My eyes got affixed to this date in Dhruv’s Almanac.
Everyday, soon after he comes back home from school, the first thing I do is to take the Almanac out of his bag, scan for that day’s date and check the homework.
But 6th October, 2016 was just not any other date that I could simply move on to take note of the homework and close the Almanac. It was a special date bringing waves of memories from a decade ago. 10 years ago this day I, a shy young girl married for 6 months, took a great leap for herself by travelling to the United States all alone. Having spent an over-protected life, never traveled alone even by road from one city to another, no experience of air travel in the past 16 years prior to that time, a personality overwhelmed with confusion and self-doubt which education and career had dispelled but which later got accentuated by the melodrama called marriage, I was nervous, immensely nervous.
Being the parents that they are, my parents planned a trip to Bangalore from Delhi in Sep 2006 with me to give me an experience of what air travel and airports were like after 16 years. It helped. It dissipated the fear of travel by air but added one and that was – ‘how in the whole world and mid-air was I going to tear the ketchup sachets on my own?’ As much as I am laughing about it now, tearing ketchup sachets was big deal for me since I could never manage it at the McDonald’s.
The next task was to buy 2 heavy-duty suitcases which could hold 34 Kgs of weight, the weight Air India allowed for international travel. My parents gladly helped me with all the shopping. One suitcase went to my in-laws’ place and the other stayed at my parents’ place. I did the initial filling up – half clothes and half books for which my mother (you might remember she is the fashion police, a milder version these days but very strict 10 years back) blasted me off for the choice of clothes I had filled in and exasperated with the idea of her newly married daughter planning to spend all her time reading books. She emptied all the contents and took the packing task seriously upon herself. I complained with a quivering voice which hardly left my lips. At last, I had a suitcase full of lovely clothes filled to the brim, many of which I was sure I wasn’t going to wear. Was I able to pack in a book or two? I don’t think so.
The packing story was a similar one at the in-laws’ place. There I was packing husband’s winter clothes and other stuff which he could not take along with him when he had left in a hurry 4 months earlier. There, too, I was asked to unpack my books as they were occupying useful space. My father-in-law consoled that he had acquaintances traveling often to US so he will send my books through them later and that packing clothes was utmost necessary. I believed him.
So I was ready on the evening of 6th October, 2006 at the Delhi Airport with 2 heavy suitcases of 34 Kgs each, a bag for a cabin luggage with scores of G-MAT study material for husband the weight of which I could hardly endure and to top that my over enthusiastic mother came with 2 kgs of Kaju Katli for her dearest Damaad that she adjusted in the bag. I bid all the people and their dramas good-bye.
The journey was going to be a long one. From Delhi, I was to go to Mumbai. From Mumbai, I was to fly to Chicago with a stop-over at London. From Mumbai to Chicago, I had many Gujarati Aunties for fellow passengers, many of whom were traveling alone and without any knowledge of English. I had one elderly Gujarati couple sitting next to me who helped me with the ketchup sachets.
At Heathrow Airport, all the passengers were made to alight the aircraft for cleaning purposes. Cleaning of the aircraft to be precise. We were required to go through the security checks and had to walk the length and breadth of the airport to reach the gate for boarding. The not so exciting part of this trek was to carry that holier than thou and heavier than Po (Kunfu Panda) Kaju Katli bag. I had to keep it down every now and then to give my arms rest. One thoughtful Aunty, watchful of my plight, offered to hold one strap of the bag to share the bag’s weight. I was grateful to her. The remaining part of the journey to Chicago was uneventful.
On reaching O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, I was proud of myself to have managed a 26 hour journey across the globe all on my own. The lessons I learnt on this trip were –
- Nothing can prove to be a handicap for traveling except for one’s own mind. Those elderly women who knew no other language except for Gujarati were an example.
- When our own family becomes insensitive and uncaring for our needs and concerns, there are strangers who come to help. In any case, help is always around the corner.
- And, the most important learning. The man holds a position of royalty with respect to his parents and as well as his wife’s.
If you think this should be the end of this long story, then I would request you to put up with me a little longer since I have yet not exited the airport gates.
There I was walking with the trolley loaded with the luggage towards the exit gate and my imaginative mind fed with a diet of Hindi movies for years created a familiar scene where the heroine waits for her NRI husband outside the airport in a foreign land. She waits and waits with the day turning into night but her husband does not come. She is deserted, distraught and does not know where to go and seek help.
I reached the gate and there he was waiting for me with a welcoming smile.
He was no NRI and I was no heroine of a tragic Hindi movie.
P.S. For all the books that I could not carry along with me and those frequently flying acquaintances who never existed, I discovered a marvel for life – The public libraries.
Linking this post with Monday Musings hosted at Everydaygyaan.com