Tag Archives: #grandparents

An Imperfect Street: The Delhi Airport Race

When I step off the plane which I have been on for the past sixteen hours, I am immediately hit with the biting cold that is Delhi winter. The smell of pollution and smog drifts into my nose. For most people, freezing and polluted air is the opposite of a comforting experience, but the air is refreshing and the smell is what I associate with my favorite place in the world. I drag my carry-on off the sky bridge, and my shoes are met with the familiarity of the faded orange carpet decorated with geometric patterns. After sleeping for the majority of the flight, my sister and I are energetically skipping with excitement to see our loved ones, oblivious to the fact that it is three in the morning, local time. We speed walk through the quiet airport, chatting about what we are looking forward to; I think about the way my grandma’s chicken curry tastes or the afternoons I spend chatting hours away with my other grandma. 

As I exit the sky bridge, I am reminded of what it feels like to be home. The feeling of warmth and comfort that consumes me is something that I only feel when I am in Delhi. Exiting the plane in San Francisco gives me a sense of relief of being literally home after a long vacation, but often feelings of sadness emerge knowing that my vacation is over. Walking into Indira Gandhi International Airport only brings excitement, comfort, and genuine happiness to my soul. 

Though the airport is quiet, as we approach immigration you can feel the bustling excitement of children anxious to see their cousins and grandparents, and college students itching to eat home-cooked meals again. I stand at the top of the escalator at immigration, staring at the four hands above the cubicles; the giant rose gold hands are representative of different poses that are done during the traditional Bharatanatyam dance. These hands feel like a warm hug. Those hands mean that I am just one door away from hugging some of my favorite people in the world. We make it through immigration, continuing to speed walk through the maze that is Duty-Free, a new series of strong scents from perfume and alcohol hitting us. Once we reach baggage claim, we anxiously await our numerous large suitcases which are filled with our clothes for our month-long trip as well as gifts for our family. With smiles on our faces, winter jackets on, and a full trolley of suitcases in hand, we head outside to the meeting area. 

Ayanna’s grandparents at the airport in Delhi.

My sister exits the doors first, and though I can’t see her face, I see those of my grandparents, uncle, and cousins, lighting up. My grandpa walks towards us, and my sister and I abandon our bags in the middle of the walkway so that he can wrap us both in a bear hug. My grandpa is always the first to hug us, but certainly not the last. We make our rounds, embracing whoever has braved the cold, early morning to welcome us, getting smiles from strangers who are also about to see their loved ones. 

After a quick tussle with my grandfather, who insists on dragging the heaviest suitcases, we make our way to the car. There is a broken sidewalk which we must overcome before we can get the luggage into the car. Every time a trolley full of bags goes over it, we hold our breath to see if a suitcase is going to fall and lie in the middle of the road until my dad can come to pick it up. Though it is the most stressful experience trying to get eight heavy suitcases across a busy street with a broken sidewalk, it makes us all laugh and despite the chaos, I would not trade that moment for the world. My sister and I pile into the car with our grandma and she pulls out our favorite biscuits which she knows we crave and miss. The whole way home to my paternal grandparents’ house, we crack jokes, catch up, and eat our snacks as the sun rises. Our annual trip to my favorite place in the world has commenced. 

I didn’t grow up in India, nor was I born there, but this annual pilgrimage has not only made it feel like my second home but my happy place as well. However, it has not always felt this way. This same airport routine takes place every year and the sensory experiences I can describe in my sleep have always existed, however, a few years ago I was too focused on the negative aspects of this experience to value the comforting ones. All my life, I have spoken and understood Hindi fluently and well.

However, as an American, a local can pick my accent out of a crowd. My cousins, parents, grandparents, and babysitters would lightheartedly tease me about certain pronunciations, and I used to take that so seriously that I wouldn’t even try to speak the language. Even the immigration officer would see my Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card and American passport and ask me if it was my first time in India. People would think of me as spoiled or privileged and ungrateful because I am from America and still calling myself Indian. It was wrong on their part, but that is just how nuances in identity work. While these were small events, as an impressionable young child, I would start to question my belonging and negate the extreme happiness I felt in India with the small jokes about my dual identity. 

Ayanna with her younger sister at the Delhi airport.

I still have difficulties with my identity, but the difference is that now I have learned how to embrace both parts of my identity. Being Indian and spending so much time in Delhi has taught me that identity is not uniform and legal documents don’t define me.

Now, when people ask me about America and how “my country’s government is so crazy,” instead of getting annoyed or feeling mocked, I embrace it. I recognize that I have the privilege of living in an extremely different country and people are genuinely interested, so I happily answer them. In fact, sometimes I like to make it known that I’m from America; I will deliberately talk in English or wear a Bay Area sports jersey because I have learned to have pride. In fact, it has even made me friends even in India. I have struck up conversations with multiple tourists who have heard my accent or seen my jersey and we have connected on one part of my identity. 

Adding on, due to COVID-19, I have not been able to visit India in almost two years. The absence of these feelings of comfort and happiness has made me better appreciate and understand how much those experiences and that place mean to me. It’s unfortunate that the absence of a feeling, and not the presence of it made me grateful for Delhi, but nevertheless, I no longer take that sense of true happiness for granted. 

India is “my place” and not only because of the comfort it gives me but also because of the challenges it has thrown at me. Challenges that have taught me to be resilient, and have also helped me find myself and better understand my identity. I hold India near and dear to my heart because of the people and experiences it holds. No one can take that feeling away from me. A passport determines citizenship, but emotional attachment and love are what dictate identity. It is also what keeps pulling me back to my favorite place in the world – Delhi.


Ayanna Gandhi is an 11th grader at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California. She has a deep interest in writing and reading but also enjoys politics, singing, and sports of all kinds. 


 

A Holidays Must Watch: Brand New Dawn

Putham Pudhu Kaalai (PPK), the Tamilian short story anthology, is the sine qua non of the 2020 emotional roller coaster.

“Memories of a brand new dawn” are five short films completed during the 21-day COVID-19 lockdown in March, in India.Five short stories by five accomplished filmmakers take us into the homes of people locked in the early days of the COVID pandemic in India. It was released on October 16, 2020, on Amazon Prime.

The stories are a lyrical peek into love, family, despair, and friendly shenanigans. To me, they bring back tender memories of Malgudi Days.

In my zoom interview with Rajiv Menon for India Currents (find it at the end of the article), I was hesitant to say the name out loud for the fear of mispronouncing it but ever since then, I have been happily recommending Putham Pudhu Kaalai to everyone! I love the “skirted” Tamil script, the dialogues, and the music!

Rajiv Menon said it reminded him of “film institute” days. All of them brought their inherent creative talent and expertise to stories of new beginnings, bruised relationships, and dreams with a buoyant playfulness.  

#1. Ilamai Idho Idho: Directed by Sudha Kongara with Jayaram as Rajiv Padmanabhan and Urvashi as Lakshmi Krishnan, is an effervescent champagne cocktail! How two quinquagenarians are transported to their teenage years with the chime of a doorbell is endearing! Like their squabbles over domestic chores over “spoons, dishes, and wet towels.” I wonder if Kalidas is developing Parkinson’s because he drops cups and saucers while offering tea to his girlfriend! Composer GV Prakash’s music of this short inspired by a Kamal Hasaan song is lilting! Will their kids approve of their rendezvous after the lockdown is the question.

#2. Avarum Naanum / Avalum Naanum: Directed by Gautham Menon with MS Bhaskar as“tatta” grandfather and Ritu Varma as “Kanna ” granddaughter. Kanna visits her estranged tatta, a nuclear physicist but is pleasantly surprised by him. I cried with the octogenarian in a checked shirt who can dice mangoes, fix routers, berate rude managers, and pine for his daughter’s melody! Art deco mirror, gramophone, family photos, and the Bodhi tree tie into the narrative. The flashback of two girls in their silk skirts holding sweets reincarnated childhood. I think of this and singBachpan ke Babuji the, acche acche babuji the..

#3. Coffee, Anyone?: Directed by Suhasini Mani Ratnam. On the eve of their mother’s seventy-fifth birthday, two daughters come home to a mother with a pontine stroke and a father is treating her at home!  Suhasini has opened a Pandora’s box of family dynamics, aging parents, fertility, and dyslexia. The mother reminds me of my mother with a “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth”  but stronger in her resolve as a cup of potent filter coffee! The home with a mango tree, a wrought iron gate, and swarming feminine energy is familiar too! Squabbles, selfies, kumkum, birthday wishes at midnight will make us all sing Tu kitni acchi hai, tu kitni pyari, hai, bholi bhali hai. O ma, o ma…”

#4. Reunion: Written and directed by Rajiv Menon with a cast of Andrea Jeremiah, Leela Samson, and Sikkil Gurucharan is wonderful! Rajiv Menon was surprised that I had not watched the anthology but once he knew I was a physician, he shared the backstory that prompted him to write the script. Carnatic musician Sikkil Gurucharan is a doctor who after being exposed to a COVID-19 patient is quarantined with his mother, an elegant Leela Samson, and an old school friend Sadhana (Andrea). He discovers that she is a drug addict! The feng shui of the sloping red-tiled Kerala style home with black and white photographs of palm trees, temples, and fishing nets is beguiling. There is an echo of a popular song “Ooo la la…  by the director, and lyrical poetry reveals Rajiv Menon as an incurable romantic. The best poems are always those written to our childhood sweethearts. I want to wear a Kerala saree, drink deep from the fresh mint mojito, and dance on the blue-tiled courtyard! Rajiv Menon writes in English/Tamil but his dialogues are in Malayalam, his matribhasha.

As a physician, I give him full marks for taking cues from his own arthritic mother, Apollo hospital’s ICU is packed with patients suffering from alcohol withdrawal in lockdown, and doctors treating patients without proper PPE. Rajiv Menon got this right! Once a doctor- always a doctor at home or in the clinic! An unexpectedly tender love story of redemption and joy. I remembered “ Taare hain baraati, chandni hai ye barat

#5. Miracle: directed by Karthik Subbaraj with Bobby Simha as Devan K. Muthu Kumar as Michael is about an Indie filmmaker and two hoodlums who want to make quick money inspired by a spiritual “Baba” with a scripted message: Miracles do happen! This quixotic comedy of errors crescendos to a climax with rolls of crisp rupees rolling out from proverbial Sheikh Chilli’s imagination!  Who loses, who wins is the question? Karthik Subbaraj has certainly won my applause with an uncanny knack to conjure a hilarious tale with an iPhone with awesome night scenes! This last short is radically different and perhaps that makes it more memorable. The fact that I was able to narrate it to my grandson in India in one breath says a lot!  These “Do deewane shahar mein.., may not have found their biryani but they are content in eating puliyodharai and hoping to catch reruns of Mahabha…rat on a stolen laptop.

I have watched the PPK anthology on Amazon Prime thrice, to familiarize myself with Tamil words, music, and the ambiance of Chennai! I am indebted to the wonderful personal advice given by Rajiv Menon about making good stories! Putham Pudhu Kaalai is relatable like dishes created from a snake gourd-like pachadi, raita, curry and sambar, similar but deliciously different! This analogy does make me hungry! 


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.