As soon as the flight lands in India, I stow America away in the deepest recess of my mind. For the next 15-20 days in India, America becomes that country. All the daily routines, the cooking and the cleaning, the bus ride to the department, the grocery shopping; the big clean streets, the disciplined traffic, the 75 mph interstates; the ubiquitous coffee shops, subway and the friday night pub; research and studies; everything that to me reminds me of the US feels like an impression. As though, I have never experienced them, but have read a book about it or seen a movie about it and it is those visuals that I have borrowed upon to build my memories of the US.
As soon as the flight lands in India, my stay in the US becomes like a good fiction. A book written so well that you get immersed into the world of that book, knowing quite well that the world of the book is not this world. There is a place for that world in my thoughts, and US takes that place. Sitting in India, reading the Hindu sports page, sipping strong filter Kaapi, the pleasant Maargai morning, the pooja the the kovil and the birds singing, America becomes a fictional world for me, a non-existant idea about a world that I will never visit.
Reality strikes a couple of days before the flight back is due. Like waking from a nightmare into the nightmare itself. Every second becomes precious. Every second that reminds me of the US is an agony. I have to force myself to remind me that the US ”world” is not fictional. The mind wills the clock to work backwards. But back just a 15 days. The stray dog, the lazy cow, the crazy Auto, the crowded bus, the noisy Station road, each image evokes “Aw, I am going to miss this”. The heart becomes heavy thinking that another 330 days separates me from family and India again.
The last day of this India trip too was much like this, until early evening when Appa took me to meet his Mama’s. All of Appa’s mama’s had travelled to the US/Canada in the late 60’s and since then have called the Americas home. Now, they were in India to attend a few marriages, to look after some property and for a holiday. As they started conversation with me, that ranged from reminiscing about their Grad school days to cribbing about the snow and the winter to comparing Indian grocery stores in their cities to Madison, I realized that while I was talking about America as that country, they were talking about it as Home with love and longing.
And that made the fictional US real again for me. I was no longer scared and apprehensive about getting back and I was no longer sad and heart-broken about missing family and India.
I had some time to kill in Singapore and Shriram had come to meet me. We spend the whole day mall hopping and talking. We even spent two hours disturbing everyone in a cinema theater. But as departure time came, both of us wanted to stretch time. Thus, we spent almost 30 minutes in Mustafa mall moving from aisle to aisle. Then as we moved toward Ferrer Park station for Shriram to catch the train to Harbour Front and for me to take a cab to Changi (I did not want to take the train as I was getting a little restless). Shriram suggested that I take the train and using his awesome convincing skills, convinced me that I will make it to Changi with a lot of time to kill (which I did). So, I get into the train and we got ourselves a few more minutes. The plan then was to take the NE line to Dhobi Gaut, the next stop, then take the NS line to City Center and then the EW line to Changi, because Shriram thought that the alternate route of NE till Outram Park and EW to Changi will take more time. As the train pulled into Dhobi Gaut, both of us instinctively agreed to ditch the Dhobi Gaut plan and go with the Outram Park plan, and we got ourselves a few more minutes, minutes that were spent planning for the next reunion with outrageous ideas like making a trip pool in which each of us contributes 50$ each month etc. Both of us knew that the next meeting might not be anytime soon but still planned like Singapore, Australia, India and US were like 4 suburbs of Calcutta.
I felt that I belonged in Singapore both the times I was there. Who knows, maybe I end up working there. I will not mind it. Singapore feels like it can be home.
On the 27 hour journey from Singapore to Chicago, I must have slept for around 20 hours. The best of which came at the Narita airport. I generally find it hard to sleep if there is light around (so much so that I used a sleep eye patch at home last year because the blinds allowed some light to come in). I find it harder to sleep if I can listen to anything. I find it even harder to sleep on a chair. So it came as a surprise that I spent 5 hours sleeping in the Narita airport. And such a deep sleep that I could not tell that I was dreaming. I believed I was in Chennai even after opening my eyes and seeing some airport. Even after recognizing that I was in an airport, it took me a few seconds to realize that it was in Tokyo and a few more to make the connection that I have to board a 12 hr flight to Chicago next. Such deep sleep is so rare, that I am going to remember Tokyo by the fact that I slept so well there for 5 hours 🙂