A Self in the Crowd (06.18.2006)

During the festival of Patteti, the Parsi new year, we visit the fire temples around Bombay. The smell of roses and sandalwood permeates the atmosphere. The red and blue and black caps worn by the Parsi men, the colorful sarees of the women, and the silver-lined small skull caps of the kids adorn the atmosphere as the familiar language of greetings and conversation fill the air around me.

I feel myself being at home.

There are many of my cousin’s children too out there, and they adore his new daughter. They are nice to my kids too, but it is not the same: We are not immediate family. Holding the girl’s hands, I feel the difference keenly. They watch the praying priests, again from the outside.

“Why do you want to go back to America?”

I ask Becky, as we’re walking back one day from our snack on Parel bridge after she’s picked up a yellow-and-white champak flower and I’ve shown her how — by folding the petals back and threading them through the stem — she can make a brooch for her mother; after I’ve shown her the seed pod that makes a good rattle for her if you shake it.

She doesn’t answer for a while.

I ask her again. I bend down to her level and ask her seriously.

“Because my friends there miss me. They say it every time on the phone.”

It’s a good enough reason to go back: because your friends miss you.

It’s the reason I’ve gone back to India, been pulled back, again and again.

Friends are there — not just parents but grandparents, aunts, cousins — and friends also are what little children need, more than culture, more than country.

So just when we are deciding to finally get a home in India, we prepare to move again — back to Boston.

But it’s all right, because, after a year my question has been answered. You can go home again, and you can also leave again.

Once more, with confidence, into the world.

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Life is represented by two distinct sets of people: The people who live it and the people who observe them. These are their stories.

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Life is represented by two distinct sets of people: The people who live it and the people who observe them. These are their stories.

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