Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Meeting

Would he still recognize me? Will he have changed? Would he be a different person now than he was before? The last time I had seen him I was an awkward teenager. A shy fourteen year old. And I was with my parents. That makes all the difference. Because back then, they did all the talking to him and I just filled in the gaps. Even so, he always knew how to bring me out of my shell. He has always been a vibrant man. Full of energy, the life of the party. When he was in a room, you heard his loud laughter before you even entered the room.

My mum has four brothers, I have four uncles, each with a personality completely different from the other. If you met them separately, you would never guess they are brothers. But for me, my Dineshmama was always the one who knew me best.

Riding along in the car, waiting for the moment of reunion after fifteen years, all sorts of memories swarmed through my head. It's funny how the most inane memories that lay buried and forgotten over the years suddenly resurface when a familiar name comes to mind. I try to tell people about him and the first image that comes to my mind is of him holding a rat by its tail chasing my cousin brother and I around the house with a mischevious glint in his eyes while we kids shrieked loudly, running around the house. I had come across the rat quite by surprise, fumbling around for my slippers under the stairwell in my grandma's house and shouted loudly for mama to come get rid of it. And then there's the day he saw us feeding a goat with vegetable peelings, and dared us to go pull on its tail. Yup. Only my Dineshmama would come up with silly pranks like that. And yet, he was gentle and kind too. Like the day I got scolded by mum and he saw me crying and took me out for a motorbike ride and some icecream. Or the day he sneaked in a stray puppy into the house just because us kids wanted him to. My grandma would be horrified if she knew.

Over the years, we grew distant. My trips to India became fewer and far in between. Other things in my life took precedence. Studies. Career. Friends. Other relationships. In a quiet unassuming way, our worlds grew apart. The relationship that could have been grew silent. Until yesterday. When I got the phone call to come see him in Chicago.

The bizarreness of it all wouldnt leave me. It felt strange and awkward to be meeting the ghost of a man that I remembered only through memories. And here in America of all places, when all I had known of him was in India. It felt disorienting and bizarre. And yet, I was excited to see him after all these years. And nervous.

What would I say to him? What would we talk about? I havent seen him in years. I have nothing to say to him. Ofcourse, we'd talk about my aunt and my cousins. He would ask about my parents and I would ask about my grandma. But what else was there to say? He doesnt know anything about my life here. And I know even less about his. He doesnt know me. And I dont know him.

I saw him before he saw me. Time always stands still in our memories. We expect the people in our memories to stay the same, to dress as they did before, to look as they did years ago. When I saw him look so old and tired and frail, I couldnt believe it was him. The years have been harsh to him. His health hasnt been keeping up well, so I've heard. I wondered if I should even have come. Time changes people. Or rather people change over time. Would he be cold and formal? Would this be awkward? I shouldnt even have come.

He rushed over toward me when he saw me. His eyes welled up with tears as he embraced me. "You look just like your mother", he said. He placed a paternal hand over my head and asked me softly, "Everything okay, beta?". And in that one gentle moment of care and concern, I knew it was going to be okay. I was glad I had come to see him. I knew it wasnt going to be cold and formal. I knew it wouldnt be awkward. Because two alienated strangers had once again become family.

~vagabond~ © 2008


Dust Unsettled said...

Lovely post... I could feel the blood rushing to my head when I read "Everything okay, beta"... Hope you had a great time with your mama.

~vagabond~ said...

Thanks for your encouraging comments. And yes, I did have a good time visiting him. :)

Lakshmi said...

beautiful post...u write so well..thanks for dropping in at my blog

~vagabond~ said...

Thanks Lakshmi, for visiting my blog and leaving such an encouraging comment. :)