Mumbai meri jaan: This is home, this was home
An NRI wants to kiss the ground of his old janam bhoomi. But can you really ever go home again especially with a 21-month old baby, diaper bag and other paraphernalia in tow?
Our trip to the other side of the planet takes us 27 hours. Our little 21-month-old dynamo is running on three hours of sleep and shows no sign of slowing down. The Benadryl has long failed. The passengers in the first leg weren't too happy about having a baby disturb their luxury and were grateful for the earplugs that were handed out. I asked a couple of passengers in the second leg if they had used their earplugs. They reassured me, "Son, we have raised kids as well". I knew we were headed home.
I am overcome with emotion and want to kiss the ground of my janm bhoomi (land of my birth). This is not quite possible for this post-modern man as he is carrying the baby as well as his diaper bag and a gaggle of other baby paraphernalia, plus the pushing and shoving fellow passengers will probably trample him. The baby's tired and the overheated mother is about to whack me for changing our trip from Barcelona to this steam room known as Mumbai where shorts and sleeveless clothing are, how shall I put it, inappropriate.
During our drive, I recognise our location despite the mayhem. I am 25 years removed but am transported back to my youth spent on a B.E.S.T. bus, headed to school at the crack of dawn, decked out in my Catholic school uniform complete with tie, and full of dreams. Dreams of changing the world, doing away with poverty, having infinite riches and definitely having school start later in the day.
Coming back to the present, my heart is bursting with joy. I want to run on the streets and greet everybody. Do you know I am from here? I am one of you! I am Indian! I have never felt this welcomed by a city before. Nothing quenches my heart like this heat, the smells, and the all around assault on all the senses. This is home.
We spend our day at a friend's home in Bandra, overlooking the new Sealink with its promise of cutting the crazy commute into town. This is about two miles from where I grew up. The building is full of famous residents from the captain of the Indian cricket team to a famous actress, a former Miss Universe, and then, of course, our famous bachelor friend. His cat, Ram, is scandalised by these ghetto phirangis hanging out all day under the fan, wearing the bare minimum. I have missed most of my meetings. What to do, it is so damn hot!
Night falls. We are jet lagged, badly. The night belongs to the stray dogs. You can hear them barking and growling at passing auto rickshaws and cars. As my consciousness darkens, the sounds of the constant honking fades in its familiarity.
I head out for a run in the muggy morning. The morning that belongs to the crows of the city, and their cawing that greet all the early risers. The auto rickshaw-wallas and the taxi-wallas are milling about. It is reasonably cool, maybe 75 degrees. They are enjoying their morning cup of tea. There is a pure sense of joy for this ritual on their faces as they are shooting the breeze with their friends. Floods of memories pass through me as I see the doodhwalla, the pavwalla and the andawallas. They are preparing households for breakfast.
An auto rickshaw driver catches my attention. He tries to spin a story and asks me for money. I take on my nastiest Bombayite demeanor. Buzz off, don't you see I don't have pockets. I am offended. Not because he asked me for money but because he recognised me for an outsider. Damn Adidas climate cool outfit!
The days have been filled with family and childhood friends. It seems like I am visiting a previous incarnation. The sense of brotherhood and cherished memories dominates our conversations. The memories that made us who we are overshadow who we are today. I feel complete. This is home, this was home. It does seem like a time from a previous incarnation. The romanticism seems to be at odds with reality. I leave you with the question, can we as immigrants go back home?
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