Last week, I went to India. The week before that I was going crazy getting stuff done so that I could go to India. That explains my absence.
Braving the disapprobation of all and sundry, I went to India without the kids. Since I’m pretty sure nothing of the sort – by which I mean jaunting off on trips, particularly trips to India – is going to happen again anytime soon, I decided to jet off to Delhi in addition to the usual Bombay.
Why Delhi? Because I am tired of telling people I haven’t been to Delhi. I want to strike that off my list. But mostly, I wanted to visit MinCat.
I flew out on a Sunday night instead of a Friday – missing my aunt’s 70th birthday bash in Lonavala (yes, 70-year-olds are still boogeying while I mostly ignore my own birthday now) because I wanted to spend the weekend with my kids. Everyone came to see me off at the Airport Express and Benji threw a fit when he realised I was leaving. My heart broke.
I had no sense of relief or enthusiasm on the Airport Express, like I usually do at the start of a holiday. Right up to the time I boarded my flight, I was dazed. Also, I had a cold. As the flight took off, I was seized by panic. What am I doing? I thought hysterically. Images of my babies kept flashing through my mind. Yes, I’m dramatic that way.
I didn’t sleep a wink on the flight because I had wisely (not) chosen a window seat and there were two guys to climb over every time I wanted to pee. Counter-productively, the thought of climbing over them kept me awake and feeling like peeing more than I would have had I just gone the eff to sleep. I marvelled at how unenthusiastic I was feeling about this holiday.
I watched The Hunger Games. It took me half an hour to get into it and then I was hooked. I assume I can tick Lord of the Rings off my list now. I get the general idea. I didn’t want to watch or read anything after which was a problem because I couldn’t sleep.
When I landed in Bombay, I realised I was stressed out. I just wanted to get from point A (airport) to point B (home). I swanned through the airport like a firang, wrinkling my nose at the musty carpet smell and only just tapping my foot as the baggage failed to appear while around me Indian travelers raged at staff who may or may not have been from Jet Airways. I rolled my eyes at the trolley war to go through the green channel.
My dad picked me up and I marveled at a newly-built car park that looks 20 years old and has two lifts that can accommodate only 2 people and 1 trolley to get to the first floor. As we drove through home, I realised I felt no sense of nostalgia or homecoming. A long time ago, the very smell of Bombay would move me. Now, nothing.
My building epitomised the shabbiness of the city. All the more so because it is under repair, broken, dusty, cement exposed. The city too seems to be under repair, or rather in disrepair that I know to be perennial.
The next morning my extended family from Hyderabad who had come to Bombay for the aforementioned 70th birthday party came over to visit me. It was lovely to see my uncles and aunt who I had lived with for two years. They got me chicken 65 from the roadside stall I used to love. They advised me to eat it only when I was back from Delhi in case my stomach collapsed.
I took an auto to the airport for my flight to Delhi. It was the ride of my life. Zipping down the highway, ignoring signals, me clutching on for dear life with one hand over my mouth to fend off the pollution.
Inside the airport, I had an epiphany. This is the only India I could live in now. Air-conditioned, glass-enclosed, sanitised, dotted with upmarket shops, getting an oil massage for Rs 1,200. I never wanted to be one of these people, inauthentic. But that’s who I am now. The question is – could I afford to live this way if I actually lived in India?