I had just landed on the job of my career and was thoroughly enjoying it. That year I could not vacation with my family, and it would be the first time I would be left behind. I wasn’t entirely disappointed, as I had looked forward to the liberty. I massively enjoyed playing ‘chef of the house’, pyjama parties on weekends with the girlfriends and non-stop loud music. I spoke to my dad every other night; he in particular never pictured a vacation without me. One of the nights he sounded rather low, and he told me the Family was having a re-union at the ancentral home at Goa, and he regretted I wasn’t goint to be there for the Family photo.
Frankly, (I know this may sound nasty) but I felt lucky. I’ve never had good experiences out of a family re-union as we all have different personas, the coming together of which always resulted in a cocktail of funny to tragic consequences. The Family, essentially included my maternal grandparents “the Grans”, a string of aunties who always fussed around with what we wore, spoke or did. The uncles were a competitive bunch, each bragging on their own progress with their life (or wife) and hanging out at nights pretending to be in their hey days. They had a comment for everything – from politics to fashion and non of them were diplomatic enough to conceal it. The cousins were definitely a bratty bunch and we were of a wide age range – from the whining toddler, the over-conscious teenager to the early-twenty-something-with-a-secret. Arguments were definitely an integral part of such get-togethers, nevertheless the Family never missed an opportunity to show up. Yup, I was glad I wasn’t there.
The following day at work, I was distracted. Even though I wasn’t missing the Family, I missed the monsoons, the smell of freshly wet leaves, damp soil, chilled breeze through the windows, and sunsets on the beach. At the coffee machine, I asked my senior an unexpected question: “What would happen if I went to India over the 2 day weekend?”. He didn’t see it coming as much as I didn’t and just stared in amazement. “You just go and come in 2 days?”, he asked. “Yeaaa”…I replied. “I think Boss needs to know” and he cooly left the responsibility on my Boss to decide.
I thought it wasn’t a big deal. Technically I wasn’t missing work or being absent in any way, so I was wondering why her consultation was even important. She had many ‘good-intention-questions': Is it important? Is it worth it? What if something “happens to you” during the journey? Have you travelled alone before? Do your folks know you’re travelling? She definitely wasn’t happy that it was a surprise trip. She bluntly said NO.
The following day I tried another strategy – I lied that my dad knew and was looking forward to seeing me. She still wasn’t convinced, but she didn’t say much this time and I was ready to go. I managed to get the late night flight that Thursday, and the only one who knew about my flight (apart from my colleagues) was my immediate neighbor. I gave her my parents cell numbers, since my mind was ringing with “what if something happens”.
That day as I remember, everything did go wrong: My seat wasn’t confirmed as it was a crowded flight, my travelling bag developed a broken zip, I found a huge lizard in the bathroom and I couldn’t get a saloon appointment to fix my hair. I was still determined, I simply shut the bathroom, bunned my hair, fixed my bag with tape and rushed to the airport. At the check-in, the officers identified my passport number nearly similar to a most-wanted fugitive. Two minutes later they cross-checked and laughed off. Such hiccups were building my anxiety though. The weather reports stated heavy rains on my air route – which meant turbulence and a possible delay. This could mean I may miss my connecting flight which was timed just an hour after the first landing. My idea was to surprise my folks as early as breakfast on Friday morning.
As fate had it, my flight was delayed but thankfully for not more than 30 minutes. I had no heavy luggage, so I could skip the baggage queue and dart for the next flight. After going through all the gates, to my shock the counter was closed. I had just missed the connecting domestic flight! Thoughts raced through me: I didn’t know whether I could still manage another flight or it was all useless and I should take a U-turn back. I remember making frantic calls to the airlines, and then ran out of cell battery. All other flights were full, and again I found myself with unconfirmed seats for the late afternoon flight which would be after a whole 8 hours.
This was the first time in a long while that I managed to silence my mind and reflect – was this trip really worth it? Could I expect more hiccups further on? Should I have taken all those bad omens seriously? My thoughts were on that huge lizard shut in an over-heated bathroom with no ventilation. All the same, the thoughts of the final destination kept me from turning back. I explored the little airport many times, I even napped on the floor, I studied the travel magazines from cover to cover, I visited the restrooms atleast 12 times and finally the counter for the last flight to Goa was opened, and I made sure I was the first in line – 2 hours ahead!
My seat was confirmed, I don’t remember how I spent those next two hours so I’ll fast forward to landing on the rather small airport at Goa and catching a bus towards my ancentral village. I never learnt the local language all my life, so I had a bit of trouble trying to get there. Fortunately, its such a small state, and everybody seems to know well, almost everybody. I prayed that I would make it before sunset.
Finally the bus came to a halt after almost an hour’s journey. And unbelievably, at the bus station was my eager Gran Ma. I embraced her with a perplexed smile and looked for the others. She explained that my neighbor grew worried when I didnt call her in the morning and so she alerted my grandmother. And the poor lady was anxiously waiting since morning, till she finally decided to sit at the station, confident that the last bus would have me in it. She said she kept the secret though, so now I was ready to execute the full surprise!
The first person to see us was Mom, and she had come looking for Gran. On finding her, she continued to converse to Gran, completely ignorant of who stood beside her. It was only moments later did her mind register my presence. She exclaimed in surprise “My goodness, how could you possibly come to this part of the world alone? Is that all the baggage you brought?!!” My uncles were in the verandah enjoying the beach sunset with their beers. They all raised their glasses on seeing me with a big loud “Hey look who’s here!” all in chorus. The excitement and commotion had started. The brats abandoned their cell phones for that moment and all darted towards me for a group hug. My Gran Pa awoke from his nap and stuck his head out of his room to check what was all the noise about. Seeing the crowd at the entrance, he went back to his bed: the matter will either be handled by others or the matter will come to him eventually if it has to, he thought and dosed off again. My sister passed me by without saying a word and went into the kitchen. Two minutes later, she rushed out to me saying: “Hey, you weren’t with us right?” And then it dawned upon her. My dad was nowhere in sight. I searched through the house till I found him in the library on the phone. I’ll never forget his expression when he saw me in the room that day. He promptly ended the call, we embraced and he had one of those widest smiles that he gave very rarely. And that smile stayed with him for the rest of that day. It was the last day of the Family stay in this home and they were all supposed to leave the following afternoon, but now with my arrival everyone thought of postponing their departure for 2 days later. The energy in that house was remarkable. We could beat the cast of My Big Fat Greek Wedding anytime! Everyone seemed to forget their squabbles, their cell phones, and all wanted to keenly be a part of the great hilarious journey story that I was narrating. My uncles threw their heads back and laughed at how I tried to communicate to the bus driver in local language. My mother was concerned about my safety and kept asking me why I didnt get more clothes, my aunties chided my Gran Ma for not trusting them with her secret, and the brats kept repeating how stunned they were to see me at the entrance.
Even though I had less than 24 hours with the Family, I made the most of it. I played chess with Gran Pa – oh yes he woke up by evening, but didn’t understand why everybody said I surprised them. The Aunties were in a competition to cook the best dinner, my Gran Ma showed me the great ancestral home and the room where she was born. Even though she did this every year, this time I felt special, like I was listening to the story for the first time. I stayed up till late with the brats on the beach and slept below the sky on the home terrace (under rain sheets ofcourse), where I could look up and say “Thank You”.
A week later, I spent sometime to reflect on that weekend. On the micro level, I just made another trip, passed through several hindrances and never gave up because I was fixed on my destination. On the macro level, I knew God was showing me something else. Apparently we may all doubt, we may all face bad omens that shout in our faces to give up, we may be tempted to stop listening what God wants for us and listen rather to what others have to say, we may become fearful of life’s changing weather and turbulences, we frustrate at delays, we miss schedules, and think it was our fault. The real truth is, if we all believed that God willed each of these hiccups for us, that if we simply followed our hearts rather than get bogged down with rules and the descipline of life and religion, we might just catch a glimpse of Him. In reality I took a trip that I thought would never happen; I took a trip I kept avoiding, I took a trip breaking most of the conventional rules; I took a trip to Heaven and back, and it surely did feel awesome!