Meeting the parents – India 2

31 08 2008

It has been 3 months since I’ve seen Broom. I have two suitcases of gifts for her parents. I wince at the thought wondering if they’ll think I’m trying to buy their affection. But most of the things I brought were requests carefully relayed through Broom.   I did bring a few things extra, though, that I thought they might like.  There are two messages from Broom on the cell phone by the time i make my way down a seemingly endless corridor after retrieving my luggage. It will be so good to see her, I think. And then I think, I need to be careful not to show it if her parents are there. When I finally emerge into the daylight of Mumbai I call Broom. She starts to tell me how to find her but I already see her there. Her parents are not with her. I’m relieved but also hating the delay.  Broom sees me then and smiles. All my worry fades into a distant compartment and the only thing that matters is that I’m here with Broom, finally.

I imagine us rushing toward each other bollywood style and embracing in a passionate and yet not too suspicious manner. But my daydreams are shattered by two realities. The first is that I have two heavy suitcases and a carry-on that slows me to a snail’s pace as I drag them through the swamps and pot-holes left behind by the morning’s monsoon showers. But why isn’t Broom rushing toward me, bollywood-style, since I obviously can’t manage?  Maybe she’s stopped loving me in the 3 months we’ve been apart. I quickly suppress that unthinkable thought. And then I see what has stopped her. The airport attendants have apparently decided to round up every cart on the planet and transport them to god knows where at this exact moment. There is a line of luggage carts two miles long  and a dozen men trying to keep them moving like a slow train between me and Broom. We look at each other helplessly and start laughing.  There is no end in sight as if the gods themselves willed us to be separate at this moment when we most want to be together. “Welcome to India.” Broom says with a sardonic smile. She turns to one of the attendants and says something in Hindi. He nods and stops the train of carts. They break the line and motion ceremoniously for me to walk through. I feel a bit silly, like some queen they’ve stopped traffic for.  And then Broom and I are together at last. A quick, but firm embrace and a  kiss on the cheek that an observant person might notice was a touch too long. Not bollywood but good enough for me.  The attendants who stopped the line of carts are still watching us.

The drive through Mumbai was by turns frightening and fascinating. Frightening because being in the back of a cab deftly weaving in and out of traffic and narrowly avoiding toddlers, dogs, cattle and unknown obstacles in the road at top speed in Mumbai is a little like experiencing death-race first hand. Fascinating because everything is so new and different that my senses cannot decide which of them should have my attention. I found myself hopelessly unable to take it all in but totally in my element. I am most content, I’ve discovered, when I’m immersed in experiences that threaten to overwhelm me.

At one point we’re stopped in traffic and there is a truck in front of us with furniture crammed in chaotic fashion under a canvas canopy. There is something odd about the furniture though, I think in a haze of jet lag and sleep deprivation. Wooden chairs, table legs…but those aren’t table legs. “oh my god there’s a person in there!” I say out loud without thinking. It was such an odd image, like someone had thrown a dead body in the back of a pickup with a bunch of furniture.

“What are you talking about?” Broom says. I motion to the truck in front of us, but she doesn’t see what I see. “There’s a man in the back of that truck!” She stares at me with a slightly concerned expression as though I’ve taken leave of my senses. “Yes there’s a man in there. So?” I mumble something about it seeming strange that’s all and Broom shakes her head. “Bloody firang” she says affectionately. I feel incredibly foolish. Broom kisses me on the cheek and squeezes my hand.

When we finally pull up to Broom’s house, she dials a number on her cell phone. “Papa, we’re here.” She says. The butterflies begin again.  Broom is always talking about how perceptive her dad is and I am suddenly afraid that in one glance he will know everything.  And then he is coming out of the house. He has a slightly worried expression. He is very handsome for his age. Broom had said he was a metrosexual and I can see evidence of that in his perfectly-groomed beard and manicured nails.  He embraces Broom as though he hasn’t seen her in weeks. “What took you so long?” He asks admonishingly. Broom rolls her eyes and clicks her tongue. “Papa, I’m 30 years old. Stop worrying.” He smiles indulgently and turns to greet me. Should I shake his hand or hug him? He extends his hand and smiles. There is an inscrutable expression in his eyes. I wonder what thoughts are going through his mind. “I’ve heard a lot about you” he says. “Come. You can have a bath and we’ll have lunch. Mama is still at work but she was going to come home for lunch.” he says. As we go into the house, he says suddenly “I waited to marinate the fish because I didn’t want to greet you with smelly hands.”  I am oddly touched and I think maybe everything will be okay.