The first portion of my stay in Chennai comes to an end tomorrow, I leave in the morning for Singapore. During this stay, I spent quality time with my mother (which means that she cooked and I ate), and I took care of her taxes and other financial matters that needed taking care of.
Here is my Bike Friday, packed once again into the Samsonite:
With luck, it will all arrive in Singapore with no parts damaged or missing, and I will be able to assemble it there again. I am going to Singapore for a collaboration visit to Nanyang Technological University (NTU). After the collaboration I hope to do some riding there and nearby, if things work out.
Most of my Indian friends in the US who have lived there all their adult lives and have lost both parents tell me that after their parents pass away, they begin to feel an emotional disassociation from India. They have lived in the US much longer than they have ever lived in India, and have raised children there who are now full-fledged Americans (actually, hyphenated Indian-Americans, but in the US, everybody is hyphenated anyway). They discover that the primary glue that was still holding them to India was indeed their parents, but that otherwise, their heart is where their work is, and importantly, where their children are. And their children are in San Diego or Berkeley or Chicago or New York or whatever, and are themselves getting married and having children of their own, and so on. So slowly, after these friends’ parents pass away, their once annual visits back to India become once-in-three-years visits, which soon peter out to perhaps once-a-decade visits, and eventually to non-visits.
This was my first trip back to India after my father died this March, and I noticed that already with one parent gone, I too am going through this emotional disassociation. Things are not quite the same without my father, it feels like some critical glue has gone missing. Earlier I would have a context through which I viewed things in India: there would be a home here with a mom and a dad, not fundamentally different from how it was fifty years ago when I was a child, and I would be part of that home, and when things happened in India (such as the news), they would happen to that home, and then through that home to me. Thus, I would feel connected to things in India. But that solidity, and through it the connection to the rest of India, is starting to break down. It doesn’t help that my mom is going to be living with her (98 year-old) mother and her (81 year-old) sister in her mother’s home, so the flat that my parents stayed in for over twenty-years will be vacant. It is indeed the right thing for my mom to do, and I support her fully in her decision, she shouldn’t be alone. But it does make the glue dissolve faster.
Which is perhaps a good thing. It might make me much more clear-headed about things. For, there is no doubt that I will be spending much more time in India from now on, looking in on my mother and making sure that things are OK with her. Recognizing clearly that I don’t feel that earlier emotional connection, instead of continuing to stand, as I did for years, with one leg on longitude 118 degrees west and the other on longitude 80 degrees east, would perhaps lead to more rational decisions regarding my mother’s well-being. At the very least, it would be easier on my hip joints.
But if there is one thing you learn as you march along that crazy thing called life, it is that you can never predict anything. Who knows, maybe a new and different emotional connection with this place might take root and grow. Right now though, if I and my Bike Friday and my aunt (who is traveling with me) arrive in Singapore intact, I am prepared to call that a great first step.
I will leave you with a picture of (a picture of) my earliest ancestor with a surviving photograph: my great-great grandfather (that’s right, he was doubly great). He was a school teacher in Town High School in Kumbakonam.
And this is a picture of that great-great-grandfather’s great-great-grandson, on the 13th day of the said great-great-grandfather’s great-grandson’s passing away, taken by another great-great-grandson.
Four generations and a hundred years separate the two photographs. But some things don’t change, clearly.