I have been in America for some years now. It started with UCLA, not so long ago, when I boarded Singapore Airlines from Kolkata amidst my mother's incessant cries, my dad's encouraging messages and my own bubbling fears. America at that instant was worse than the dense rain forests of the Amazon!
My parents came visiting this 2010 December. It was a period of shutdown and I thought it made perfect sense to have them around with me close at hand. I prepared myself and cleaned my place (extra effort) and headed off to SFO airport. I sat at the side benches watching the monitor, expecting my parents to pop up on the screen pulling a cart full of luggage. After forty minutes of waiting, they showed up. My dad, followed by my mom. It felt amazing! To see my parents see me in the land I disappeared to. I felt I was lost and now I was found. I hugged and smothered them with public displays of affection before they could shove me away and catch their breath.
I didn't realize how much I had scared them about the weather. They had bundled themselves up in double-digit layers and only their faces brushed the clean air. As they were stepping outside at the parking zone, the rain and gloom hit them. Coming from the Mumbai Monsoons, they were not looking forward to meeting the rain gods again. As I saw my parent's faces falling incrementally, I tried to keep my Christmas cheer up. I assured them that Christmas as a festival was probably invented here and the residents of this land go a long distance to make the place wonderfully decorated.
My mother asked, "I have seen Christmas decorations. They are up every year in Park Street (Kolkata). What's so special?"
I allowed myself an inward grin and told her , " You will see".
The seeing didn't really happen. As I repeatedly checked the weather app, the day continued getting worse. The incessant rains, the cloudy skies and the chilly winds cooled my buoyant spirits. The warmth of the central heating in my apartment suddenly became like a beacon of hope that neither me nor my parents wanted to let go off.
After much reluctance, we stepped out. We made it to the Golden Gate.
It was pouring. With umbrellas in hand, we got out of the car for some photo moments.
Golden Gate Bridge looked majestic. I had pre-warned my folks that the name was a misnomer. The color was a dull red one and had not a shred of golden glitter. They stood looking at what I thought would have surely bowled them over. It didn't. My dad has been to more countries than I have fingers in my hand. He liked what he saw but didn't exactly fall in love. The like started evaporating when I forced my parents to take a walk down the bridge in pelting rain. I wanted them to take a piece of greatness back with them, completely ignoring the chilly air that was freezing them to the bones. Needless to say when I pointed out the "Suicide point" on the Golden Gate bridge, they started empathized with those hapless souls who wanted to jump off and end their damn plight!
After a gigantic cup of small sized coffee, my dad calmed down. I noticed tea and coffee were the mood-fixers for him. I made a point to note it down. My parents noted the super-sizes of everything - starting from the lanes, to the cars, to food and drink sizes and some obese people. How the roads remained this spruced up, perplexed them a lot.I had never given much thought to the roads - a reason why my driving suffered.
I showed them the Crooked Street which was fun to drive through because I wasn't at the helm. The Union Square, humongous bejeweled Christmas trees and the lights everywhere made an amazing spectacle. Much to their joy, I allowed them to sit in the car the whole time. It was like San Fransisco Safari in the rain.
A few more decorated down towns later, which all looked the same to them, I decided to try something different. I took my parents to a nearby temple. They were in bliss the moment we stepped in! My dad even joined the evening "aarti" while my mom certainly tried to hum along. I was delighted. Moments later we joined the crowd in the dining hall where food was served. Spiritually uplifted and happily satiated my parents blessed me for getting them there. I got even better response when I drove them to a far off Gurudwara on Sunday. In addition to food and "prasad" they served tea. My dad immediately became their devout fan.
I wanted them to see Pacific Ocean. So off we went to Santa Cruz beach. Being a working day, the place was a dead zone. None of the boardwalk shops were open. As freezing cold waves touched our feet, I scampered back to warmth. We sat down on the sand for breathing in the ozone rich sea breeze. I spotted a double rainbow which meant I had to do quite a bit of clicking. My mom decided to task me with the camera.I clicked away to glory. Photos were captured with and without their knowledge. As we walked back towards our car, I dropped the camera. Usually, these hardware devices are meant to be robust. This one turned out to be extremely sensitive. The lens refused to open and the camera went kaput for all practical purposes.
Even though I was an electrical engineer,my parents pinned no hopes on me. My services were fiercely unwelcome. Like the gloom outside sucked the sunshine away, the broken camera, midway through their trip, sucked at my mother's happiness.
We continued clicking with mine.
With the arrival of my parents, I began enjoying sumptuous food- morning, day and night. Late in the morning, I got to wake up to the smell of my mom's aromatic dishes. I never really learnt any cooking from my mother while at home, being studious and unhelpful at the same time. When she visited me, I realized how vastly different her dishes were from mine. It was no surprise that my dad had a tough time appreciating my food on the day they first arrived.
I decided to indulge them in different cuisines. To that end, I took them to a best known Thai restaurant. The only thing they really liked were the steamed white rice and panang curry. I was not ready to give up. I dragged them to the only Ethiopian place I knew. The injera bread reminded them of dosas back home, only sourer. The vegetable platter was filled with simple curries that my mom makes at home. They liked the food but couldn't understand the "big deal" about building a restaurant around it. I gave up and took them to the nearby Dosa place. Their joy was unbounded.
I caught the flu bug and my recuperation prevented me from taking them to UCLA. To make up, we went to Stanford University Campus. The sprawling area and the greenery took their breath away.I clarified that my campus was much bigger in size. My dad refused to believe me.
For the days I went to work, I set my parents up with laptops, TV and books. My dad finished four books and read all the news that Times of India dished out, while he was here. My mom managed to stay up to date with all her Indian soaps.
Towards the end started the shopping. I drove them to malls in San Jose and Milpitas. I noticed that every time my parents sat in my car, my dad started reciting his "Hanuman Chalisa" loudly while my mom called upon all the Gods she knew. As my GPS navigated me to my destination, my parents gripped onto their safety belts for extra comfort. While I was driving, my dad diplomatically never criticized me. He knew better than that. My mother could not pretend for long. She openly berated my lack of driving skills and road safety. But then, she also accepted the fact that my "driving" was in itself a superb achievement. I was the first bold female in a long line of cowards. I emphasized that driving in the United States had more to do with necessity than cowardice.
Much shopping and a new camera later, it was time for them to leave. Packed and ready, we went to San Fransisco Airport to check in. Relieved of their check-in bags, we sat down in a cafe, right before the Security Check. The impending separation made all of us sad. I recalled that I could fix it. A Cappuccino and a Cafe Latte later, my father smiled widely. Recollecting the short trip that he had in America, he said that the Return Policy at stores was something he found mind boggling. How stores could accept returns on products as late as ninety days was immensely puzzling for him. It is unthinkable in India. In some stores, if you so much as touch it, it belongs to you!
He jokingly asked, "Can we return wives and children as well?"
My mother's scathing glare dampened his mirth considerably.
As I feverishly waved my hands from behind the glass doors of the Security Check Point, I felt an overwhelming sense of despair. My parents were leaving me to be half a globe away and I stood there, watching them depart. I understood what my mother must have felt, when I left her crying at the airport. In some ways, in this trip, while "trying" to take care of my parents, I understood their troubles better.
But like every effervescent Bengali, who smilingly bids adieu to their favorite Goddess- Ma Durga, I smiled and said to myself, "Ashchey bochhor abaar hobey!" . It will happen again next year. And hopefully much better. :)