September 13, 2019 · Issue 01: In Transit

Doorway Effect / Dadar Station

Indira Gandhi Airport (New Delhi), 19th Oct 2016 The seat belt sign is lit. I stare at the screen, struggling to choose a movie. Baba must be reaching home joining Aai for a cup of chai. I look at the selfies we took hours ago; smiles, like the last sunlight beam at dusk, dancing between the shadows of swaying tree branches, warming my heart, receding into stillness. I feel cold. I pull out my jacket while the flight attendant clicks and unclicks the seatbelt. I wonder, glancing over at my co-passengers, if they feel ready. I had negotiated for a window seat at check-in. The successful negotiations failed. I am seated in a window seat without a window, craning my neck to see the landscape slipping away as we take-off. I instinctively grasp the seat. My stomach feels heavy, my calves tense, and my body resists all motion. Tomorrow, I will begin my Ph.D. in Canada. This is not the first time I am traveling to Waterloo, it’s the third. This is the first time I am not ready. I am not looking ahead at the setting sun fading into dawn, instead I am catching sunlight in mason jars. Somewhere at the back in the flight there is a suitcase with jars gently packed with turmeric, chili powder and varahdi masala. I scroll through the photos of the week past, all my relatives gathered, fifteen souls under a roof, loud chatter, hilarious videos of my cousin teaching me how to dance, last minute culinary frenzy opening a pressure cooker, my sister and I crying in the middle of the night for what was to change, my sister glowing in her flowing white gown, the joyous celebrations for what was to be and the Vidaai, the sentimental giving away of the daughter. As one door closes, another opens. Her married life. My PhD. We cried, my Aai and Baba silently dried their tears and I bawled. My sister reminded me I was the one who was really going away. I stare at the screen in front of me at some movie, as we are served lunch. I can smell Aai’s cooking but the food tastes bland. Aai... my stomach feels heavy again, she lost two daughters today. The doorway effect states that our mind resets as we enter a new room, forgets why we entered. I am afraid to forget. The sun sets. Come morning, I wake up in Waterloo, holding my mason jars, find sunlight trickling against the rising sun. 200,000 passengers pass through Dadar station every day I almost died once. Aai chokes up when I tell this story, she made me throw away the pink new dress I wore that day. I remember it in parts, but have heard enough retellings to knit them all seamlessly. My uncle saw us off at the Local train station in Mankhurd. Aai had earlier suggested we take a taxi, something about the train didn’t feel right. I sometimes think my Aai can peer into the future. Baba promised the train would be fine. This was the first time we took the Local train as a family. Aai, knowing Baba must have reminded him to change trains at Dadar station, as he made his way into the general coach. I remember Aai holding onto two suitcases, me, and my sister, making room in the woman’s coach. The train pregnant with people, we could feel the sweat of Mumbaikars in the humid air, hear the clanking bangles of fish vendors. I could see the landscape whizzing by through a small opening between saris and bare waists of women who pushed their way to the open doorway as Dadar approached. My mom squeezed my arm as the wheels screeched to a halt at Dadar and the cacophony of changing trains began. Baba was somewhere in the flood as we reached the other train. My sister and I climbed up. Aai struggled with the suitcases. The train started moving my Aai now frantic shouted “Sanu, tumhi uttara!” she wanted us to get down my sister heard her and jumped into a sea of people rushing like particles of water in their turbulence. I was on a moving train at the age of six, Not knowing where life would have taken me But the ladies they heard Aai and pushed me off my mom froze, like a particle hiding from time as my life was flung into the water, my body between train tracks and the sea and yet that is the property of turbulence It is chaotic and beautiful. A man pulled me back into the sea, safe from the motion of a train speeding away. Aai wonders what would have been without him, she calls the man a god Ganesha he must be.