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.