Saturday, May 17, 2008

The reunion

In between the arduous hours at work, I managed a week's refreshing break for a family holiday. I was looking forward to the 5 members of the childhood family being in the old family home sleeping on the old beds and just being together. Of course there were a few additions. The non-Indian sis-in-law and nephew with bro. And the 2 year old niece with sis. All of us flew together and arrived at home like a storm. From then on it was a riot.

Some highlights:

Nephew's first birthday was celebrated with pomp and pride and it seemed like half the town was invited. Everybody turned up to see the 'kids' (as we were referred to) after so long. Sis in law was met, measured and got the most compliments for being 'so Indian'. She of course smiled away and joined palms in greeting at every bald head and slow glait that came near her, not understanding much. The traditional clothes, with a baby on the hip who too was clad in a cute sherwani, helped.

Old aunties not allowing language to be a barrier got talking to sis-in-law. They spoke, she smiled. They pulled nephew's cheeks and asked "feed milk?" "Yes" she replied. "Bottle?" they enquired. "No, breast," she replied pointing to her chest. More brownie points.

Uncles and aunties who were smart and stylish, loving yet strict, have added plenty of wrinkles and walk much slower now. Most have lost a bit of their hearing. This includes the parents who both think the other has gone deaf and laugh hard. It's fun to watch all the elders speak to each other. Strangely they can clearly decipher what they are meant to understand. The moment they stare or look hard we learnt to talk louder. Some ask things to be repeated and some dont even bother and talk about things totally unrelated. A distantly related granny, much older now was visiting her daughter when we met her.

"When did you arrive?" asked Dad.

"Too much pain in my bones, my whole body aches now!" she replied, running her hands over her legs and arms.

"Oh, you must see a doctor..."

"No, I dont feel like eating at all... who's this, the older or younger one?" looking at me.

"The younger one, Ma!" screamed her daughter.

"What are you yelling for! Oh, you have grown so big! Have all the kids come home? What about your boy?" kisses followed.

"Yes. The son has come too with his wife and kid. I am inviting you for my grandson's first birthday party. Please come..."

"So when is your son getting married?"

We gave up and and left.

It's painful to see the neighbour's house lying locked and neglected. They no longer live there but kept the house planning to come back some day. The other neighbour's house where we played hide and seek and I ate a lot of my meals has been pulled down and the new owners built a huge ugly structure almost falling over our boundary wall.

I can never have enough of the beauty and peace at home. I sit out and watch the clouds floating by, look at the tea gardens beyond and all the exciting dreams of childhood come flashing back. Have I achieved any of them? Am I where I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do? Maybe not. For they weren't lofty dreams, just pretty, possible everyday wishes. The horizon still looks stunning whether at sunrise or sunset and the birds flying past or in circles look the same. I point out birds to the niece and nephew. They watch with the same awe I did. These new generation kids looked stunned and confused with the constant cooing and twitter of birds and took a day to get used.

In the night when it rained and thunder and lightning lulled us to sleep, the niece shook her mother awake, "Mama! photo click!" The mother confused and groggy said "no, baby, sleep." Another round of lightning flashed and the niece whispered, "there, see, another photo!" The 2 year old niece has no earlier memories of rain and lightning. "Show photo!" was the next request from the digital age baby!

Niece, city kid that she is had not seen a cow before. She recognises a dog and responds with a "bow bow," a cat with a "meow" and when I pointed out a cow, she repeated 'cow' but accompanied with a "bow bow!"

I repeat again, Calcutta is an honest and friendly city. Upon landing at Calcutta airport and waiting at the lounge for the connecting flight to Bombay, I fished for my phone to make some calls, only to find no phone. I remember switching it off and carelessly tossing it onto my seat on the plane. So almost 2 hours later, off I went to the airlines counter, showed them my boarding pass and asked them to get my phone from the seat. And surprisingly, a few calls made here and there and the staff told me they found my phone! I thanked the Lord and the man who got back the phone.

If I ever had any doubts about SRK's popularity, they have been dashed. The screaming and chanting passengers at the airport when he came to catch his flight, were proof enough. But his entourage, including the Rampal boy with long hair weren't recognised at all.

Finally, it was a trip too short but sweet, leaving me regretful about the way life goes, the way childhood turns into adulthood and we leave home to seek a life outside, to seek our destiny. Leaving behind the very people we lived with throughout, a past we cling to hopelessly as we move further away into the future. Building yet another home when we still cannot let go of the old one. Yet it left me grateful that I got to live through some precious moments with the parents who I find a little older every time I see them.