To an immigrant's mind, there's one phone call that is inevitable. Inevitability, unfortunately, does not make the call easier to take. The call from a loved one- bringing news of the death of a parent in a land far, far away in memory. Preparing for this call is never easy, and I had often wondered where I would be when the call comes. Quite immediately, I imagined, thoughts would take flight and hit unexpected turbulence between the practical issues of finding the next flight home, and the emotional burden of guilt and sorrow.
The morning I got the call, I knew that the day was going to be special- it was the day of the longest solar eclipse in the millennium, and the longest till the year 3043. I was away from home (both my adopted home and my hometown), in a business meeting with 300 other people in southern India- prime viewing area for the eclipse. It was all over the Indian TV news in the morning as I was dressing to leave for the meeting. TV cameras were positioned all over the holy places in India, ready to record the faithful and the superstitious taking a dip before and during the eclipse. I didn't know then, but the wheels were in motion already, and the eclipse was to start at 11am. A little before the eclipse, I got a call from my wife. Sitting in a large auditorium, I bent down below the desk to whisper and ask why she was calling in the middle of the meeting. "Your father has died!!!", is all she would say. This call came 10 years before I expected it. I had imagined that I would break down when I got this message. Instead, a surprised "What!?" is all I could say, before I walked out of the auditorium. I called my Mom to calm her, and to tell her that I am coming home as soon as I could. No tears, yet.
I ask a colleague to help me find tickets, and the travel team found me a cab to drive me 3 hours to the nearest airport. I packed my bags and set out in the taxi. That's when the eclipse began, and I felt a shadow covering me in darkness. Letting the tears flow, I had to take an assessment of what needs to be done now. I started calling friends and relatives to let them know what had happened. Between tears and calls, I caught a glimpse of the eclipse as a reflection on my Blackberry, and behind my polarized sunglasses. This photo shows approximately what I saw.
Got home by 9pm, and was immediately enveloped by memories, unfinished conversations, relatives and tearful hugs. The next few days were going to be busy. We didn't sleep that night, or for much of the next few days. My brother would arrive a day later, a day too late. Elders in the family were around to comfort, provide food, and to tell us what rituals would follow. Over the next couple of weeks, I felt transported back to a completely different world. I was back amongst the familiar rituals and relatives of my childhood, but I had moved so far away from them in my thinking that this sudden immersion back into Indian culture, Hindu thoughts and rituals, was like the 5 dips I took in the ice-cold water of the holy Ganges- shockingly unexpected and utterly refreshing.
This ice-cold immersion led me to a cascade of thoughts around relationships, the idea of an interrupted life, the meaning of luck, and the value of belief in our lives. Without going Deepak Chopra on everyone, I would like to pen down my thoughts one post at a time. Hopefully soon...