Jet lag and home-sickness are an inevitable part of the return journey from India. Even if one has spent several years in the US, nobody ever gets over their home-sickness. Although I have lived in San Francisco for six years, I cannot get over the time-spent with family in India or the amazing food there, and all the fun with friends and relatives, sometimes for months after landing.
Saying good bye to everyone in Ahmedabad, and getting on to the SF flight has always been a daunting task for me. I have always wished that no one would come to the airport to see us off, hoping that, that would ease the pain of separation. And also would enable me to accept that the vacation has ended, so that I could to get started on my daily routine! But my wish has never been fulfilled (Thank god!), hence I have to keep a couple of days extra after coming back just to get over the nostalgia. While boarding the SF flight, I almost turned on a different switch in my head, preparing to go back to my den, or to another world where I led a completely different life, driven by passion and profession. My feelings hardly had any space in that part of my brain. I was trying to get into a military mindset where all the methods and processes were set, only execution remained, which we would deal with, on landing.
It is always an emotional transition; I think mainly due to different social cultures in both India and the USA. We landed at SF around 9:30am in morning. Weather was good and warm with a clear sky. We were just doing our drill of getting off the plane and walking as fast as we could to avoid long immigration lines. Everyone in the family was given instructions to follow my lead and to look out for a passport scan station with the least line, (possibly a free station). Once spotted, one of us would stand in line to reserve the spot for everyone. It all panned out as planned, but my mind was still thinking about getting off at the Ahmedabad airport where my relatives would be outside, waiting for us to alight the plane, and one of my distant cousins would be circling around the airport to save parking fees of INR 150. I was still not thinking about who was picking me at SF or about switching on the circuit breaker or turning on water heater, after reaching home. In my mind I was still in Ahmedabad, visualizing my mom mad at me because we hadn’t packed any home-cooked food for the flight. We were so occupied in packing till the last minute, in making calls to friends and family, and in checking if we had missed out calling anyone, that there was no time to focus on taking my mom’s food. In the immigration line I was thinking about the noise outside Ahmedabad airport, a feeling of anarchy there (relative to SFO airport), the last minute masala chai, and the drama and tears of, “When will we see you again?” – oh man, I missed that most. I was just adamant with my memories and was not ready to admit that we were now back in US.
It was our turn with the immigration officer. We were warmly greeted and asked the question, “Did you bring any food items with you?” At that moment, my heart broke and brought me to reality. I was back home (yeah, it was weird, this was my new home). Well of course, they wanted to check my bags for pickles, pulses and chickpeas and what not. I started scrambling heavy bags and my 7 year-old was just pulling her little hand bag and started asking in her American accent, “Papa, who’s picking us up?” That’s it, now we were in San Francisco and I had to be the responsible father and decision maker for logistical matters outside my home.
There was a stark contrast now, from the excitement of packing for the India trip. In last week of May, we all were prepping to visit India – the last minute rushing from office, buying goodies for family members, making a check-list so that we leave no one out, wondering how they would like our gifts, and then finally heading to the day of taking the flight to India. Before leaving, we were worried about getting baked in the Indian summer; coupled with our heavy & fancy clothing for wedding, we thought we wouldn’t survive there. Even people in Ahmedabad were concerned about us falling sick due to heat stroke. We had planned to not eat outside food and even at the wedding, we wanted to stay away from hot and spicy food as we might not be able to handle it. But when we landed there, we did everything that we decided not to do. Explored every dish at the wedding, had Vada Pao (Indian version of a burger) & Dabeli, Baraf Gola (similar to Ice Pops). Fortunately, nothing happened to any of us.
Food in India is at a very different level; the taste, colourfulness, the richness, the way it is prepared and beautifully presented even on streets, with such limited resources, is really mind-boggling. We will have to define a new data structure (the Engineer in me speaking) to represent the varieties of food all over India. Street food in India is definitely the real deal, the richness in taste and the way they say in Australian Master Chef – the rustic look of Pakora and Vadas followed by Chocolate Dosa and Mango Kulfi Falooda, that is an adventure itself. At the end of any meal you got to have a mouth freshener and nothing can beat the fire paan, yes that is a thing, a flaming burning paan directly delivered into your mouth by the shop keeper. Btw I am from Gujarat so we hack, customize and cook every dish from all around the world in Gujarati, it is like root-ing an android phone and customizing it by adding more butter, masala, sugar & cheese in it.
Anyway food is a never-ending topic; I am limited by words but not my taste buds. Just like food we have so many religions in India. Unity in Diversity, can be seen and felt easily in India. People are quite accepting. There are instances and pockets where one may feel otherwise or uncomfortable, but mostly life is very much secure. You can talk to any stranger easily, relatives or friends stop by without any appointment, in case of any crisis people show up no matter how busy they are in their personal lives. Staying with family definitely makes you mentally strong and confident.
This visit, I ended up attending a wedding and a funeral. That definitely left me in awe of the attractive disorder we have in India. In India People do plan things but at the same time unanticipated situations are handled with a very subtle mind-set and people don’t get caught off-guard by uncertainties. I mean people anticipate unforeseen situations with total unpreparedness, it shows how virtually strong they are. Things are really unpredictable there, beginning with traffic – you never know which animal you will face in rural streets or how a bike/auto driver will make a turn on city roads, people aren’t prepared for these sudden things, but they still handle it easily. Yeah, sometimes they use colorful abuses while passing by, but that’s one of the ways they have found to deal with uncertain situations. I feel every topic in India can have a dedicated encyclopedia and this article won’t do any justice by merely stating my experience.
All of this just makes me so nostalgic after coming back. But my want for career growth and hunger for higher economic status keeps me away from all the social pleasures back in India.