I landed in India on July 31st in the wee hours of the morning. Bleary-eyed, we, the great hordes of tired and unwashed travelers, made our ways off the planes and through the massive airport halls of arrival, immigration, baggage claim and customs before we were finally let loose through exit doors to greet our families, friends and acquaintances.
A day later, after catching up on sleep and making other such many little physiological, emotional and intellectual adjustments (which, I know, will go on for quite a period of time), I sat down to think about what this reverse migration is going to be like. For the millionth time, of course. I wondered about whether there are or should be distinct phases or rites of passage to help signpost this new journey with specific milestones. Perhaps a series of metaphorical halls to pass through like the ones at the airport….. What might they be — these phases and the milestones?
I’m still mulling over this and, I daresay, all will be clear in hindsight when I am able to look back from an adequate enough distance. Still, I am not as confident or gung-ho about the move decision as the many who have done the same before me. Like, say, the Bangalore-based writer and journalist, Shoba Narayan, who wrote an entire book, ‘Return to India‘, on her personal journey to the US and back (also see her interview with NDTV and her subsequent blog post — do read the very interesting comments). Nor am I as conflicted as the many who feel the need to tear one place down and build the other one up in order to feel better about their particular choice.
So, where does that leave me? Indecisive and confused? Not quite. Perhaps, more in the “exploring and discovering” camp — exactly like I’d suggested in my introductory post. Though, I am well aware that one cannot simply hang about in that camp forever. Just as making a home at base camp in Mount Everest is not an option and one has to start the climb to subsequent altitudes and camps to eventually come out on top, I will need to engage and immerse deeper than ever before if I’m going to make the most of this experience.
In the meantime, the most interesting thing about that first step back was, surprisingly, some unexpected chivalry shown by a group of men while standing in the Immigration lines at Ahmedabad airport. They were returning home to their families with Eid presents — large and various-shaped boxes and bags that they’d somehow managed to include in their carry-ons. Engaged in loud, high-spirited conversations with the frequent swear words thrown in, they seemed oblivious to the world around them. Probably, this was a regular trip for them as many Ahmedabadi Muslims work at well-paid, if somewhat menial, jobs at affluent homes, hotels and offices in Dubai. Then, suddenly, one of them motioned me silently to move ahead of several of them. I looked at him to check if I’d understood correctly. He mumbled at me in Gujarati, of which I caught and understood just the requisite few words. His friends fell silent for a moment or two and another one repeated the gesture. I moved forward as indicated with my own murmur of thanks. And, as they continued their unintelligible banter, I felt a warmth grow in my heart. I had expected and prepared to be pushed, even possibly groped, in lines just like these. My sense of apprehension and high alertness had risen when I’d found myself surrounded by these carefree young men. To then have them let me go forward like this with a touching politeness was not just a welcome relief but also, to the Indian part of me that is still superstitious, an auspicious sort of beginning. An indicator of a different India from the one I left behind as a teenager. And, while I’m not so rosy-eyed to imagine that all has changed for the better, this little gesture gives me some hope.