not been back since then, it moves further and further away from what is imprinted in memory - morphing into something that is impossible to understand unless you have been part of it yourself. Every year that I have not been home, I feel there is less reason to go back - there is nothing left there that will be familiar to me. I would feel like I am visiting a foreign country and may actually feel homeless. Until I go back, I can still imagine an India that does not really exist and continue to indulge my nostalgia of home and homeland. I wonder if that is the reason, I have hesitated to make that long overdue trip.
The islands in the Caribbean were strangely a lot closer to what I have been longing for. Chickens running in around in the yard ( J had never seen a rooster till now and got busy trying to take a picture - she would run into stray goats, donkeys and even horses) , small vegetable patches outside the house, the winding roads up the hills with trucks honking at each other around blind curves to alert each driver of the other's presence.
Homes have balconies with railings and stairs leading up to them. That would be where you could take a nap on a winter afternoon after a big meal. The smell of the air has traces of everything - the good, bad and the ugly.
Flowers I had not seen in forever - all colors of bougainvillea and red oleanders, are blooming everywhere. J was puzzled by my excitement over them and offered to take a pictures of me around my "favorite" flowers.
And then there were reminders of reality - the high volume of western tourists everywhere, the harbors packed with yatches, speed boats and ofcourse any number of cruise ships, island souvenir shops overflowing with merchandise Made in China, duty free shops selling every well known brand of jewelery, watches, bags and perfume. Hair braiding ladies at every street corner - the occasional Starbucks, finding it easier to get an American meal than an local one. The best views of the ocean from up in the hills, obscured by ugly and often unfinished construction.