Sunday, June 07, 2009

The First Journey Home

A close friend of mine left for India today. Its his first trip since he came as a student into the United States, and it has taken him three years. It reminded me of my own, first journey home, and so this post is written as a dedication to my friend, and in the hope of capturing that magic which grips and enthralls the international student upon his virgin flight home.

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The first voyage, is, in every possible way, a surreal experience and for the most part while its happening, you feel as though you are some place else. The reality is so intense that initially your mind refuses to accept it. Superstitions arise where logic ruled before - and you begin to wonder, Is it possible to ruin your happiness just by thinking about it ? Are you really tempting fate?? This is especially true if you haven't gone home for more than two years and if you have never stayed away from home before. There is a price you pay - when you leave to pursue a career abroad, a sacrifice you make. And its enormity cannot and is not, initially comprehended.

The moment you land, you realize that you have left everyone you knew, you are thousands of miles away, that even a simple phone call has suddenly become complicated. That you are in a continent whose culture and customs, smells and tastes, cost and currency, weather and warmth, and even time is as different from your home as it possibly can be. As you stand at the revolving carousel, hoping your luggage isn't lost, it dawns upon you - that against all instinct, you really did pack your life into suitcases and left the familiar - and you begin to seriously question your sanity. A sickening anxiety starts to grow in you, its shape: undefined, its origins: unknown and its length: uncertain.

After wonders of the first-world have worn off their fascination, after the charm of novelty has become stale in growing stress, the reality of your world sinks into your bones and its parameters stabilize. As you become busy with studies and are sheared beyond normal, as you juggle between a job and academics, between expense and incessant search for fund, you become pragmatic about your ability and even the thoughts of your country become too expensive to afford.

There is a price you pay, a sacrifice you make, and its magnitude cannot be read - at the time you make it.

Only after you have spent days and months and years in longing - Only after you have budgeted your phone calls and timed your cravings - Only after you have post dated your tears and hung by a memory, do you come to understand what was asked of you. You do know beforehand, that you are going to miss home. But you do not know that you will miss your best friend's wedding, or your sister's birthdays, movies and music releases or new trains and roadways. You do not conceive that the place you were born and raised in - will move on without you. That the mangoes of summer would bloom and crackers of Diwali would sound - with or without you.

And on some days, some horrible days, news comes that your city was bombed. That Mumbai is on fire, and you can not be there to help. That your loved ones, friends and family, the places you are from, rock, stone and buildings are left vulnerable - and there is nothing you have done, nor can you do, to protect them. How can someone deprive you of the right to defend everything you love and are made of ?? And you realize that - that someone is you - and you marvel at your selfishness and loathe every breath you undeservingly take. You realize you can drown without water and be suffocated even as you live.

But adversity builds character and sacrifice renders reward - and this does hold true, on some magical evening the forces of nature submit, and circumstances relent. The constellations in the sky are aligned just right, and you find that the miracle of miracles, you actually have enough savings to buy a ticket home. And so you make the purchase, eager yet defiant, and you count. Count the months and moments, the nights and minutes and days after painful days and everything inbetween. And you cross your calendar, you cross your fingers, you find a friend - and cross his fingers - and you wait.

And so I did, and I waited on the flight home, willing it to fly faster, land earlier and travel safer than it was supposed to. And on a December night, I heard the most melodious voice - that my plane was going to land. And I fastened my seat belt and pressed my face to the window, and on my cue, the clouds parted to reveal my India beneath - magnificent and majestic. And in that hour of the night, I beheld my city like the lover who turns to bride and through the moist of my eyes I saw those shimmering lights and braced my heart - for the Mumbai I missed, every single night. I surrendered tear after saved tear - and with the friction of those tires on home soil, I earned that - which was rightfully mine.

Home sweet home, you can travel the farthest corners and revel in riches beyond, yet there is no place - absolutely no place that can compare to your home. The first journey back - its special - its magical - its beautiful and its spectacular. It is worthy of the price you paid - of the sacrifice you made. It is afterall home sweet home.
- Sanket


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