V S Naipaul famously said that there’s nothing that looked more dislocated than an Indian in an overcoat. Not being a huge fan of the Nobel laureate for Literature for his slightly sexist views on women, I have to admit, there’s some truth in that pithy statement. It comes to my mind specially on days like today when the snowflakes are falling instead of rain – a bit to the left, then to the right, a dance of nature as the bleak period begins. It has taken me a while to understand that winter starts in full force after Christmas and doesn’t miraculously segueway into Spring after the December Solstice. It’s not so much the overcoat that causes unease but the need for headgear and gloves that makes me feel quite at odds with the environment that has been home for over two decades.
It’s inescapable – thoughts of alienation and exile in weather like this. It brings into stark focus the fact that as the years progress, I inhabit this special place – a nowhere land of my mind. It alternates between wildly exciting and terribly claustrophobic. Life as I see it is about constantly shaking off the shackles (self-imposed or otherwise). If as many believe, it was about seeking to liberate oneself (one’s soul) and religion still feels not quite the answer, the canvas is as bleak or as vibrant as you want it to be.
On the same train of thought, these feelings persist and take on a sharper clarity when I head to my country of origin. It’s almost as if there’s a voice inside chattering away – “so, if this is not me, who am I?” Oops, that old chestnut again. This is a poem I finished recently – it started off as a list of notes taken on my phone as I reached my gate at Heathrow last September en route to homeland.
I ignore the startled glance and gawping look,
From Young Man in IT on his way home.
Young Mum with babe in arms,
Juggles phone to hubby, near where I sit,
Reporting back a nappy change.
It’s just you and baby, love, for the next ten hours.
There come the women in silk and zari,
Maharanis in the palanquins of today,
Some younger than me.
Wheeled to the plane, ahead of the line,
Helpless in their majesty, they need constant attention.
I watch their stubborn expressions,
There’s pride in their inability to walk.
But their diamonds could be beacons in a power cut.
Wives arrive with bent heads in thick fleeces,
Over saris, socks and open sandals.
Walking a rocky gait on their stiff knees,
Their pot-bellied men strut ahead,
With sufficient pomp and pretense.
After all, they’re on a flight leaving Heathrow.
Then arrives the smartly dressed senior manager,
Speaking in staccato tones to family,
Awaiting her return after a business trip.
Just before gate closes, a dusky beauty glides past,
In tight jeans and tighter t-shirt.
Her long, silky hair is ironed straight,
She looks worried, about being so beautiful, maybe.
I sigh, there’s the tarmac straight ahead.
No more melting pot, this is my tribe.
But, I wonder, is this me?