Tag Archives: immigrant

Home on the Interweb

At the end of play or at the end of work, when the sun is rising in the wee hours of the day or when the sun is going down, when you pull the curtains on prying eyes at last or when you display your exploits in their splendour on the wall to envious eyes, you want to return home.

Home is where work gets done, or no work gets done at all, where a thousand voices descend on you the moment you enter the door or where you sit still in solitude deep in thought. It is where you are thankful for today or you wait for a hopeful tomorrow or you sit and wonder if this is all there is where one day fades into the next quite silently with indistinguishable footsteps where not even a mouse clicks in the dark.

When you stare into the distance of a blue river or a blank screen from your window or when you spot a poster on the wall (of paper or pixel) next door, you float up and down memory lane or look into the crystal ball of time from your couch at home.

Home has the old and the familiar box from where you shake out a dusty album or it houses the kaleidoscope of friends and relatives, living or dead, floating down a timeline at the click of a mouse, as though they were all there in your living room sipping tea and munching sugary biscuits this afternoon. [Such as when a pop-up floats about a sidebar and says “Say Happy Birthday to S today” when you know that that smiling S left both the world of humans and Netpeople three years ago and left her profile active to haunt us forever every year on this very day.]

Thoughts of homelessness spring to mind as you get away from home for home in another part of the world on a huge airplane. You look down from the window at the familiar skyscrapers and trees and river fading into the billowing clouds.

When you’ve moved many times, between home here and home there, so many homes are scattered in different places that there is no getting away from home although there is no living at home without all those other homes knocking at your door always to come home.

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The Old and the Young

For expatriates, visiting home after long periods of time reveals slow changes imperceptible to those who live close by. The changes most noticeable are those in the old and the young.

The Old Man sits on the same seat on the couch everyday lost in his own thoughts. There’s a din around him consisting of the cook’s angry exclamations on the dearth of red-pepper powder (the lack of which jars against her professional perfectionism), the washer-woman’s insistent tramplings carrying heavy wet clothes to the balcony to hang, the all-purpose domestic’s comings and goings looking for mosquito nets to fold or to look out the verandah to see who has been pressing the “calling” bell for the thousandth time.

Despite all the din, The Old Man’s world is quite silent. He sits with the unfurled newspaper most days or just with his thoughts. He has grown a little frailer, lost a little weight, grown a white beard to complement his white hair. Yet, when there’s a soft discussion in the background between the domestic and The Old Lady that there’s no fish in the house for The Boy, he stirs from his seat as though to go to the market in the burning heat. When I pull up my huge American suitcase up the stairs, quite out of scale in this Calcutta apartment, he gets a grip on it pulling it up (looking as though he shouldn’t be), while all us ladies look on with concern trying to persuade him with words to let go but not daring to touch the handle to take it away from him. Continue reading The Old and the Young

Boys will be boys

I stand on our balcony and look down. Two boys are hard at work.

The balcony is on a pier on the river. It’s a bright blue day with the glowing Manhattan skyline spread out on one side. The Verrazano-Narrows bridge is strung like a pencil sketch on a bright blue canvas on the other side with little beads glinting in the sun at the base that are really cars passing from Staten Island to Brooklyn on this sunny day.

The magnificence of the skyline and the slowly moving glinting dots on the precariously strung bridge, seen from this distance, seem like evidence of both the grandeur of human civilization and human hubris to a casual observer.

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Straight down below me is a narrow strip  that goes all around the apartment building filled with mulch and motley stones and bits and pieces of what look like wood shavings. This is soil for the transplanted  shrubs meant to take root here and make this building beautiful.

Every season I see the gardeners come by and uproot them and replant the strip with other plants more suitable for the season.

This isn’t a place where plants, not in the season of their bounty, can lie dormant until next spring when they bring out a new green shoot. Hardworking gardeners with electrically operated machinery periodically tear them out, level the ground and replant the plots with new plants that have been grown from seed elsewhere to beautify this place.

Transplanted plants are perhaps eagerly sent here because their beauty matches the beauty of this place, some perhaps carefully bred for this very reason.

This area is beautiful. Signs on placards all around advertise that it is ten minutes from Manhattan’s financial district. Pictures on the walls of the lobby depict men and women suitably dressed enjoying a drink against the magnificent view of the river and the skyline–smiling neither too much, nor too little–just enough.

It is late afternoon and the boys keep criss-crossing the strip of concrete that covers the boardwalk. The mulch borders one side and the railing on the river’s edge borders the other side of the strip. They pick a stone each very carefully (or maybe a wood shaving) from this makeshift soil, walk or run across the strip of hard ground and throw it in with all their might into the river across the railing.
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Global Indians: Distance and the World

When I was a child in Calcutta in the late 80’s and early 90’s, we didn’t have the internet. When we wanted to see the world, we looked at a big globe which belonged to my brother. We would  twirl it round and round and look at all the countries separated by blue oceans and black lines, coloured in different colours and marked in little letters.

It would give us a thrill to check out countries that we had never discovered before. We looked at the antipodes that were the furthest from where we were and tell each other that it was night there while it was day here. That seemed so strange. Many of my friends’ favourite game was a rapid fire round of naming countries when you had to respond by naming the capital city.
Continue reading Global Indians: Distance and the World