Apologies in advance, this is going to be a long and rambly post (more-so than usual), and probably not the most well formatted. It should be split into multiple pieces, but they are all kind of intertwined. Happy (or not so happy) reading.
I’ve gone back to India plenty of times over the years, and am able to call it home without a second thought, despite the fact that I have probably spent less than two years there in total and my Hindi is abysmal to say the least. Nonetheless, my trips back to India have tended to have a certain comfortable cadence to them. Flying into Delhi exhausted after staying up for way too long watching all the movies (seriously, those individual headsets for everyone were a game changer), being over-caffeinated from the (free) Coke, and hungry for real food as opposed to whatever that stuff is that they serve on planes. Stepping out into the early morning (plane arrivals in India couldn’t be timed worse) that hopefully didn’t have any fog (because up until a few years ago, fog meant circling the airport for hours) to be greeted by light pollution and smog (along with an armada of overly enthusiastic relatives). Driving in a three lane road that somehow held 6 lanes of traffic, blowing through red lights with reckless abandon, and stopping for the random herds of cows that were still on the streets. Being greeted at home with a fresh home-cooked meal from grandma’s kitchen. Relaxing and basking in the warmth of family that is rarely seen and not talked to nearly as frequently as it should be, but the distance and the lack of communication don’t matter at that moment. After a brief interlude, make the trek to Kolkata to see more family (when we upgraded from taking the overnight train cross-country to taking planes, I might have cried from happiness). Hanging out with family and friends there. Maybe taking a trip to other parts of India if time allows. Have a tearful farewell (with most of the men stubbornly refusing to cry) in Kolkata before going back to Delhi for a few days before another tearful farewell. All the while meeting a constant parade of people, without knowing whether they are friends or family (although, let’s be honest, in India there isn’t much of a distinction between the two). Repeating that same vicious cycle with oversees travel, although without as much of a threat of fog de-railing plane landings.
My most trip was different for a number of reasons, as I mentioned in my last post. One of the first things that was different was that this was the second time I had traveled to India by myself. And for the second time, my family was late to pick me up from the airport. Clearly I’m not as important as I thought I was, and need to start planning accordingly. Although my brother, my uncle, and my cousin apologized profusely for being late, that only lasted about five minutes before my cousin started berating me about missing part of the wedding ceremonies for my other cousin. She then proceeded to emotionally blackmail me about being present 10 days before any of the festivities began for her hypothetical wedding in one to years. Ah yes, always good to be with family. I didn’t realize we would be staying at my cousin’s house that was getting married, which ended up being a very good thing.
This was the first time I had come to India without being greeted by aloo paratha made by Din, my grandmother. She had passed away back in August, right around the time I had moved to Vegas and started my new job, and to be honest I still hadn’t processed that. To an extent, even after the trip back to India I haven’t had the chance to process her death yet, which I am thankful for in a way. Din wasn’t my first grandparent to pass away. But she was the first to pass that I had a close relationship. I can without a doubt say Din loved me absolutely unconditionally. Part of it was probably cultural. I was the oldest male child on that side of the family (both sides actually) and that still carried/carries weight with some of my relatives. Part of it was the fact that she fulfilled the role of grandmother perfectly, spoiling all her grandkids rotten while being their biggest fan. This is the woman who convinced me, a pretty staunch atheist, to wake up at 5 in the morning to pray with her and learn Sanskrit scriptures. Who always believed that I could do anything that I put my mind to. Who protected me from my mom when I was reading novels instead of studying and berated her for yelling at me since my mom used to do the same thing. The woman who could never figure out why her Bengali tapes got over-written my recordings of me playing (apparently I thought it was a great joke to record over her tapes when she fell asleep watching me play at the age of three. Clearly I was much smarter back then). This was the woman who gave me the most unconditional love I have ever received in my life. And despite all of this, I still know so little of her own stories, and that is a regret that will always stay with me, along with the fact that I never really got a chance to say goodbye.
With that trepidation in mind, I arrived in India without Din to greet me, and luckily went straight to my cousin’s house in Noida, not the familiar family compound in CR Park, the house that held both my grandparents and an aunt, uncle, and two other cousins. That was a welcome relief, since I didn’t know how I would handle staying in a place with so many memories without having a chance to properly grieve. And the wedding festivities went on for the next six days. And that was an adventure in and of itself. Almost every wedding I have been to has been an Indian wedding. In most of those weddings, I’ve attended the wedding being related to the bride. This means that there are many things to be done. But this was also the first wedding where I really cared about one of the people involved (no offense to my two older cousins), and that was a different experience again. There is a great deal around the marriage rituals and ceremonies that makes it clear that the bride is becoming a part of the groom’s family, and there is a tangible feeling of loss despite logic saying that the situation isn’t really any different from before. Not quite sure how to explain that one. Being involved with the marriage did solidify my belief that I really don’t want an Indian wedding. Other than riding in on an elephant. I think I’m going to leave this post on that note.