Friday, November 13, 2015

அப்றோம் பார்க்கலாம்

It hasn't quite been two weeks since we left Chennai, but it might as well have been a lifetime ago.

Now that we are here in Florida, it all seems like a vivid dream. India does not feel distant. It feels as though if I peel back a layer of reality here, underneath lies that frantic streets of Chennai, and if I step through a doorway, I could easily walk from a room in my dad's vacant oceanfront condo in Florida into our kitchen in India and Rita at the stove, making chai.

But we have come back into a very different world. The night before we flew from Chennai to London does seem like a blurry, distant dream. The last days in India were hectic--as was to be expected when on the precipice of a big move. We packed out our house, winded down our lives in India, and run a hundred last minute errands. All I remember now was that it was raining.

We got on the plane early on a Tuesday morning. Two of the drivers from motorpool helped us wrestle seven suitcases, six carry-ons, and three car seats into two vans bound for the airport. The kids, bleary-eyed, piled in on top of Elise, and we moved through the eerily quiet streets of Chennai for the last time, much the same way we came in, already sleep-deprived, under the blaze of an omnipresent yellow halogen glow.

The preceding Saturday was Halloween. At the last possible moment, Elise landed one more assignment in Chennai, and so--on top of everything else--spent most of the weekend racing from one neighborhood to another working. The movers had come through two weeks before, clearing out everything. And I mean everything. The kids did not have a single toy to play with for two weeks. It tested the limits of their ingenuity and our sanity. I am usually reluctant to let them make pillow forts, but in the absence of any other form of distraction or entertainment, I was forced to acquiesce, and their primary activity for two weeks was jumping on the couch. Elise took Sundar and the car for work, so I was faced with the unpleasant task of keeping three rambunctious children from killing each other. Did I mention it rained on Saturday. All day. Anyway, by the end of the day, all were sliding on couch cushions down two flights of marble steps. Under adult supervision and backed by the Star Wars opening theme. Of course, we didn't pack our portable speaker.

That afternoon--with Elise still at work--I took Sam to his best friend's birthday party. He lived down on the ECR (East Coasty Road) halfway to Fisherman's Cove, and we took an Uber forty-five minutes each way in Chennai traffic to spend thirty minutes at the party. It was important to Sam, and Elise and I weren't the only ones saying goodbye to friends. The kids were, too. I wanted to do this for him even if it meant making Halloween incredibly hectic and logistically complicated.

We finally made it back at 5:30, half an hour late for Halloween "trunk or treat". Rita had Clem and Peter in their Halloween costumes, ready to go, lightsabres drawn. Without a car or anything to decorate it with, I Uber-ed with the kids to the party. Elise met us there later.

I came home from work on Monday, our last night in Chennai, to Elise in the kitchen drinking champagne with Rita, our nanny and cook, and Vasanthi, our maid. All were giggling. Vasanthi had never had an alcoholic drink before in her life. Babu, our gardener, tracked me down for a letter of recommendation. After, telling him I would write one upon our return to the States, though he was soggy from the rain, I invited him in, too, and gave him a going away Kingfisher. He drank champagne embarrassingly before slinking out the back door, possibly crying. I couldn't tell.

Elise and Rita said goodbyes while I attempted to hunt down an Uber for Rita. Perhaps fittingly on our last night in India, the Uber driver couldn't find our house even with the benefits of GPS, and she eventually took an auto. Of course, the evening wouldn't have been complete if the tailor didn't stop by to demand more of our time. The woman is an excellent seamstress, but cannot take a hint, and she sat on the couch and watched Elise and I say a tearful goodbye to Sundar.

I had not been looking forward to this. Sundar was the first person we met in India. He was our driver from day one until the very end, and neither Elise or I had gone anyway in Chennai without him. New to a completely foreign country, I had to trust him, but didn't know if I could. I justified it by telling myself I had to trust someone. He wasn't always perfect, and when Elise lodged complaints against him (which were infrequent) I had to weigh the benefits of doubling-down on that trust versus changing course and recognizing the trust had been misplaced; It was not always an easy relationship.

In the end, I had made the right decision to trust him. Call it luck or something more metaphysical...it was India, after all.

To someone who is used to doing be so careful with decisions and to do so much due diligence before committing to anything, I struggled to find a way to tell Sundar that I had trusted him blindly, partially out of necessity, and that he had not failed or betrayed that trust. When so many of our colleagues complained about their drivers, Sundar was the poster boy for reliability. No matter what we asked of him, he never, ever, said no, and always said, "Everything no problem."

And so I let this man I didn't know drive my family around in a foreign country we knew nothing about. Crazy, I know, and yet it was one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.

I hugged Sundar, the man who would bow to me and touch my shoes in an undeserved blessing. I didn't know what else to do. He received it stiffly, trying not to tear up, I think.

"Thank you,"I told him, Elise looking on, "I trusted you with my family, and you did not let me down. Not once. I trusted you."

In Tamil, "goodbye" is "அப்றோம் பார்க்கலாம்" or "Aprom parkalam". The --alam ending is the conditional tense, literally "I may see you later." This is said regardless of whether you work with the person and will definitely see them tomorrow or you don't know the person and most likely will never see them again in your life. It's interesting how this part of Indian philosophy is reflected in the language, that everything is possible and a lack of commitment to a certain outcome.

It is also a fitting way to say goodbye to Chennai, anything is possible. 

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