Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wish You Were Here*

My brother left for the US yesterday night, most probably for good i.e. to settle down. The last time he’d left for the US, probably for good, too, was four years ago. I was twenty one and I was there, I remember, at the Airport to see him off. No overbearing sadness had come over me. At the airport, as my brother made his way inside the doors beyond which we non-passengers were not allowed, my parents started shuffling here and there, away from where we had all been standing, trying to catch one more glimpse of him through the glass wall if they could. And then one more; and then one more, if they could. A portion of the long glassed wall along the circumference of the airport terminal was thickly filmed, which was where I chose to go, looking vainly at myself in the glass, marvelling inside at my long locks, thinking highly of how I looked in the particular pair of jeans and tee I had worn that day. When you’re twenty one, you don’t need to actually be good-looking to be obsessed about how you look. I wasn’t to see my brother until three years later, but that didn’t seem to inform me how stomping hurriedly to catch a couple more glimpses of him walking to this queue and that while pushing his trolley, could make any profound, positive difference.

I came home and read the first one-fifth of Catch-22, possibly for the sixth or seventh time. I was yet to finish reading the whole book even once.

An year ago, he came back on what he thought was a three-week vacation. Visa humdrum meant he had to in stead stay for a year. First he was pissed with the US, but later for the most part he was just pissed with India, an irritation that stemmed from his belief in the unforgiving nature of India’s socioeconomy for someone who was both a mediocre student, academically, and was not the possessor of familial wealth enough to start setting up, or even support him through setting up, a business of his own. We had some heated debates, my brother and I, over this subject, in all of which, I, although the less enterprising and entrepreneurial of the two, would firmly stand up for India’s great opportunities for its people, stand up for India’s great progress, India’s great democracy and above all, India’s great culture°. Very firmly. Even though inside, every now and then something he said would weaken my conviction in my stance. Anyway, these debates weren’t making any difference to our lives, let alone to India.

Three months ago I moved to Bombay. Three weeks later he came over because he thought – rightly – that I can’t manage myself living by myself. He was here for five days during which, every day, when I left for office he left for getting me things – cot, almirah, study table, hammer and nails, chairs, pillows, laptop accessories and much more – pretty unglamourous things all in all. It made me feel small inside that I worked, paid frankly more than I thought I worked commensurately for¹ , in a comfortable air-conditioned environ, on a cushioned, reclining, swivel chair, and he worked for me, thanklessly², walking whole days in the harsh, humid heat on the uneven streets of Bhandup, Kanjurmarg and Ghatkopar.

Last night he boarded his flight in Delhi while I was at work in my office in Bombay. It was a Saturday, and I was there for a specific if not special purpose, which meant that I was the only person in the office, empty cubicles all around me till as far as the wall on all four sides. After every two odd hours I’d call him, building up a stoic coolness in my voice, and say ‘how’s it going’, if the ‘packing’s all done?’, ‘hey so many people home to see you off, you’re so popular!’ and the like. People were home aplenty, and these phone-calls all lasted less than a minute each. Laden with background noise of cousins and aunts and uncles these calls were not exactly what I had wanted them to be. Or needed them to be.

Each time after I’d hang up, tears welled up in my eyes but did not fall. I was sad that he was going now, and as against most other feelings³ we casually call sadness, this was actually sadness, in its unadulterated form, the kind you cannot rationalise. For why should I be sad when this is what he’d wanted, and this is what I’d wanted for him? In that case, it would have been disappointment masquerading as sadness, not sadness. It isn’t even as if he’d be worse off without me, that I’m in a worry about. It isn’t even as if I’d be in any way harmed by his being in US that I’d be insecure about. I was just sad this time, no more, no less. There was no scope for analysis. Except that there was important work waiting on the screen in front of me that probably needed some.

Wish you’d have stayed here in India a bit more, Bhai.

*This is pretty much my most personal post of the undisguised type by a long shot, and naturally I have mixed feelings, apprehensions about posting it. But I'm emboldened by the fact that the blog is not known to many people. But more importantly, I'm motivated by the thought that when I look back on my blog many years later, I'll find this post here and feel better about the world.

°The last part really turning him off; he saw the culture as full of myriad hypocrisies stacked together clumsily, one trying to hide the other.

¹Which is, unlike most private-sector employees, something I’ve always felt. Although at the same time I don’t think I earn as much as I’d ideally wanted to have been earning at this stage. And that this is no contradiction, let me add.

²In the larger scheme of things, that is; not because I wasn’t thankful.

³Like disappointment, ego-crashing, failure, hopelessness, worry, insecurity, dejection – which are all distinct, independent feelings I think we mistake for sadness. For example, when a whiz comes second in a class, it’s not sadness that he feels as we normally presume, it’s actually ego-crashing. It can also be understood by considering that what we often consider happiness (such as a public achievement, like winning a hurdle race), is just an ego-boost; much more transitory than actual happiness. Five days later, you end runners-up in another race, and all that show of happy-dent-white jaw is gone.


  1. I just wanted to write a no. of words describing how much I liked the way the post evolved. Be it lil details or not enough details but mostly riding strong on emotions. I think I'll put it simply, I really liked this post.

    All of a sudden I feel so glad that I'll get to spend the coming weekend with my family istead of the usual merry-making pursuits.