MV Nicobar was docking at the Port Blair harbor – Andaman & Nicobar Islands. I couldn’t wait to get off the ship and head home. It had been an year since I escaped from Port Blair on a dark rainy evening getting past security by travelling in the lowest of the ship passenger class ‘the bunk’. Only my wife knew where I was headed. The kids were in School and she would tell them I was out of port on work related business for sometime. I calculated I would be back soon after winning the case in the high court. The ‘soon’ turned out to be more than an year. An year of living off the grid. No phones or letters home. In my hurry I dint have time to grab a few pictures off the mantle. I haven’t heard my wife’s shenanigans or my boys voices for over an year. I fled defeated and scared.
Kolkata was a different world altogether. It was like I had slipped through the looking glass into some pre-independence era. The narrow lanes, the old building, the yellow cabs the trams, the destitute, the crowds, the dussera festival. I found solace in walking the length and breadth of the city. Making trips to Belur Math was an escape. My lawyer chided me on my callous exploring pointing out that my rivals had still not lost the case and that an arrest order issued in Port Blair could be made valid here as well especially when my case was against the Government of the land. I discovered a treasure trove of book stores and read a lot making notes on each book for my younger son who loved to read, because I never knew if or when I would get to see him. For the elder one I got a few fancy gifts because that’s what he liked and for the wife a bengali saree. My oldie-goldie lawyer saab who was very kind in providing me a free accommodation and also serving me delicious fish everyday lent me money whenever I needed it never asking for repayment. This kindness of strangers is bewildering. An year had passed with no visible progress in my case when I couldn’t bear the pangs of separation anymore so I made a vow to the presiding deity at Belur Math that if I survived my court case I would bring my entire family for her darshan and left for Port Blair disregarding chiding my lawyer’s advice. I had decided to travel irrespective of which way the judgment went. I was ready to court arrest in Port Blair comforted by the fact that at least my family would be around and hopefully they would be allowed visitation rights.
As the pilot boat guided the Ship into the harbor I couldn’t wait to get off as the past 3 days of constant swaying in the bay of Bengal had brought out dominant my sea sickness. I saw eager families crowd around the gang plank waiting for their loved ones to disembark; mine were no where to be found. I dint expect them to because no one here knew I was coming back home. I spotted police men in the crowd which lead to a few palpitations but they moved on. The Kolkata high court order quashing the fake charges levied against me had come the next week after I had set sail.
I was lucky to have married a wonderful woman with the will of a lion and the power of an elephant. She held us together during our darkest times. I reached home. The garden was intact and spotless; a broken boarded window must the boys and their cricket. I rang the bell. The ever cautious woman looked through the kitchen window first saw me and throwing caution to the wind ran out and embraced me in a tight hug. A first in our marriage ha ha. After much sobbing and catching up hid me in the master bedroom as the boys were going to show up anytime soon. She got busy making my favorite payasam. I stealthily placed a few books and gifts I had brought in the living room soon I heard footsteps leading up to the front door. My ever hungry young son stepped into the hall and I could hear him shout to the elder one “ do you smell payasam ?? I wonder what is so special” the ever casual elder son relied, “whatever” He spotted the books too but was too busy sniffing the aroma to browse through them and as a habit raided the refrigerator and found the big bar of cadburys chocolate I had cloyingly left there. He grabbed it and ran to the kitchen bombarding the mother with questions on its appearance. The wife played the some aunty brought it in the morning for you card. Still clutching it in his tiny hands he headed towards the bedroom my heart started beating really fast. He came into the room and stopped dead in his tracks looking at me with shock and awe. He ran crying into my arms and dint notice my tears. I held him in embrace for a what seemed like eternity as the elder son and the wife joined the huddle. I was home. I had survived.
JFK Airport. NYC.
Luggage checked in. Boarding pass collected. Pat down complete. Passport stamped. Flopped in the boarding lounge sipping a chai latte. Sending out a tweet there, updating a facebook wall post here, constantly checking the iPhone for last minute emails, flipping an ebook on the ipad; putting up an act in general to avoid thinking of the weeks ahead.Two years is a long time to be away from home. Dad had moved back to Hyderabad after the New Delhi stint, the bro had married, a house was built, a car was bought, I had missed it all. Too bogged down preparing for the journey left very little excitement. If I had known adulthood would be such a pain I would have chosen to remain a kid forever watching pg rated films. I had missed the whole lightness of being having replaced it with the bulk of existence. The flight took off latter than expected owing to the numerous flights backed up on the tarmac. Got comfortable in my seat sipped a vodka and crashed. The flight journey was largely uneventful save for the aunty next seat who kept feeding me her dessert for I reminded her of her son. I was not in the least of moods to complain. Any sugar is good sugar.
Hyderabad International Airport.
My son’s flight has landed. Only if he had properly labeled his luggage he would have been out by now. He always procrastinates and never learns. sigh! There he is walking out in that trademark red jacket and pullover man has he put on some bulk.
I spot Dad and Mom in the distance. Dad has an thick moustache that makes him look like some army general and what’s that mom’s holding a flower bouquet. Nice way to embarrass me guys. Do I hug them ? What the heck it’s been two years. Go do it. First touch feet next hug. awkward silence and comments about weight follow. Dad hails a taxi as I am clicking mom on my iphone. No time for small talk. Marriage and job talk ensure on the way home. I am still in a daze. Too amazed to be back in Hyderabad considering the fact that an year ago I was cringing to sounds of my brothers wedding music on the phone. I had slumped into an understanding that I would be forever marooned in NYC caught up in never ending limbo of visa statuses. Hyderabad gave me a lease of new life. Back home I wasn’t having as much fun as I had expected to. I was acting pissed off and dumb. Refusing to talk much while my parents asked me plodded about NYC and life back in the states. Why was I angry ? Hadn’t I been imagining an awesome time in Hyderabad since the day I bought my tickets. The four weeks flew away way too quickly interspersed with travel and social meet and greet events and I was back at Shamshabad airport. I hadn’t spoken much to my family.
Dad, Mom and the bro had come to see me off but the fucking security guards would allow them past the entrance. I just waved a causal bye sans drama and proceeded to the check-in counter. The ticket agent told me that once I went past the red door I couldn’t come back. It struck me then that I ad no effing clue when I would be back in Hyderabad again. Throwing caution to the wind I raced out of the terminal causing a few anxious moments to the security personnel. I thought I must yell out to call my parents back but for the jolly old good blokes they were they stood in the same spot where I had just waved them off. I jumped the railing and hugged three of them together almost on the verge of tears; a few hugs and kisses after I walked back in happy, beyond the red door wiping away silent tears of joy. I knew, I will be back soon.