The rickety train made its way southeast along the tracks, swaying back and forth. Starting and stopping with little warning. The clash of metal against metal moving the passenger’s bodies in disorganized ways. Their attempts to physically stabilize themselves, perfectly mirroring their attempts to emotionally stabilize themselves in an unforgiving city and society and world. Eventually, the concrete and buildings became sparser and woods and fields could be seen between patches of houses and towns. The farther we got from the city, the more my anxiety melted away. We made our way to the town where one of my friend grew up. We took a cab to his mother’s house. On the way, he pointed out all the different places that played a role in his childhood and life. I could see images, like imprints made in time, of him as a boy; running through the woods or coming out of buildings through the door and out onto the street. I thought of his life there and my life happening simultaneously on the other side of the globe. Like a split screen I imagined our childhoods side by side.
When we opened the door to his mother’s house, the exotic smell of saag, dahl, vegetable spiced rice, and sholay rushed forth. It was a welcome assault on the senses. The warmth of Indian spices makes for an atmosphere of welcome. I was greeted by his mother, nephew, brother and his sister in law one by one. The soft English light crept through the windows making the house seem both spacious and tranquil. His mother has a deep relationship with plants and flowers and so her house is surrounded by living herbs and flowers and edible plants. The vivid tulips cast a stain of yellow and red in the reflection on the windows. We sat down at the table to eat the food that had been prepared for the visit. The room was painted a deep crimson red. Images of the family hung on the wall. And beside that, images of Sikh gurus and symbols. The conversation was not forced. Even though it was the first time and probably would be the last time being introduced to the family, it felt like I had always been at that table. It felt like I had always had those conversations. The taste of the food did not feel foreign to me. I have always wanted that sense of belonging with people. The shrill sound of the baby's noises in the background was soothing. Their joviality and curiosity somehow makes adults feel like everything is ok. I was struck by the similarity between my mother and his mother in both personality and mannerism and even looks. Even though his is Indian and mine is Caucasian. The most striking similarity is that they have the same feeling to their eyes. His mother has eyes that fade in an unearthly way from deep brown around the pupil to a thick cloud of blue. My mother has feline eyes that are nearly lime green. But behind their eyes, there is a familiar breed of mystery. They both enchant and conjure fear simultaneously. The intensity of their eyes makes other people nervous because when you are looking into them, it is as if you could fall into some kind of depth that exists within their being; an unexplained place of agelessness and sorcery. I have always loved my mother’s eyes.
After the rest of the family went home, his mother took me upstairs to give me some traditional gifts. She presented me with two beautiful Saris. I have been staring at the saris and at the gifts people have given me on this trip this morning. How interesting that we can progress so far with spirituality only to find that we still do not know how to reconcile the part of us that wants belonging with the part that feels as if that belonging is not ours to want.