Sunday, June 29, 2008

NRI Sojourn

I am back. One day soon, I will post a recap of the day-by-day, play-by play of my time in Guwahati. Until then, just take my word that it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life--between witnessing someone die and being with all of my family under one roof (which finally happened to be OUR roof). Unlike when I went to the village in my childhood, this time I appreciated the rarity of the togetherness and tried to revel in it (in between enlarging photos, hunting for the right brand of mustard oil for use in puja, sitting on the river bank at 6 a.m. for yet another offering to the gods and grandmothers, publishing memorial books, buying more and more disposable cups and plates for all the visitors--all on a diet of boiled rice and potato once a day, the food mandated by someone long ago for the bereaved.)

Because my father couldn't come for his mother's shradh on the 13th day, nor could my mother come for her brother's, I flew to them and we made up our own US version. Shockingly, it was the first formal prayer I could remember my parents having in our house, Naya's annaprasanna not counting. The picture above is courtesy of dear Stony, a friend of my grandmother too, whom he lovingly called Jumbo Jet. Ironically, the gangly white guy at the ceremony of 70 people was the one, who besides we seven Kalitas or Mukuls, had spent the most time with her.

Anyway, once I hit my 20s, I stopped crying uncontrollably when I left India/Assam because the frequency of visits made that seem silly. When I left Assam last week, I felt like I was 12 years old again only I didn't have that angry question I always posed to my parents on the LOOOONG plane ride (usually the awful Romanian Airlines, remember) back: Why did you leave? I don't understand. Why wouldn't we want to live with our grandparents?

Nope, last week, as my uncles (and I) cried more over my departure than when Aita died, I knew the answer, thanks to living here for the last 20 months in an India better off than the one my parents left. As an aside but totally related, the number of people who want me to find government jobs for them in Assam is up to four... My maternal uncle's wife's brother ... does anyone know anyone in public works and engineering in Assam?

The US was more of a blur, although I am glad I went and felt my place for the shradh was more with my nuclear family than the extended. Nitin's show sold out, my brothers took a day off and we went to the beach to relax, etc etc.

On the flight home, a packed Continental nonstop worthy of a ballad, the plane was defined by NRI kids and their weary mothers, all going back for the summer. The one seated in my row was miserable, her mother told me: She has her friends now and doesn't want to spend six weeks in Lucknow. The two boys before me in the customs line were practically bouncing off the walls, they were so excited to see their cousins. And the kids behind me, upon hearing I moved to India, promptly asked their mom: "Why don't we live in India?"

I miss that innocence, miss having a grandmother to go to, even miss fighting with my brothers on the flight.

Naya-isms to round out your life:

(She remains in the US with Nitin, his parents and mine, busy with museum visits, swimming lessons, story hour at library, dance camp and her new best friend Antonio down the street, whose mother MY mother has been having coffee and play dates with. Like I said to my parents, if you had done all this for me, I would have been the most well-adjusted, all-American gal there ever was... No wonder she doesn't want to come back.)

She knows my brothers will let her dress any way she wants so as she wore a yellow-and-blue Fab India kurta with a pink and purple skirt, she did a curtsy before me and said, "In these clothes, I look like a stepmother!"

"Ata (grandpa) eats with his hands so he belongs in India, but I eat with a fork so I will stay in America."

Her pronunciation of binoculars is the definitive Indian accent - BINO-coolers...

And she also has taken to imitating my parents now on the phone. The other day, she sat behind the couch on her play cell phone and said, in Assamese: "Yes we are all fine. Only my mother died."

On that note, I am outta here...

1 comment:

squirrelmama said...

Hi Mitra, greetings from beautiful downtown Melville. I only now have found this lovely blog, and let me extend belated condolences on the loss of your beloved grandmother and your uncle. Your words have done them both proud. All the best to you! - Caryn