After one and half endless years, I reached Swadesh. I am no Mohan Bhargav, but I do miss mom's cooking.
The moment my flight touched Mumbai International Airport, I woke up. The long flights make me sleepy. What I don't like is the fact that attendants push me awake and deliver me food. No exercise and constant feeding- it starts in the flight and ends only in the flight back.
My parents were standing at the gates, at that wee hour to receive me. They recognized me instantly from my dishevelled looks. I was all smiles. Dad looked older but mom seemed the same. I expected them to gush and fuss over me. (I had been religiously visiting a nearby gym to look better). They didn't. My parents nodded their head in disapproval and uttered unanimously, "You need more exercise!" No amount of convincing from my side helped. I gave up and morosely munched on the delicacies laid in front of me.
Mumbai - the land of dreams and Bollywood. Everyone here seems to be in a rush. Early morning I went to Marine Drive with Dad. Joggers, walkers, idlers flocked the area. Surprisingly it was very clean. Breathing in the ozone rich Arabian Sea air, felt great. Except a few super slim runners, the rest were plump married housewives waddling along the drive with their chattering friends or spouse.
Having a driving license(after enormous struggle) I paid more attention to traffic rules and driving this time. The traffic lights in Mumbai stop functioning from 12am to 8 am. God help you then. And perhaps your luck. The concept of lanes exist but are never followed. When rushing to the Mumbai Airport in the busy evening hour, I saw how our driver maneuvered through cars, bikes, autos, men and animals to get us there. Indian lanes always make room for more - for more than what it was designed for.
Watching a movie at Eros theatres, I observed the college kids. Their fashion sense seem to have been directly lifted from the movies. I wonder when all these kids do their home works, or was I too studious? Everyone carries a cell phone -from the roadside tea seller to the rich businessman. It's a necessity. And it's not just any cell phone, it is the latest gizmo out on the shop. I hardly saw kids come in with their parents, except myself.
Mumbai appeared advanced - in the rich tea restaurants, mocha cafes, super malls, discos, clubs that have cropped up all over the place. Smoking and drinking are ubiquitous among all sexes. Life moved fast.
Kolkata was a stark contrast to this advancement. People, routine and rituals were as I had left them before. Change creeps in slowly and stealthily, not interrupting or taking anyone by surprise. People are mild and tempers mellow. I met a Jadavpur University professor this time. From pin to politics to Einstein and Tagore - he discussed everything. What was going to be a 15 minute thing became a 2 hour discourse. People love to talk in Kolkata. They ask questions, they take pride in your achievements and flaunt theirs in return. It's missing in US. No one really cares or takes up so much time.
Walking through the streets of Kolkata, I finally felt at home. Watching kids with heavy back-packs brought back fond and heavy memories. Eating egg rolls from the unhygienic side stalls at Gariahat tasted delicious. Shopping from the street hawkers honed my bargaining skills. The lights, the sounds and the delights of Kolkata amazed me yet again.
Coming back to an empty apartment and joining work with jet lag wasn't easy. If technology could advance so far as to take me home in one second, I would embrace it. Till then lemme imagine.