Girls departing in silver-grey Merc-Benz cars, sometimes chubby Ambassadors, white and solid. A rented vehicle maybe, a scarlet red Hyundai, sometimes. Or a flashy Porsche, bedecked in flowers and streamers, A shiny convertible?
(No, it’s never that kind of fun for us.)
We leave behind our mothers and dads and younger siblings As they step into other vehicles. I sit in mine, surrounded by strangers, one of them more familiar than the others.
I look back, the cars have left already.
I am on my own In a car that’s all new, with a family that’s all new.
Girls depart to new homes, bearing new names and identities, New clothes, old jewelry, new ideas, old theories.
Woke up early this morning and decided I’d go sit on the balcony swing. It’s the last day I’d be able to watch daybreak across the Dubai skies. It is my last full day in the city.
The sky is gently lighting up, pale lavender and peach-gold-pink near the horizon. The moon is suspended high above, first shrouded by hazy clouds, then gradually revealing itself. It is a quiet Saturday morning, and the perpetual sound of construction is conspicuously absent. I imagine it’ll kick up a little later in the day; Friday is the only day most workers are off in Dubai. There is always ambient noise, though. A gentle buzz is ever present, and it isn’t even 6:30am yet. It’s likely the sounds of lightly humming air conditioners, lazy traffic in the near distance, gusts of dust-laden wind.
The view from the balcony of my sister’s 18th floor apartment is nothing short of spectacular. Dubai Frame is visible to the left, a spare structure dotted with lights and glass windows glinting in the soft light of dawn. Burj Khalifa rises up through the distant mist, surrounded by tall buildings in shades of cream, slate gray, cold blue. Dubai Creek flows to the right, a slender thread of deep blue, hemmed in by dock buildings. The view is somewhat obscured by a new apartment building, currently under construction. Buildings come up quick in Dubai, its landscape constantly filling up with glass and steel towers — straight, curved, stylishly bent, helical and spiral, wrung out, and so on.
I require this time to process the fact of my impending departure. It’s almost time for me to leave, yet again.
After marriage, it feels like I have been on the move constantly. But that isn’t true, really.
I moved to the United States post-marriage, and now I periodically go visit my family in India. My sister moved to Dubai recently, and this is my first visit here. Mom and Dad are visiting too, and this is our first family reunion outside India. Regardless of the place we meet (India, Dubai, wherever), it feels like my time with Mom, Dad and Geetu is always severely limited. A week feels insufficient, two weeks fly by real quick… and it’s hard not to feel like I am on a deadline. There is always an imaginary ticker ticking away, a giant calendar where the days go zipping by.
Every trip home to meet my family is much anticipated. Dates are set well in advance, and plans are made. We have to go here, eat this, do that, buy this, cook that… and so on. I land, get home, unpack… and the ticker starts. I am gradually easing out of jet lag, acclimating to the heat and humidity (it isn’t so bad), getting used to the spice (I am a sensitive eater)… and expanding myself into India in all possible ways. There is family to meet up with, saree blouses to get stitched or altered, jewelry to get repaired, and so on. And thus we get started. Days go by, one after another. There are trips to be made, local and elsewhere. And we keep soldiering along, at least I do.
As the trip nears its end, that giant calendar becomes a constant presence in my head. Misery slowly settles like a giant, dark cloud that follows me everywhere.
(It’s a lot easier now, I must admit. I moved to the United States fifteen years ago, and the India trips during the early days were harder, more emotional. I struggled a fair bit.)
I often dream of a trip where the calendar wouldn’t exist. But that is impossible.
Time with others is always limited.
Now, I could adjust to this much better. I could be philosophical about all these comings and goings. I could take it as a fact of life, that we are all travelers in this so-called journey of life, that every person we meet is a fellow traveler we spend some time with, and so on.
I am fortunate that I have a loving, supportive partner, my husband. And he is a sweet person to go home to. And I also know that I couldn’t live with my parents forever, because I do have a separate life. I forged it (or it was forged by and through me) in a loving, organic way, independent of my parents and sister (not entirely free of their influence, though). It is my own space, and I feel like I owe it its unique and separate place. This is the place where I am most myself, free to dream and explore my individual philosophy, far from anyone’s judgment or expectation.
It also does not help that home/Atlanta is a cold, dark place at the moment whereas Dubai is basking in warm, cool sunshine. As I head back, I am also leaving behind the familiar scents and sounds of Kerala that Dubai abounds in.
Each one of us is a stranger (or a native, if you want to view it in an enlightened/larger context) in a foreign land whether it is the country we were born in, or the one we migrated to.
The sun has risen, a burning glow of orange and gold. The day has lost its initial cool charm, turning bright and white and warm-hot. Dubai is a city of grey and brown, steel and glass, tall spires and shining lights along the creek, souks, beaches with teeming masses, and all the Gujarati thalis and filter coffees and vegetable biryanis and fresh coconut that I could never get my fill of, not this day, not this trip.
But Dubai is going nowhere, although my sister might move out sometime. My parents will go back to India in a couple of weeks. I return to Atlanta tomorrow.
We are doomed (or blessed?) to be travelers forever, or maybe it’s just me. If it isn’t traveling through large physical stretches of land and water, it is through the endless spaces of our imagination. It is through the years that have taken their toll on my parents’ faces and bodies, the babies my friends birthed who are now grown adults, the countless strands of grey I pick off the bathroom floor every day.
Perhaps home is a place or point where we take birth, and it is where we return in order to take that last breath, exhale one final time. And then the journeys begin again.
She was happy to leave New York (does that happen to anyone at all?)
she loves animals
And the land her father grew up on
where she tramped days as a child
quiet and alone and tanned
tall trees laden with jack fruit and cashews and peppercorns and mangoes
dark homes with cool floors and pillars
she left the noise and dust of our home in Mumbai
found a hillside town
(I thought it romantic)
she worked long and hard
made a name for herself, met friendly folks and ate homely dinners
met dynamic men, fiery and passionate
loved, lived, left
came back to Colorado, the hills beckoned again
friendliness, passion, compassion and desire
to learn and grow
and preserve and protect
to drink in the beauty
sip away the sunrise
and tramp all over the hills again
finally to gaze at the land her father built a home on.
One of my nieces is a high-school teacher. She was asked by a student, “Do you have a favorite student?” She responded, “Do you have a favorite teacher?” Her point was, yes, of course. She had some students who were absolute darlings, and then there were others that she wished would stay home more often. But as a teacher, she was clear that her personal feelings about the students were separate from how she treated and evaluated them.
Perhaps it is the same for a parent?
As an adult, I often reflect on my own childhood. It was perfect. Or was it? Well, what is perfect? Perfect does not exist. We are groomed to put a positive spin on every experience. Perhaps it is a technique to stave off pain, to prevent an emotional setback. So we layer the prettiest colors over all our experiences, refusing to see the blacks and dark greys underneath.
Who’d relish knowing that perhaps, they were the less favorite (or less favored) child?
I think each parent relates to each of their offspring in a different way. Maybe you share a passion with one of your children. Or maybe both of you have similar aspirations. And then it could be that you share nothing in common with the other child. Or maybe s/he is so similar to you that it becomes a bit of an irritant, a sad reminder of some sort. Perhaps you have a dream that one of them looks poised to fulfill. Perhaps there is a natural reserve in one of the relationships that simply cannot be overcome, despite your best intentions. Maybe one of the children is a natural attention magnet, and all of it flows in their direction.
After all, parents are human too.
I know it is common to evoke compassion at this point. To encourage adult children to forgive and forget, to focus on the present, to let go.
Perhaps these actions, if undertaken in a spirit of sincerity and empathy, serve their purpose. Perhaps they bring closure and peace. Or maybe they take a lot of effort and energy, and you end up empty-handed, right where you started.
I think truthfulness can help. By not pretending, not hiding ugly emotions behind positive affirmations, by not prettifying unpleasantness… we may hope to gain closure. It sometimes feels long and arduous, but it will ultimately heal hearts and minds, I think.