I wrote this to my family on New Year’s Day 2006 after returning from a trip to India. I have added pictures to the narrative. I hope it was a useful endeavor.
I woke up at 38000 feet, high over the mountains of the Eastern Taurus range of eastern Turkey. This is the birthplace of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers that call to mind the beginnings of civilization. This is the land of Mt. Ararat and Noah’s ark. I am headed northwest towards the cities of Erzurum, Trabzon, and the Black Sea, skirting Iraq and the trouble spots of Mosul and Kirkuk. The brilliant white peaks stretch all the way to the horizon, seemingly covered with a fresh layer of snow. Below me is the town of Van, on the banks of the Van Golu, one of the big salt water lakes of Turkey. It is a bright and beautiful morning, with not a single cloud in the sky to spoil the wonderful landscape that unfolds before my eyes as I lift the shade that covers the window next to seat 46A. The sun reflects off the silver wing of the giant 747, the shining silver and bright blue on the engine cowling informing me that I am indeed on a British Airways jet. The white contrails from the port engine closer to the fuselage speed past my window. We are moving fast, and I am headed home.
This has been a quick and eventful trip to India. The smell of Chennai welcomed me as I deplaned after the long flight from London. Long unruly lines met me as I proceeded through Immigration. Chaos enveloped me as I attempted to locate my suitcase on the baggage carousel. Arriving at Madipakkam in the wee hours of the morning, sleep escaped me. Finding Mamma sitting on the floor of the kitchen later in the morning on the same day with a bloody gash on her head made it all seem so surreal. Did I need to wake up? Thank God the injury was not serious (although it did need stitches).
The rains of the unending monsoons of Chennai come poring down during the KV Alumni meeting day on the 17th of December. The cricket match with the school kids is rained out with the Alumni team losing more wickets than scoring runs. We are showing our age. It feels great to meet people like Josey George after 30 years! There are many other people to meet and stories to tell.
The roads into Madipakkam are a mess. I am bouncing around in a auto-rickshaw late in the evening in the pouring rain after the KV Alumni meeting, with the driver trying to avoid the potholes that make the road. This is indeed not a road but a collection of holes. An ordinary American vehicle would not last 100 yards without a broken axle! You need an SUV. We make it home safely. Am I still dreaming?
Daddy is admitted to St. Isabel’s Hospital in the middle of town for the hernia operation. I cannot sleep that night because of jet-lag. It is raining outside. The light goes on outside the window and I find Mamma headed for the gate in the middle of the night. This cannot be happening. It seems that the pump that has been turned on (to remove the water that is flooding our yard because of the rain) is not working. The blasted pump needs to be primed at 3:30 am in the morning! It takes me a while to figure out the science of this process and get things going. I must be awake – there is water spurting all over my hand from the pump as I stand in front of it holding a torchlight and spanner in the middle of the dark night.
Multiple trips are made to and from St. Isabel’s Hospital. The roller coaster that is the approach into Madipakkam from Velachery is navigated by taxi each and every time. The road sees its share of stranded trucks and other vehicles. Vehicles maneuver in all directions trying to find a safe path through the water-covered potholes of indeterminate depth.
I spend hours daydreaming in the taxis, stuck in the traffic jams and at the traffic lights of Chennai City itself. Perhaps it is the effect of the pollution on the brain. Maybe it is the mesmerizing effect of the chaos unfolding all around me. Two wheelers, both human and gasoline powered, squeeze into impossible spaces. Vehicles drive on all sides of the road. People risk life and limb in the middle of this mess of traffic. People go about their lives on the roadsides – I am sure there is a story to tell for each and every one of them. Somebody should take this opportunity to study the theories of chaos. Chaos actually works, though perhaps not in the most efficient manner.
Endless hours, most of it uneventful, are spent in the hospital environment, most of the time with a book in hand. I find time to practice my music in a secluded corner of the building. The lazy breeze plays with the curtains covering the window of the hospital room in which I spend many hours conversing with Daddy. I play the role of caretaker as Daddy comes out of surgery. Anxious moments are felt as the doctors deal with the problem of the blockage of urine flow, and when we go down to the ground floor to get the ultrasound tests done. What will the doctor say? I have just finished reading Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain”. Is this all part of the supernatural plan as Merton would lead me to believe? Is this one of things that I was destined to do? I also conclude that it is impossible to play the role of a patient in the hospital unless one is suitably humble. You are put into unusual situations that you would normally not dream of being in. Your real character shows. You will suffer more than you need to if you have too much pride. Between long periods of inactivity I am rushing around trying to get the medicines from the pharmacy, get the hospital bills paid, and get the discharge process completed. It is an environment that I am not familiar with. Nobody seems to care, nobody seems to be in a hurry. I have not woken up from my dream yet.
I get adjusted… The celebrations for our 30 years after graduation from high school takes place at the Gandhinagar Club next to the Adayar river and bridge.
The IIT Madras Silver Jubilee celebration also takes place after couple of days. I see many faces from the old days, several only recognized after some initial conversation. Thank God we are wearing badges with our names on them. What a feeling of nostalgia! A movie is seen at the Open Air Theatre (OAT) for old times sake – Where Eagles Dare. I take a long walk covering the IIT campus in the early morning. Health-conscious joggers do their daily exercises. The deer wander all over the road unafraid of the humans. The IIT Madras campus is still beautiful. We are lucky to have grown up there.
The postponed trip to Bangalore to meet Amma and Appacha takes place. It is good to see them and the rest of the gang. This trip barely lasts a day. It is now time to head home. I am really not that tired in spite of the fact that I am not sure if I am coming or going. When the doorbell rings I do not know what city or time-zone I am in. I am keeping up because I am getting a lot of rest between activities. I come to realize that the Madipakkam environment is really not too bad. The volume of the street music in the morning has gone down – no more speakers from the temple on the street corner. I love to walk on the terrace in the evenings, soaking in the street sounds including that of the buses bringing back the masses after their day at work, feeling the cool of the evening breeze coming in from the sea in the east, and listening to the planes heading to and from the airport. It is time to enjoy the good things in life as they are, and to not get worked up about things that one cannot control.
I am now back in Gaithersburg. I have survived the long flights and third-world toilets of Heathrow’s Terminal 4. It is readjustment time once again. It is cold and cloudy outside most of the time. I have no motivation to get out and do things. Just like me, my car also needs a lot of help to get started once again. It is then back to work on the 3rd. Give me a few days to get used to the changes. Pictures will eventually be posted.
Happy New Year!