So without the distractions of personal ties, I was able to focus on India. I was visiting Chennai after twenty years. The pace was more frenetic, traffic more chaotic, the signs of renewal and decay were never too far apart. The more things had changed the more they remained the same. It was like I had been away for a couple of years and not two decades. Like a comfortable well worn blanket Chennai was there for me like it had been a long time ago.
In other cities I traveled to the people were as they had been all those years ago - largely peaceful, interested in the other person and generally helpful. An overzealous sales girl in a mall insisted on making up my face refusing to take no for an answer. It was interesting to see my kohl lined eyes in the mirror - a look I have not seen on me in a very long time. Only a desi sister could do this to me and not make me feel uncomfortable - this was the home I remembered.
Explaining India to my French coworker was oddly gratifying. We traveled everywhere together and every step of the way was a question - a temple in the middle of a marketplace, buying hand loom silk sarees, the cows squatting on the road, the palatial hotels, the over the top guest services, the food, the value of the rupee, the value of a human being, the sensory overload of it all.
I lived in hotels all week thinking all the time of the extraordinary home cooked meals served by my favorite grand aunt who still lives in Kolkata. Time, distance and the lack of contact has made me a stranger to those I was once very close to. I could have made some calls and exchanged pleasantries but it felt rather futile. No one was going to notice I had come and gone. It was probably best not to intrude and make them feel obligated to come see me or worse insist I visit them.
Instead of rekindling bonds that were weak or dead, I tried to experience the motherland to see if I felt the connection still. Not once did I feel like an outsider not once did I feel like I did not belong - it felt like I had never even left India. If that is not connection I don't know what is.