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
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.