Being on a 15 hour flight is a little like hell. It is hard to believe it will end. Time ceases to cycle in the familiar ways. The sun still rises but it means less. Meals are brought out in what feels like arbitrary intervals and arbitrary purposes since I haven’t done anything to work up an appetite. In transit I oftentimes never want the journey to end, dreading the transition if not the destination outright.
I brought one book, by Jhumpa Lahiri, and it was an excellent choice. Reading that small book of essays I found myself, predictably, feeling like I didn’t want it to end, the book or the flight. I wanted to be in the room with Shoba, I wanted so badly to turn off the lights every evening for an hour, put down my phone, separate from others but engaged in the same ritual, and walk into the night as Shoba and Shukmar did not. It was the same desire I had for Nimreen’s friendship, a selfish desire, and foolish as they are both characters. Both transported me to an emotional space that I wanted to stay within. I was so glad that Shoba’s relationship was allowed to end, that her trauma may be allowed space, that obligation, duty and possibly even love did not destroy the flickering hopefully future for them both, separate.
I made it halfway through the stories before stopping, wanting to preserve a few, like the last bits of dessert for enjoyment later. I have a tendency to delay gratification. There is some expectation that as with a fine wine the experience will improve over time, or maybe that I will learn to properly appreciate it with time. I am seldom correct, but the behavior persists.
The flight did end, thankfully. We landed late, after initial delays leaving Chicago, and I sprinted from the gate to customs and then through the domestic departures area of the Indira Gandhi International Airport . I passed the exit which is recognized as the same place where 10-months earlier my cousin had welcomed me to India before our travels north. This time I would be headed south. I reached gate 27B before they had even begun to board the flight to Chennai. I would arrive in Chennai after midnight and stay in the airport until Max’s flight from Heathrow arrived before 6:00am.
We arrived in Chennai without fanfare or incident. The night in the domestic terminal was long, tiring and sleepless. Without WiFi I was left to journal, too tired to read. I snacked on some mostly warm samosas and a slender can of orange Fanta. The meal was unsatisfying but needed, all I really wanted was a masala dosa and chutney. Since learning i am likely from southern India my desire for its cuisine has increased.
Max and I met up at the train station and took the new, very clean light rail to Chennai Egmore and boarded a standing room only, no AC express train to Trichy. It cost about 3 dollars and was intense but we met some generous, curious and kind people on that train. At the end my body was shutting down, lack of sleep, irregular meals and standing for 5 hours in temperatures that hit over 100 took their toll.
Finally, after 15 years, I’m back in Trichy. It is intense and I feel exhausted but I am glad to be here. Arun and Anjali got here yesterday and we began planning. Today we will go to the orphanage and continue to explore ways to connect with Sarai, the woman who claims not be my mother. We will also visit the village where she lives, although not to meet her. More as time allows.
Photo Credit – Max Shannon