I am packing my bags and cleaning out my room and answering phone calls from friends and ironing my clothes and selling my art history books and gifting the other books away and hugging roommates goodbye and signing my lease and paying electricity bills and dragging my luggage into a taxi one afternoon. We set off for the airport and I wave goodbye to my friends of four years until they become dots. No, not dots, but tiny specks because we take a turn about ten seconds after leaving them. The road to JFK is bumpy and the friend beside me is quiet. To be honest, I’m in no mood to talk either.
It really is like a hindi film. With an hour left for the plane to depart, a hug isn’t just for the person, it’s for everything they take with them. Heads spin with intense emotions and the world becomes a grainy movie seen through half closed eyes. Someday you’ll forget what their nose looks like or how they slouched, and someday, more poignantly, you’ll try to remember their phone number. What will you think then? Will you feel sad about how much time has passed? Or will you laugh at a development you could not imagine? Maybe you will smile or maybe you will be moved very little. But that is then. What does one say now?
Finally the plane lands at Bombay but it doesn’t feel like a full stop as I thought it would. It is reinvigorating to be among brown faces, speaking a language that was an exception yesterday and the norm today. Somewhere outside, family awaits. They have moved here recently, so we are all strangers here. This city, we realize later, does not accept or reject strangers, it merely throws up obstacles; the acceptance and rejection is left to us. Along the way home we pass by several places that have no meaning to me then, but will play important roles later. It is an unnerving thought and, if you are accepting, a delightful one; that the roads and places we take for granted might gain significance for us one day. I’d imagine it’s closely connected to that line, “Where have you been all my life?”
A week goes by and nothing happens. With passing mornings jet lag fades away and I think that the reach of that country fades along with it. Pancakes, waffles and mashed potatoes are gone, and there are Sindhi breakfasts instead. The domestic help is half horrified and half pleased when I wash my plates, but insists I leave it to him next time. Ditto for laundry. Suddenly I have too much time on my hands. What do you do then but reach out to the last thing you left? At the end of the third week, the phone rings. It’s for you, someone tells me.
Two days later I’m done with the interview. It wasn’t really an interview. Just a chat; a flip through a portfolio and a smile. Come in from the second of January. I walk out in a daze. It’s this easy to rule the world at 21? Hectic phone calls are made. Aunts ask questions later and squeal in delight when they calculate that the first day of work is an auspicious day. For the optimist, India must be heaven because divine signs are everywhere. With all blessings added up, no task will fail.
I arrive at work earlier than anyone else, reading posters and humorous notes I cannot understand and put it down to a change in culture. While I sit and wait for people to appear, homesickness strikes. Not for a place but for people who would know what to say then, and who would feel what I felt. Not for a home abandoned, but caused by that sinking feeling when you ask yourself, “what am I doing here?”
It takes ten days to cure that. An instant friend shows me Bombay by bus. Now that you’re here, the friend seems to say, let me show you what your new home looks like. And it happens, just like that. Where there was nothing one morning, there is now hope. And you figure that forgetting phone numbers isn't the worst thing. What's worse is having no one to call in the first place.