Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rohit's American Adventure:Chapter 11. Visit to home

I was really excited when I was done with my last exam for the semester because of two reasons: firstly I was done with my first semester of my masters degree and secondly I was excited about going home. It seems funny but the first thing which I did when I bought my assistantship was buying tickets to go home rather than buying a laptop. The frustrating thing was that my exams got over on 12 th December and I was to leave for India on the 29th Dec. So, the wait would drive me nuts at times but it was cool to just go to campus and work and not worry about going to class. However time passed by faster than expected and I was now in the process of buying stuff for my family back home. Rauf bhai had taken me and my roommates Ajay and Kunal to Costco for buying stuff for our families. Ajay was not going to visit India but was sending stuff for his niece, whom he called , Gudiya through Kunal who was to visit India.In the coming days, Ms. Jacquie also helped me buy some cosmetic stuff for my mom which was very kind of her. I still remember carrying all that stuff which I had purchased for my family back to the office and everyone teasing me.Raj did help me buy shoes for my parents and some Tshirts for my brother.

Finally the D day did arrive and I was excited. I remember packing my stuff till the wee hours in the morning and going to sleep with images of how quickly time had gone by. Anoop had helped me a lot in the packing. It seemed just yesterday that I had landed in this country and I was on my way back home in less than 24 hours. I had my breakfast the next day, cleared out my stuff and my roommates were kind enough to help me with my luggage. The supper shuttle was a little bit off time but that gave me more time to talk with my roommates, whom I had once not got along that well with. I was also excited as I was going to move in to a new place when I returned from India and this place was going to be closer to campus.
When the super shuttle did arrive, I hugged my roommates and sat in the car. I had an interesting conversation with the driver. I came to know more about him and it was inspiring to know how he has so seamlessly adapted to this country. He had a family now and was happy. He visited his home country once in a while. The advice, he gave to me, “Study hard when you are in school and make the most of it” seemed to reiterate the advice which my parents and well wishers had given. I even took a photograph of him as a souvenir and he promised to help me buy a car when he had spare time.

The journey started on an odd note. I had to pay 50$ as one of my bags was overweight. I had spent the entire night trying to ensure that none of the bags went over weight but when they did go overweight, I was kind of annoyed. However, I did not let that disturb me and tried to be cheerful. I happened to meet this girl from Israel as I was waiting for my plane and was surprised to know that everyone in Israel had to go through army training. She shared a picture of her in her army clothes with me, which was awesome. Little did I know that a year from then, my life would be changed by my Jewish friends.

The mp3 player which I was going to gift my brother proved to be handy in keeping me entertained when waiting for my flight after the girl from Israel left for her flight. It felt great when I was seated at my seat in my plane. I was happy and excited. As the engine roared and the plane gained momentum to take off, I closed my eyes and thanking God for making this possible. The funding for my tuition, me making it through my first semester and now being able to visit home seemed like a fairy tale. It is really rare for students to go back home when they have just come into the states 4 months ago. Students normally visit their homes after a year and a half.
I started conversing with this gentleman who was seated next to me. He seemed a man in his fifties with golden frame glasses. I forgot where exactly he was heading but it was interesting to hear his story. He started as a simple worker who used to fix pipes in US. He did not even know how to speak in English. However, he was good at what he did and always told employers, ”I can get this done”. He told about this incident where he took up the challenge of fixing the pipe system in an old school which was undergoing renovation. From that day on, he continued to get his work done on time and eventually build up a reputation and over the years now owns a company. He has a wonderful family with two young sons and is happy. This person was a shining example of the belief; I had, ‘If you are good at what you do, this country (USA) will appreciate your skill and you will be rewarded’. I took his photograph as a souvenir. We parted ways at Frankfurt.It was amazing to know that he was visiting his home country after 20 years. That seemed like an eternity to me considering my scenario of visiting home within 4 months of being in USA.

I took the connecting flight from Frankfurt to Mumbai and was impressed by Swiss airways. I had not heard much about it and that did help. Before boarding the plane, I did take some photographs of airplanes taking off from the airport.When on board the swiss airways flight, I was happy when I found out that I had a window seat. The plane took off in a few minutes and I enjoyed some breath taking views of the beautiful landscape which Frankfurt had to offer. On the plane, I happened to meet this gentleman by the name Prashant who was returning to India following his project work in Amsterdam.We hit it off well discussing about our academic backgrounds and future career prospects. There was this beautiful girl seated just behind my seat.I so wish, someone like that had sat next to me. Having wishes like that, I had no problems with Prashant. He was a fine gentleman, very well mannered and was fun to talk with. I happened to watch Polar Express on the plane and kind of enjoyed it. The food served on the plane kept me awake for most of the journey.I experienced a sudden bolt of excitement in me when I heard the flight captain announce, "We will be landing in Mumbai in another 30 minutes." I saw how wonderful the city looked at night from the sky and I did not realize how quickly those 30 minutes went by.When the plane finally landed, I could not wait to be at my home.I went through all the custom formalities and saw my mom appear out of nowhere as I was waiting for my luggage. Mr. Saif Ali Khan, famous Bollywood actor also seemed to be there with his girlfriend and seemed to attract a lot of attention. I was happy when I had all my luggage on the trolley and my mom could not stop kissing me. We knew someone who worked in the customs, so we were fine. Having said that I was not smuggling gold or something illegal but the thought of having someone from within just seemed comforting.I saw my dad and my younger brother waiting outside. My dad told me, that I had lost weight. I got in to the van which my parents had hired and felt back at home feeling the humidity, the roads, seeing the people. I gave the mp3 player to my brother which I had purchased for him.I had carried it with me to pass it off as my personal mp3 player. Within 30 mins, I was home. Flashes of me leaving my home 4 months ago swept across my eyes. Standing at the entrance of the building surrounded by my family members and neighbors, posing for photographs, my huge travel bags being taken to the van..everything seemed to come before my eyes. Four months ago, when I had left my home with the ambition of pursuing the american dream of being rich and earning money, little had I expected that I would be back in 4 months. I had been lucky. The guard who sat at the entrance of the building, where I stayed recognized me immediately.He helped us with the luggage. When my dad opened the door to our house, I saw my granny eagerly waiting for my arrival. I hugged her and it felt good. It took some time for the feeling to sink in that I had finally arrived home.

I could not sleep that night.I got up at 6:30 am in the morning. That was a rare granny was up and in middle of something. I had the wonderful tea prepared by my granny and saw the sunrise. The rays of the sun lite our hall room. I went back in time and images from my childhood kept flashing in my mind.I remembered the efforts I had put in during my engineering studies and a smile appeared across my face. Those sleepless nights, irregular eating times, studying with an obsession and determination to be the best seemed to have just happened yesterday. I decided to go on a morning walk.
I visited my old high school and felt nostalgic about it. I could picture myself walking nervously to my classroom on my first day in the school. Those awkward and funny moments during Physical training class and the football match which I played with my classmates on the last day of our school.I stood at the entrance of my school for quite some time, remembering all the good memories , friends I had associated with it. On my way back home, I did visit temples and prayed, and thanked God for everything I had got so far.

The next few days went by at an alarmingly fast rate.I normally spent the evenings trying my hand at the guitar and observing my mom cook food. I was determined to learn cooking this time as I had been a big flop when it came to cooking. I especially enjoyed hanging out with Amar and old friends. My good friend Vicky was to head to Australia for his further studies in a few weeks time. We were all excited for him.On the eve of Vicky's departure to Australia, all of us decided to go out and give him a memorable send off.Vicky's girlfriend had also joined us for the evening. She was kind of emotional throughout the evening and crying at sporadic intervals. I did not blame her. Time went by and finally we decided to call it a night after a series of photograph sessions. We dropped Vicky's girlfriend at her place and then headed home. On our way back home,one of the cops told us to stop and show vehicle papers. I was seated behind Bhavik who was riding the bike. Bhavik did not have the vehicle papers and was trying to solve the problem by making it more complicated. Vicky intervened at the right time and somehow after some monetary negotiation with the cop, the cop let us go. It was kind of frightening, the prospect of being in prison for no fault of mine but its only in India that you can get away as long as you talk your way out and have some money; things ease out.

We drove Vicky to the airport and gave him a good send off. Everyone was crying as he was about to leave.His mom did not cry but I could see that she was controlling it and trying to give her son confidence. Vicky's grandmom was in tears and I was feeling bad for her. I thought of my grandmother when I saw tears in her eyes. Right from childhood, my grandmother had been like a godmother to me. She had pampered me through years and I could not imagine a single day without her. Vicky had a similar upbringing to mine and I could imagine what he was feeling. While it seems a great prospect to go abroad to pursue studies, it is painful from within when you have to pack your bags and leave your home, your country, your friends to pursue a dream. I had a great time flying kites all day long on Sankranti. Sankranti, was one of my favorite festivals since childhood. It was a day, where you could fly your kite and cut another kites in air. The good thing about Sankranti was that it bought people together. We lived in an apartment complex. We were close to our neighbors. We used to share our dinners and often go out on weekends. However, during Sankranti, everyone who lived in the apartment complex, used to come to the terrace to fly kites and it was great. There is loud music playing in the background , not to mention the delicious dinner at the end of the day. There are few things, which I am good at and flying kites is one of them. The funny thing was people looked at me in a different way.They looked at me more as a US return and an interesting person to talk to, which was funny.

We visited Tirupati for a couple of days. Tirupati is a holy place in India, where people from all over the world come to offer their prayers. It is said that if you ask anything from the bottom of your heart, God(Lord Balaji) will listen to you. My family has been going to Tirupati on a regular basis. I was keen on going to Tirupati to thank God for the funding and the way things had shaped up in my life. It was a sweet trip with mom and dad. It kind of brought all of us together and we were happy to get a good darshan.

We did pay a visit to my grandparents(Mom's parents) in Hyderabad. It was a one day trip but well worth it. I always treated my grandparents like Gods because of the way they lead their lives. They were married for over 50 years and they were the symbol of true love for me. They got up at 5 in the morning everyday. Grandpa used to go for morning walks and granny used to have his tea ready by the time he was back. After Grandpa was done with his tea and watching the news, they used to watch Devotional shows or listen to devotional songs. I was happy to see my grandparents and touched their feet as soon as I arrived at their home. My mom's elder sister was living with them for few days; so it was good times. Having a laptop makes things simpler and easier. We watched the movie, 'Munnabhai Lageyraho' on my laptop and Grandpa liked it. We went shopping in the evening and had a small photo session before leaving. An entire day had just passed by. I touched my grandparents feet again and left for home hopping I could stop time.

The next few days were emotionally painful. I did visit all my family relatives this time, answering the same questions all over again. I enjoyed visiting amee's( my dad's elder sisters) house. My cousin sister had got married and she had a beautiful daughter. They called her Deeshita and she was the prettiest thing in the world. With just a few days left to go home, I was already feeling the need to ditch America and stay at home. However, I had to finish my education and it would be stupid and immature to quit. After having one last walk in my local colony, I was set to return to USA. This may sound funny but Indian version of Who wants to be a millionaire, called,' Kaun banega correrpatti dwetiya' aired on the same night, I was to leave.Shah Rukh Khan was going to host the new season.

The drive from home to airport was emotional. I was in no mood to return to the USA. There was more drama at the airport. When I was checking in my bags, the airlines official asked me if I could stay back as the flight was almost full. I was more than happy because it would mean one more day of being with my family, eating the delicious food etc. I called my parents and told them that I might come back home as the airlines official had put me on standby. I spend the next hour at the airport hopping, for the flight to be full. Unfortunately, like always in my life, it did not turn out that way. The airlines official told me that there was one seat left and I had to go. It was kind of emotional, when I called my parents and told them, I was not coming home as the airline officials had found me a seat on the flight. Fast forward the custom checks, I was in my plane and tears rolled down my checks. I thought of all the wonderful things, I had experienced over the course of the past 3 weeks and did not know why I was in the flight going to USA, when true happiness lied in being home with friends and family.