I almost missed my flight home.
Proving that human beings will blithely assume that the worst will not happen to them even if the odds point to the likelihood of the worst, I arrived at the check-in counter with baggage roughly 7 kg overweight. I was sweetly informed that I would have to pay about Rs 4,000 to get them on the flight. Realising that my precious banana chips and bottles of Frooti did not justify that expense, I decided to resort to Plan B which was to remove the excess items.
However, when I opened my suitcase, a very Indian impulse overcame me, which was to scan the system. I sheepishly confess that when I opened my suitcases and removed the bottle of Frooti and packets of Maggi and dosa mix, I was racked by the impulse to save them as the realisation dawned that the woman at the counter had not weighed by handbag, which thanks to my penchant for oversized totes can take on a Mary Poppins-like quality. Thus, I eliminated just one bottle of Frooti and a pack of Maggi and transferred some dosa mix into my handbag.
Fingers crossed, I went back to the check-in counter, where this time she weighed only my suitcase. I was still 2 kg overweight but the price I had to pay for that was acceptable to me. When walking away with my boarding pass, I noticed that the Frooti and Maggi were still on the chair I had left them. So I grabbed the Maggi and put it back into my hand luggage and transferred the dosa mix back too. In my defence, I am deeply ashamed of all this and will never ever do it again.
Immigration was quick but when I landed at security I noticed that I had only an hour to go. Anywhere else, an hour is a long time but this is Bombay. At 12.30 with the line only inching forward, I was beginning to panic. A Jet Airways staffer came around calling for my flight and took me ahead – though actually I didn’t skip anyone because there was a separate women’s queue and everyone in front of me was male. Since there were only about seven women ahead of me in the queue, he assumed I would be fine. Unfortunately, the machine was slow, and then a cabin crew came and they screened all 10 or so of them first and if anyone had a problem, the whole process got held up. I finished the security check at 12.55 and my flight was at 1 am. I raced to the gate, where there were people waiting for me. As I was ushered outside, one of the ground staff said: “Last passenger, praise the Lord!”
The ground staffer escorting me told me he had called my dad (I had registered his number) to ask where I was. He was sweet enough to call my dad from his phone so I could tell him I was okay. I boarded at 1 am and I suppose the flight was waiting for me.
After that, it was uneventful. My exertions of the past two hours meant I slept soundly practically the whole flight.
Before I dosed off, I realised that I was homesick. Homesick for India. For family and friends but also for faces that lit up in welcome when they saw me and for people that took me as ordinary, as one of them, even if slightly foreign. I realised that in focusing on the rational advantages of living abroad (efficiency, developed infrastructure, safety), I had played down the emotional disadvantages (dislocation, isolation, racism). I began to think that moving back to India might not be a bad idea, after all.
V and Benji picked me up at the Airport Express. The entire ride home with V, I enthused about India. About how my family rallied around me, about the camaraderie with friends, old and new, about how my neighbours faces lit up when they saw me, about how people looked at and loved and protected other people’s children, about how the kids play with abandon, unstructured, about how I am many degrees less a foreigner there than I am in HK even with my stilted Hindi.
And then he told me about a friend of his who was beaten up by the police in Bangalore. The cocoon of certainty I had built up about the possibilities about life in India evaporated in the face of my one abiding fear – the lack of safety and how close the chaos of corruption is to everyday life in India. V pointed out that in India one still has the tools and the connections to cope with this. I am not sure I have any connections and anyway, how useful would they be after you’re black and blue like his friend, who is actually well-connected, was. I could wish away my own safety more carelessly than I would my children. The vulnerability of my children has turned me into a tiger.
Later, when I talked to friends about the wonder of India, I realised how lame I sounded. Doubts surfaced about my reasons for contemplating a move. I did realise one important thing though: raising my kids in Hong Kong is far from ideal. I am condemning them to being outsiders for life, for never really knowing what it is to belong and the insecurity of that, and that that this loss of identity is not something I can wave away as small. It is big. We need to move somewhere inclusive for the sake of our children because what we can brush off as adults will be the structure that forms our children’s sense of security.
Even as adults, living in a place where many doors are closed due to language, due to prejudice, due to the impassivity of the culture, has affected us. We are colder, harder, more isolated. For our own sakes, we may need to thaw.
Finally, in India, I realised that for the first time in a long time, thoughts of going back to work evoke a negative response. It’s not as if I was ever passionate about this job but I liked it well enough and most importantly, I didn’t dislike it. Lately though, there has been more work and more stress and even if not at the levels demanded in the commercial world, it is not meaningful enough for me to want to care. V has been saying the same about his job for a long time – he is not passionate enough to continue doing it when it becomes unpleasant and now the time has come.
I can, of course, switch jobs in Hong Kong. V cannot. And so, we are hurtling towards big changes and I must do that thing I am not very good at – choose, even if no perfect choice presents itself.