An Africa saying is: ‘The River may be wide, but it can always be crossed.”
Well, I have sailed from Bombay in India to Mombasa in Kenya. I have not crossed a turbulent river, I have crossed the mighty Indian Ocean. A measureless bridge between India and Africa. And I have sailed through on the wings of my parents’ initiative to take me back home with them. They wanted to take care of me, to bring me ‘back to health’!
My small, delicate frame and underdeveloped body must have given them the impression that I was ‘sickly’! I, who had never been sick at the Boarding School! Had, occasionally, pretended to have a tummy-ache, or ‘fever’. We, girls had recognized a bush in the garden that would temporarily raise the body temperature. All an excuse to be pampered in the sick-bay by two kindly nurses. And a reprieve from the daily drudgery of the school routine. In exchange we were well-rewarded with nourishing porridge, rich and sweet, milky with raisins.
I was, in a mysterious, excited way, glad to be going back home. To get to know my family again. I had even forgotten that I had a family – outside my friends and the community of the Boarding School, since the age of five.
For now, my ‘new’ original family gives me some misgivings. I expect many challenges. I eagerly want to see who I would consider as my friends. After all, at the school, I had many friends to hold hands with, to guide and support each other trekking on the Himalayan hills of Mussorie and Dehradun. I had climbed trees to throw red, ripe, luscious mangoes to be caught and relished by my friends. The uplifted, eager faces bursting in joyous glees!
But since the moment, I had lost the friendship of my close friend Neeta, I never was keen to have one special friend, with whom I could share my heart’s secrets. And trust me, as a growing teenager, there were many questions or answers which you share with only in a cozy, trusting relationship of a special friend. After all, I did not have a mother or sister or father to confide in, to feel I could trust their judgement, in good faith.
On board the ship for fifteen days, with my Mother and Father and my three brothers and two sisters, I had come to appreciate the family bond. My siblings’ joyful escapades and games on the deck, the intimacy, the trust, the reliance on each other – all in a joyful setting! It was beautiful revelation to me: This is what ‘family’ is! And this whole is my family! My very new family. And my very own!
But with queasiness caused by the rock and rolling ship, sailing through the Monsoons in the Indian Ocean, mother was busy day after day, taking care of father and me- the two who had succumbed to sea-sickness. I felt weak, sickly and unsteady on my feet. A concerned mother’s constant care, her worry of limited choices on the ship’s menu that I might find palatable, and retain to get some nourishment – kept her awake. I felt sorry to be so much trouble to my new-found mother. It also felt wonderful to be nursed by a ‘real mother’.
One morning, she woke up with a sudden realization that the ‘Gujrati’ menu of sweet and sour lemony Curry and rice, ordered from the Gujrati P.C.’s Kitchen, might just be the dish that I would relish enough to try. And more importantly, to hold! In small doses, of course. To her great relief, it worked. Father and I had often been reluctant to try the first morsel. Throwing up liquid, in the absence of food, was a torturous experience. Now, we were slowly regaining strength.
After twelve days of ‘rocking and rolling’ on turbulent waters, we sighted palm trees of the island of Seychelles, at last. As the Monsoons abated, my queasiness eased. My younger sister Toshi, who had been my support all through this new turmoil in my life, was smiling again.
I looked forward to find a safe niche within that circle. Looking for a friend, who I could confide in, satisfy my needs in my new home in Kenya. I felt blessed in my newly structured life. My loving sister’ support, mother’s nourishing hand, gentle father’s constant concern and medical advice to mother for my care during the voyage, I was hard pressed to decide.
Who should I choose as my Best Friend?