Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Holiday, A Flight, And Some Warm, Salty Water.

The gates had been snapped shut, the noisy children had suddenly gone silent, collective clicking sound of hundreds of seat-belts reverberated in an unusually quiet cabin. The aircraft had now started to taxi and the flight attendants mechanically demonstrated safety instructions with their plastic smiles intact. As I sat in my aisle seat looking through the extraordinarily thin girl gesticulating animatedly right in front of me, I felt the first warm drop. And then another. Within a matter of seconds, a steady stream of warm, salty water was flowing down my unsuspecting face. 

A little startled, a little embarrassed, I hurriedly wiped my face off and looked around: had anyone else noticed it? Almost everybody around me, to my relief, was busy doing last-minute things with their phones. Those who weren't, were already asleep. Relived, I craned my neck to catch one last glimpse of Chennai -- the city I was leaving behind that evening.

Chennai, from above, was nothing but a large mass of bright yellow stars and looked no different from any other city at night. Disappointed, I picked up the in-flight magazine. It was while trying to focus on a food article -- with my mind constantly racing back to Chennai, and its people -- that I felt them coming back. Knowing no one was looking, this time, I let them be.

Tears had once been my only companions: with my father moving every couple of years, I hardly had the opportunity to get close to people (by the time I got comfortable with anyone, it was time to go). And so, for years, tears remained my only friends. I cried when I was happy, I cried when I was sad. I cried when I was overwhelmed, or angry, or hurt. I cried when I was alone, and, sometimes, I cried even when I was among people. Slowly and steadily though, as I grew older, I realised the futility of crying -- and the perception it created about me. As a young adult, unwilling to be seen as weak or meek, I started to distance myself from my one-time trusted companions. With a little effort and practice they soon turned into strangers: so much so that I did not shed a single tear during the biggest of tragedies -- not even when I lost my child.

In my experience, tears come to you when you are angry, or hurt, or frustrated -- not essentially when you are sad -- and mostly when you are unable to express it.

In the last few months I had been thorough a whirlwind of emotions. I had experienced joy, sorrow, ecstasy, agony, longing, fulfillment -- all in equal measure -- in a matter of weeks. When you go through so much in such a short span of time, you end up feeling nothing: the joy had failed to cheer me just as the sorrow had been unable to move me. With tasks to finish, responsibilities to fulfill, things to manage, I had, perhaps, become too numb to react. And today, when I finally had a few minutes of solitude -- and nothing to do -- all the pent up emotions seemed to be coming back.

Were these tears of joy, then? Of having met an old friend after almost a decade and realising that nothing had changed between us. Or were these tears of grief? Of witnessing my mother battle death, come out of it, and now fight it yet again even as I holidayed. These could also be tears of happiness though: I had come to Chennai for one of my closest friend's wedding. I had seen her long struggle with loneliness and now, that she had found her match in a brilliant man, I was, obviously, very happy. 

But joy, grief and happiness were not the only emotions tugging the strings of my heart that evening, there were elements of fulfilment and longing too.

Chennai, which had meant nothing to me until around a year and a half ago, was now an important part of my life. I had, in the short span of time, forged a deep bond with the city and its people. Having spent the last four days hurrying between lunches, dinners, the wedding, and much else, ticking things off my bucket list had however ensured I had lost out on experiencing the city my way. It was only after boarding the aircraft that I realised the trip, which I had been planning for over six months, was already over. While on one hand there was satisfaction of being able to do most things on my list, on the other was the regret of missing out on my quiet time with a city I so dearly love: I longed for its sights and smells even before I left its soil.

More than a month later I still do not know why I wept through the flight -- was is joy, grief, fulfillment, longing, or just plain relief that made my old friends revisit me after years. And yet, as I get ready to travel again, I secretly wish to meet them, maybe on another flight.

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