This is a work of entertainment fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental
“This is your captain speaking” the gravel voice of the captain jolted Ramesh out of a deep slumber. “We are an hour away from the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Terminal….”
The quintessential NRI, seated in the aisle seat of the economy class of the aircraft, checked his watch and tidied up his blanket that had partly slipped out of his lap on to the aisle. He looked at the little boy sleeping with his head resting on his mother’s shoulders to the left.
He was on the Emirates flight no. 456 to Mumbai. The whir of the aircraft engine had noticeably changed. An airhostess, looking lovely wearing her customary bright red cap smiled at him as he stretched his arms.
The motley group of passengers expectedly became restive. He checked his watch that still showed New York time. He had left his apartment in a hurry, leaving things in a slovenly manner. That is how he always had been, in hurry or no hurry. These were the perks of a prolonged bachelorhood. He had trained himself to be unorganized at home, unlike the chain of big chain of stores that he owned.
The lady at the window gently straightened up, moving the boy’s head lovingly back in the resting position in his seat. She offered a customary sleepy smile at Ramesh and set about tidying up her own stuff. She appeared anything but Indian, probably a single American mom, Ramesh guessed. He loved constructing the imaginary background of people he came across.
International flights still landed in Mumbai at uncivilized hours.
Ramesh recalled the chaotic scenes at the Mumbai airport twenty-five years ago. Hordes of his relatives and friends had gathered just outside the terminal. After all, one of their village boys had made it to the Promised Land. Every one wanted to outdo the other with bigger garlands to honour him.
Events flashed by his eyes like a daydream….
His endless sojourns to the sea to get a fair catch of fish; his village Fansa on the western coast of South Gujarat that always appeared to have been reclaimed from the raging Arabian Sea. The angry waves perpetually threatened to engulf the village. He probably roamed around in the sea down below everyday in his fishing boat. Pitch dark everywhere. The past was gone in a flash, like a meteorite. However, it felt nice and warm to reminisce.
The aircraft wobbled a bit in the rough weather, waking the passengers up.
Poor Ganpat, his buddy, had come all the way from the village to bid him goodbye but not Asha, his sister.
“My bapa and maai are busy screening prospective grooms for Asha” Ganpat had told him.
How long can her parents wait for Ramesh? He had flatly declined to even get betrothed before flying off to the States.
Ganpat knew everything. But could do nothing for him. She had already turned eighteen. Why would her parents wait for Ramesh to return? There were a few eligible, well built, seafarer young men in the village for their lovely, dusky Asha. No one had asked Asha. None had cared. After all who was she to decide her own future? Ganpat was in tears watching his friend waving goodbye to venture out, many an oceans away. “Ramsha, avje paachho jaldi jaldi; khoob badha paisa banaavine” (Hey Ramsha, make a lot of money and come back soon, real soon, buddy)
How Ramesh had wished Asha bid him goodbye in the same way?
That was 25 years ago. It seemed like an eternity. He was barely 20 then. Finishing his secondary school was more challenging than jumping into the sea. The village guys reckoned he could make it big in his life. But no one had any clue; he either.
Fate had a way of connecting to the right opportunity for Ramesh. Or one may attribute it to the blessings of the village deity. Why the deity did not bless other equally worthy young men was a mystery.
A kind businessman, who happened to visit the village saw the fire in his belly and promptly called him up for training at his super store in the suburb – Santacruz- of Mumbai. Ramesh’s eagerness to learn and perseverance fascinated his employer.
Before he knew, he was packed off to the Promised Land to manage a convenience store in Houston, Texas. The rest, as they say, is history.
The loud music on the cabin public address system woke him up again from the daydream. The pilot had warned of a bumpy weather on approach to Mumbai. It was time to touch down. The cabin lights were dimmed.
The maximum city down below was asleep; many like Ramesh may still be dreaming of a rosy future; slogging it out twelve hours a day. The street lights were shining brightly, a beacon of hope for many who wanted to work hard, like Ramesh had. Well, the name Asha too meant ‘hope’ didn’t it?
He craned his neck towards the window, ‘Oh wow, let me see if I can see the suburb of Santa Cruz where I worked.’ It was hard to make out anything. He gave up and readjusted himself with the seat belts tightly wrapped around his waist.
The huge jumbo jet made a perfect landing. Some over zealous passengers clapped – more in celebrations of being back in their motherland than in appreciation of the smooth landing that the pilot had managed. It was 15 minutes past midnight, January 6, 1994.
The airport terminal had changed beyond recognition. Aside from being bigger it was laid out almost like an international terminal.
Some fellow passengers couldn’t help remark “Wow, looks better than the terminal of Little Rock!”
To his relief there was no hold up at the customs. He simply whizzed through the ‘Nothing to Declare’ Green channel. Things had changed for the better, after all.
Once he emerged out of the exit gate of the Arrival lounge, he strained his eyes to look out for his folks. He walked all the way to the end of the row of the excited people waving at the passengers in general, looking to identify their own.
No one had come to receive him.
What could have happened to them? He had informed them his plans, days in advance.
Had he changed so much that his folks had a problem singling him out from a bunch of Americanized young Indian guys funneling out of the gate?
As he stopped and removed his jacket, an obsequious man suddenly materialized in front of him, with a placard in his hand that had his name on it- “Ramesh bhai”
“Hello Rameshbhai. I come to receive you. Come with me”. Before Ramesh knew, the guy took charge of his wobbly trolley and started walking briskly ahead.
“Oh, but where is everybody?”
The guy was in too much of a hurry to hear and kept walking ahead.
Pretty soon, he was led into a swanky multilevel parking lot. ‘That is cool!” He couldn’t contain his admiration.
“Myself, Ravu. I will take you home. Come and sit comfortably. Everyone is waiting for you there.” The guy managed to convey so much in broken English, uncharacteristic of the young guys that Ramesh had known.
“Ghere badhu Ok to chhe?” (Is everything ok at home?”)
Ravu just nodded his head and got busy in maneuvering the oversized car out of the building.
“May be it was too early for them to come to receive him”. It was pointless to enquire with this guy who at best, was entrusted only with transport arrangement.
The city he knew had changed – Smooth exit points, bright signboard along the highway, all well laid out, just like America, his new homeland.
It was dark outside but for Ramesh it was fun, trying to recall the landmarks – some were still there. He thought he saw the signboard of his favorite hotel “Ramashrey” just underneath the humongous flyover of Santa Cruz, flash by. Great! He made a mental note of snatching a meal there before flying back to the U.S..
“Arey bhai, ketlaa vaage pahonchshu?” (Hey man, what time would we reach?)
“Rameshbhai, tame thaakya hasho. Sui jaav ungh avti hoy to.Vaheli havaar thataa aapane ponchi javanaa” (Ramesh bhai, please relax, try to sleep. We will reach there by early morning) and resumed driving. Ramesh was amused by the hideous looking cap that Ravu had on his head. His face was barely visible!
“Arey, tame seat belt nathi paheryo, Ravu”
(Hey Ravu, why have you not put on your seat belt?
Ravu remembering the advice of his fellow drivers – when you have an NRI passenger never forget to put the seat belt on. Ravu nonchalantly clicked the seat belt in with a jerk, bring it over from behind his back to the front of his body.
How would his aging parents welcome him? And the peepal tree on the outskirt? Would it be still there, swaying in the wind that blew from the sea, the tiny temple of the village deity next to it? Oh, the aroma of the fresh coconut water?
Does the village still exist there at all?