An Indian consulate is a fascinating place. It’s like a circus without animals and without a master of ceremonies. Everyone is performing, something, but they don’t know why, and they don’t know who they are following.
Between Bombay and Vancouver, Cambie street bridge and Linking Road, cafes, airport pre-departure lounges and planes, people and their strivings and aches are equally lost and found.
At the Indian consulate, I received my visa on a friday, on my third visit to the consulate that day. At first, I did not go at the right time. Then, there were too many people, whole Punjabi families, and I had another appointment. I was advised to come back in the evening by the doorman who i have gotten to know so well.
“Is baar mujhe MIL JAEGA ye visa!’ I joked with him, laughing instead of crying with anxiety.In the evening, the crowd had not diminished in the least. I waited, waited, and picked up my visa at the counter after a woman rifled through the filing box, after a man could not find it.
A little girl, waiting with her family for their PIO cards, ate a syrupy jamun from a sweetbox and tasted honey on her tongue.
At home, I woke up and slept without a plan. For today, for tomorrow. Sun came through snow-covered branches, through my window, and fell on my bed where I was.
Tentative friends asked me to come to this event or party, or even just to come over for tea, on whatever day. Tentative, I agreed, because it’s not like I had any other plan planned. But I shouldn’t have said I’d be there, because those days my moods couldn’t be counted on. My desires and energy levels couldn’t be depended on. I should have known that I could not be depended on, should have stopped saying that I may come here or there when it may happen that I stay home.
Days assumed a structure. I woke with my parents to eat breakfast. Then, they run off to work, or, on the weekends, outside for yard work. It was saturday morning at 8:45, and dad went out to shovel snow off the walkway. I was up by 7:30, rushing out of bed for no reason.
So my dad shovels the snow, and I am languid on the couch. In repose. Having nothing pressing to do, I am not pressed. My same body that was once so active, frantic in its obsession to keep moving, is now content to rest against cushions, or roll around on beautiful heated hardwood floor.
In Bombay, I’d have left the house in the morning while everyone was asleep, and then have come back at night when everyone was asleep, slipping my flats off at the door and tiptoeing to my room. I ran around then, and lie around now.
How rich and at ease am I.
On a sunday in the pre-departure area, people were waiting to go to Hong Kong. Wealthy Punjabis and Chinese were nursing their infants and eating A&W french fries and starbucks lattes.
All of the airport-waiting people are addressed over the loudspeaker in English and Mandarin. Everyone speaks in a hum, hmm, the flight is delayed. Hmm, what does it mean for our connecting flights.
The Punjabi men looked smart and prepared. Shined shoes, trousers, sweater vests under sports coats, neatly-wrapped turbans. Some of the women already wore beautiful Indian finery, with heavy cardigans and wool shawls on top, chiffon dupattas draped over their greying braids. Some will change later, shimmying out of their tracksuits in the tiny airplane bathroom to change into beautiful salwar kameez, to greet their families once they reach Delhi or Amritsar or whatever their final destination is.
One man was becoming fed up. Others had left their bags in the seats across from him, and then went off to buy skittles and a magazine. So then, the man was half-heartedly defending these people from others who wanted those seats; it is crowded; this is unfair.
The man was anxious, when would they come back? Where does his loyalty lie? After all, he doesn’t know any of these people!
“Getting ready for Christmas?” smiles a tentative acquaintance when we notice one another in a cafe.
“Yes, I am! And you?” I trill, not feeling to explain that I won’t be here for Christmas, where I am going, for me, Christmas will not really happen. Why won’t Christmas really happen? Because. Why don’t I feel to explain? Because.
I may have tentative plans for the day that involve a long walk, many errands, writing a letter or an article, and end up spending the day in a cafe simply sitting and watching life. Or watching life from an even safer perch, through the window in the front room.
I may have tentative plans to recline all day and dream, and then get up and run six kilometres, and then come home and empty the dishwasher and prepare an elaborate dinner, just because.
Because of this incongruency between plans and outcomes, I do not make so many plans and just allow a natural deroulement of events.
Every fifteen seconds, someone enters the cafe, cracking the door and bringing a breeze. Everyone inside wears their coats and scarves, and their fingers, tapping on keyboards, are ice cold.
I am the richest person in the world in Bombay.
I had forgotten how beautiful this place is. In the way the light falls, the cars rock back and forth as they inch forward and avoid hitting the people, rushing between vehicles like fish in different currents.
I have never in my life seen such a will to live, not only live, but thrive and continue and love, against all odds.
There was one woman in the street who was only flesh and bone. She maybe weighed all of eighty eight pounds, but she carried a load of fifty pounds. Maybe for hours. When she puts down that load, she will pick up another: that of caring for her full family.
My relationship towards life has never been so tumultuous. I have never loved the world so much, never felt so angry towards it, so worried, inspired, or so cared for. I have never been as beautiful, as ugly as I have been here. There is no other place in the world where there is so much faith, and so much faith misplaced.
On cambie street bridge, I savour tidbits of conversation with strangers, as they feel like whole meals. The only sustenance I have in terms of understanding, of recognition. With a stranger, you cannot take as much, but you also do not owe as much. Yet. While neither here or there or anywhere, what a relief to talk to someone new : who doesn’t know you, doesn’t expect anything from you. You don’t have to explain life or circumstances to a stranger : thank goodness, because you might not understand any of it yourself!
In the plane, it was dark and everyone watched movies. Someone opened a window and the light came in from outside the plane, a shock of whiteness, brightness.
When the power for the Tvs failed, everyone was struck by not being able to know had many hours had elapsed, how many hours were left. In the flight, or in life.
A dad told his little boy,
“If you could run as fast as the plane goes before it takes off, you would be able to fly, too.”
The babies that were crying have settled. The toddlers that were running up and down light-studded aisles are asleep, tousled hair falling on their mother’s shoulders as they lean. Everyone slept and the creases in their faces were softened by the gentle yellow light. Everyone appeared younger and more tired than they really were.
Vishal is Maharashtrian, an HSBC information security manager, and a community centre cardio classes afficionado. He told me,
‘Only the people who have dreams can go to Bombay.’
‘There is a lot waiting for me there,’ I confided in him, ‘And now… I am coming.’