What was the one experience that completely changed your life? What happened? How did it change your life?
The DJ continued to play his tracks and the posse at my high school prom continued dancing, laughing and enjoying the end of an era. I stood in one corner with a coke in my hand and watched that bunch of people who I shared a significant period of my life. It was the end of June. I was at the end-of-high school prom party in Hotel Meridian, a few miles out of Heathrow International Airport in London. I stood there as I felt reality sinking in. My hands were jittery and my eyes teary. It was as if my insides were being hurt and all I wanted to do was be fixed on the spot in that corner of the dance hall till eternity. As I looked over the ecstatic crowd of beautifully dressed guys and girls from my school year, a hand took mine in a tight grip.
“It isn’t going to be as bad as it seems, you know.” Jane said.
“No. I won’t let it be that way.” She went on, never letting go of my hand.
“We won’t let that happen, mate.” Said Mark, as he approached me from behind and patted my back.
“It’s time.” I said and as I did I felt the heaviest tear relieve me of my composure.
“My flight to Mumbai is under twelve hours.” I gave in to reality.
Three years later I was sitting in a rickshaw on my way to a party. June in Mumbai is a competition of sorts. You had to make it to your destination without a drop of water on yourself. Sure, you can use an umbrella or a rain coat. But the rains and the winds over the oceanic skies play their own game, which makes you completely vulnerable to the slicing water striking you on your every step. I was getting soaked even sitting inside the rickshaw. I sighed and forced myself not to think about the rain making a mess of my neatly combed hair and the newly bought shoes. Instead, I found my thoughts replaying the final moments of the sight of my friends Jane and Mark. Rains; they had a funny way of making me vulnerable. The correlation is crystal clear to this day. May it be the busy streets with endless pedestrians in Mumbai or walking across the Thames towards school in London, the rains were there. They were a part of my identity. They were there when I took off from London and they were there when I landed in Mumbai. Rains were a vital part of my life. It was in these rains, and the sheer number of events in the years since I’d returned to my home country, which make me who I am today.
Imagine you were a very popular individual in a school in London. A foreigner, but you were well known in a school and made plenty of friends. Imagine having to live within the system of a developed nation. Neither a street which left marked with traffic signs nor a garbage bin that attracts pests and diseases. But then you have to leave. You have to leave from the place you are willing to call home. You have to leave from the system that is amazing and fits best to your needs and ambitions. There are several implications one could derive if such a scenario was speculated. It’s an entirely different aspect of reality if you have to live it. It was, certainly, the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to live through. But I survived. I made it through the tunnel and came out on the other side with my pride intact and head held high.
It’s not an easy transition. I was merely seventeen when it happened! I was full of hope and wonder. I didn’t want to let go of my past and I didn’t, not at first anyway. I didn’t want to be a sore bum about it. I tried fitting into the harsher and grayer Mumbai than I’d remembered it to be as a child. It was different. As I had, the city of Mumbai had grown in my absence. I couldn’t make it a week without throwing a fit of rage or resorting to lowly addictions. All of my emotional upheaval had been sourced from the sight I endured on the second day I returned home.
I was applying for college-level courses as a part of my transition process. I used to take the train to the particular college along with a million other commuters. I had learnt to notice the little things. The laborer who cut his finger but wouldn’t leave his work because he wanted the money or the school teacher carrying her books while being pestered by her own two kids. The devil is in the details; I found that out the hard way. It came in the form of a small child. A small child, sat near the railings of a pedestrian overpass, looking at the thousands of commuters who walked by him. I knew that they knew he was there because they involuntarily avoided him, as if it were by default. It seemed their field of vision had neglected his existence. If that seemed bad, the state of the poor child was awful. One arm missing and the other held out in a manner of weak defeat, begging for some change. His limbs were skinny and lifeless as malnutrition had found its perfect host in him. He was, as I was told months later, the perfect symbolism of poverty in India. Because that’s what he was: poor.
I walked home in a trance; my soul deteriorating and the excited flame in my fingers just a numbing, cold after-thought. I couldn’t get rid of that image from my mind for weeks. I suffered from depression. I had nightmares about that poor boy. I felt so helpless. I laughed menacingly at my own inability. I was revolted by myself for being so helpless. The concern of my family and friends guided me, kept the fire alive, and stood by me. Eight months after I left London and returned to my home country I slept for the first time, all by myself, without any medication or therapy.
I began taking charge of my life. I started donating to worthy charities, fighting against poverty in Mumbai. I positioned myself in Non-profit organizations and met several people passionate about the issue. I helped. Also, I completed my college-level courses and enrolled in a college of engineering. I made tall friends, happy friends, talented friends, good looking friends; they were my buddies. I was happy. There were times when I felt utterly hopeless, but I remembered that along with hundreds of others, I took efforts fighting poverty in what little way I could. I love Mumbai. I know I am going to settle in the very heart of the city. There is the grave situation of poverty, I agree, but the magnificence of Mumbai doesn’t diminish in the dark alley ways forgotten platform stations. It is a living sentient being in itself. It is a part of a developing nation, after all. I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to visit Mumbai.
There I was. Reminiscing all of those days as my rickshaw kept swerving and riding across the busy, rainy streets of Mumbai. When I reached my destination there they were. My posse, standing in a group outside the bar, some cheerfully giggling and jumping about while others calmly smoking their cigarettes. All cozied up under their umbrellas and greeting me with cheers, whistles and shouts. I stepped up to them and hugged and clapped hands with each one of them. We went inside the bar and had fun. We danced, we laughed at old memories and did what friends would do. This time around, there wasn’t any crying. There wasn’t any grief waiting to fall upon me. This time there was a glowing prospect ahead of me.
The rains had subsided and I’d stepped out of the bar. I lit one up and Akash and Tania walked up beside me.
“Always moving about. You can never stay in one place can you?” Akash laughed at the criticism.
“He’s got bigger dreams, Akash. Bigger than all of us. But, I wonder. Does this feel like a déjà vu?” Tania asked earnestly.
“It’s not the same as last time, I’ll say that much.” I said with a gentle smile and a roaring rumble in my chest.
“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m going to miss you.” Akash said as he wrapped his arms around my shoulder in a weird sideways hug. Tania laughed at my startled reaction and joined in. I was ready. I wasn’t leaving anything or anybody behind. I was carrying it all with me; an integral part of me.
“It’s time.” I said and as I did I felt the heaviest tear soak in my immense joy.
“My flight to San Francisco is under twelve hours.” I gave in to reality.