I finally got a chance to visit India after 7 years, 3 months, and 10 days. I left India in 2001 and hadn't been back since. For the first 4 or 5 years I really missed the life I had back home, after that I think I lost all hope and just let it be. Forcing myself to believe that everything was in the past and didn't matter anymore. But this belief - of making peace with the circumstances and moving on - was shattered completely when on the evening of November 13, 2008 I checked in my baggage, cleared security, boarded flight NW8622, buckled myself in, and tweeted the following:
Sitting in seat 37J. 15 more minutes till departure. I AM GOING TO INDIA! Seems unreal.
Yes, I was immensely excited and whole heartedly looking forward to go on bumpy rides in small cars, zig-zag through traffic while sitting on a motorcycle, inhale large amounts of car exhaust, go hours without electricity at a time, ride in a whole lot of public modes of transportation, eat street side food, haggle for everything with everyone, being proactive for the littlest things - be it crossing the road in traffic or buying something in a crowded place where the concept of lines did not exist. I wanted to meet people and visit places that used to be a part of me. Family, friends, neighbors, teachers, home, school, local markets, temples, parks, everything! I wanted to re-see everything.
However, at the same time, I somehow did not have any expectations with anyone or anything. I've known for some time that I despise the word and the concept of expectation. But I, Geetali, actually practicing non-expectation-ness and not being a hypocrite was realized in full swing in India, probably during the last week. Whole idea of zero expectations, having nothing on the agenda, and just going with the flow is probably what made the trip so full of surprises and an ultimate memorable experience.
Overall, my 5-6 weeks in India were Amazing! Rewarding. Refreshing. Energizing. Full of fun, laughter, appreciation, respect, conversations, realizations. I enjoyed each and every second spent with each and everyone. I was amazed by how happy people were to see me and spend time with me. Their willingness to get to know me and efforts of helping me out with transportation and planning my whereabouts, left me with nothing but appreciation and respect and love. The people who swept me off my feet came from every city I visited and every group I met. Several people left me spellbound and I think their actions changed me in a way. I can't help but continue to feel that the Geetali that landed in India was not the same Geetali that left India.
The last week, I saw myself doing things that I would never have done before. I cancelled plans with friends to spend time with family. Given that I wasn't in Delhi forever and obviously felt more comfortable with people my own age, I can't help but go WTF! when I think I blew off friends to spend time with my father's siblings. But I did it. And I enjoyed it. When nani asked me a question the night before my return flight - the same question that left me furious several weeks ago - I listened to her, inside me a throbbing realization that she's concerned because she cares; I answered calmly, logically, maturely. The very next second - after 1) Deciding to spend time with family and not friends. and 2) Answering nani's question - I thought back to what I had just done. I sat there, amazed and proud, with the hopes of never going back to the person I was 5-6 weeks ago.
I believed in some things before but while in India I saw those in practice and they made me an even stronger believer. Little things that sometimes don't even require a lot of extra effort can make someone feel so special and appreciated. Being welcoming and treating people nicely equally rewards both the receiver and the provider. Memory is a great fuckin' tool and if you remember the right thing, you can make a person feel week in her knees.
My prep grade teacher - from SEVENTEEN years ago - remembered my name, face, my parents' occupations, and my younger sibling. Damn!
One of my grandmother's colleagues was shocked that I specially came to see her. The kiss that she landed on my forehead and the blessings she gave me with both her hands placed on my head were more than enough to convey her emotions.
Friends alternating their daily schedules to sync with mine, traveling with me within or out of city, and making me feel so much at home made me realize that in some cases distance and time doesn't really matter.
Three different groups of relatives willing to take me to the airport the night of my flight. Either trying to get rid of me asap :) ...or trying to make sure I'm comfortable throughout. Seriously, I don't know what to say.
Yeah, India was Amazing! But, India didn't feel like home anymore. At every step I was reminded that I'm an outsider, a visitor, a non-resident. For the first two weeks I felt like a complete alien. The moment my flight touched base with Atlanta, I looked out the window and thought, "Back to work!"
India was a vacation, not home. Now, I really have come to terms with it.