'Leaving is never easy. The first step is the hardest.'
What crap! Once my mind was made, leaving Sand City was easy as apple pie. That is if I knew how the hell apple pie is made.
Make no mistake, I am still an NRI. Which means that once every six months, I will have to enter the Sand City and make my presence felt so that my Visa will be still valid. It also helped that I was working for the last 13 years in our family business which gave me such flexibility. So like most Indian sons, who have the longest weaning period among any animals, I passed off all my liabilities to my parents and left the country.
There comes a time in every true blooded mallu heart, where, like a salmon, he must seek the source of his birth. I wish I could say the same was true of me.
I was bored. Unexcited. Mostly drunk and with absolutely no purpose. It didn’t help that I am blessed with no ambition. Contentment is complacency in designer clothing. Restlessness was my motivation.
I longed to travel. I longed to get on a bike and ride. I longed to set in motion an idea which I felt had a chance, because it would be done by me. My wife believed in it. Once I completed the business plan and showed it to my family, they too accepted that it had some merits, despite it being done by me. A prophet is never recognized in his home. Or like we mallus say, the jasmine on your own porch doesn’t smell as good as the one on another mans porch...
So I left. No farewell parties, no calls to my friends prior to my departure, no meaningless good byes. I had a dinner at home with my family and that night left a life I had lived for 15 years.
I reached Bengaluru airport early morning, with my knapsack stuffed with tents, hiking stick, 2 pair of jeans, 2 gaberdine pants, 10 black t shirts, 10 cotton boxers, one pair of trekking shoes, 3 pairs of socks and 1 leather jacket graciously donated to me by my elder brother. My earthly possessions of 13 years in the gulf were packed into 2 airbags (actually one would have been enough, but the sleeping bags, archery equipment, knives and other Doomsday appliances took one entire bag) and had been stowed away in the hold.
Standing at the luggage conveyor belt, after collecting one bag and waiting for the second one, I fell into a hypnotic lull, watching a similar looking bag to mine going round the snaking belt, out through a heavy plastic strip curtained opening, only to re-enter through another opening, much like the recycling of our sustainable souls. Woken from my reverie by a gentle tap on my shoulder, I realized that I was the only one standing there.
The lone bag continued its sojourn, unclaimed.
The finger giving me the gentle tap belonged to a tall young man in a uniform, whose name badge identified him as Bhoopathi.
It was quickly deduced that someone else had claimed my bag, while his own bag was now doing the circuit like a kid lost in the mall. I couldn’t help noticing that although similar looking, his bag could not really have been mistaken for mine.
Bhoopathi now jumped into action. Literally. He actually jumped onto the conveyor belt, removed the errant bag, read the luggage tag, spoke into his walkie talkie and then sprinted away.
I felt like I was in the Bourne Identity.
Airports are strange places once all the planes have taken off and all the hustle and bustle ceases into a temporary lull. You can almost hear a collective sigh. That customs officer with a handle bar mustache, turns from a ferocious gate keeper to a gentle giant with a penchant for puns.
Being an NRI gives some an ability to see things from a different perspective. I am never one for a comparison. I believe and love the differences. I am not one for conformity and a global culture. I like the surprises that some may label as imperfections.
As a traveler, it helps to move without expectations. In fact, its almost liberating to just accept without expecting. In that regard, India doesn’t disappoint.
After about 1 and a half hours, Bhoopathi had tracked down the kidnapper of my bag and had him drive back to the airport. After retrieving my bag filled with stuff which has no value to anyone but me, from a man who was now having his ear filled with words of wisdom from the handle bar mustached customs officer, I left, after shaking Bhoopati's hand, who had unintentionally given me the best welcome to a land I hold dear.
I walked out into the early morning light of a Bangalore dawn. I walked past the unauthorized taxi guys who were half heartedly vying for my attention, into the metered airport taxi. In the taxi, I asked my driver, Sayeed, whether the unauthorized taxis ever get a ride in the face of the highly efficient and accountable airport taxi services.
We had stopped at a tea stall, where we were served delicious masala tea in still tumblers as big as shot glasses. After taking a sip, Sayeed, explained that they actually do. The airport does not prohibit outside taxis. It is still the traveler’s choice as to which mode he/she chooses. There are still some who believe that unauthorized taxis are cheaper. This need not necessarily be true. I had traveled in one when I had come for a visit long time ago. It cost me INR 900. The airport taxi , which is metered had come to INR 800. I prefer the metered ones because it gives me a sense of actually believing I have some sort of control.
Then there is the safety aspect. When my wife travels alone, I insist that she takes the airport taxis. The car number along with the traveler’s name and destination are noted prior to the journey. So there is an amount of accountability which can deter potential hassles. And if that had not deterred the said driver, at least you will know who you will have to hunt down and hang to dry.
I like accountability.
It helps me sleep at night. Sayeed and I traveled the remaining stretch to my house in silence. I looked out of the window, watching Bangalore waking up to a weekend. Lone joggers, meandering milk men, brown colored stray dogs sniffing around near the cart that was serving a breakfast of idli and chutney to a small crowd of workers. A couple of techies, with the prerequisite laptop slung over their shoulders, ate among them. Ladies in nondescript colored saris, swept the streets - moving dirt and debris from one place to another.
I watched with amusement at the billboard advertising a leather sofa with a lady clad in tight leather with both her hands on her lower back, sticking her ample butt out, as if she had just gotten up from the sofa with a bad lower back pain.
The taxi sped on. Towards oncoming traffic. Some say that Indian traffic is like organized chaos, that there is some sort of method behind all the madness. I don’t think so. I think its just sheer luck. You walk out of the house with the firm belief in an after life.
Its difficult to be an atheist in India. India requires hope. It requires you to have faith in that auto guy, who is hell bent on killing you, to get you to your destination in one piece. You need to have some sort of a belief structure to ensure that you still believe that all those documents and money and time you had given at the RTO will eventually produce some tangible results. India will make you light those candles or break those coconuts or look up to the sky and murmur inshallah. Indian spirituality is a necessary part of negotiating your way through India.
I reached home. Sayeed helped me take my bags up to my flat. He declined my offer of tea. He had been called for another run.
Hugged my wife. Kissed the kids.
I am home.
I stood at the balcony holding the hot cup of tea which my wife had given to me. I stood among the potted organic farm she had managed to create in that small space. I watched the Bangalore skyline with her.
We stood in silence. It was a comfortable silence, the kind which envelopes you a second before you step into the ring.
I stepped into the ring.
The Prodigal Son Returns
After 15 years, this Mallu waves goodbye to Sand City and hello to India.
'Leaving is never easy. The first step is the hardest.'