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When the Birds Fly Home

An old one, just thought it fit the mood:)

There is a devoutly followed annual ritual among most NRIs spread over the world in July/August, when schools break for the summer vacation. The oft chanted mantra during this ritual is, “Going this year?”

No points for guessing the unspoken ‘where’.  This is the time when the birds fly home, sometimes dragging along unwilling baby birds, to touch base with families back home. A brief respite from the rigorous routines they follow in ‘alien’ lands, and just simply relax in the familiar surrounds of ‘home’.  A time to loosen the straight jacket of ‘decent and polite behaviour’ that one is forced to conform when abroad and just kick back and be your own unruly self. A time to be pampered by your family that is usually glad to see you.

In the matter of flying home I think our Gulf and Far East compatriots are far luckier than us on the other side of the world, since most of them I know seem to fly home every year and some even go home every half year. Over here, it is a two yearly or three yearly ritual. I even know people who haven’t gone home in the last eight years. Sometimes it a matter of choice, sometimes a matter of economy.

A few weeks before the onset of this time period you can find people hunched over their computers, trawling the net for the best deals to fly home.  And unfortunately ticket rates get upwardly mobile exactly during this time. Peak season… yada yada yada…

And once the tickets have been purchased, the countdown begins: it is a whirlwind of activity with some crazy shopping, making lists of things to be brought from over there (believe it or not, paper vazha ila figures high on the list these days, on par with chakka upperi and chammanthi podi), promises to look up on friends and families of those unfortunate souls that don’t get to go that year, packing, weighing… etc etc.  When it comes to packing, it is an art and I think the NRI has perfected it.

How else do you explain the several bags of candy purchased in bulk from wholesale clubs, toys for the young, pain relieving ointments for the old, cosmetics for the not so young and gadgets for the not yet old, the stuff you promised to carry for the families of those not going home this year … all neatly packed into two bags , the weight equally divided, and not an inch of either bag wasted, the bags neatly bound with bright nylon ropes for easy identification (you can spot them the moment the rubber curtained maw of the baggage carousel opens and disgorges all the bags out. Never mind that all of us think the same and end up with eye popping orange or green nylon ropes on our bags!) and when you manage to stuff in that shampoo for the cousin, a last minute purchase from the convenience store on the way to the airport, without tilting the scales to ‘over weight’, then my friend, you have reached the pinnacle of perfection in the art of packing.

And once you get home, and have your passport stamped by the sour faced official at the immigrations counter (Oh boy! There is no better way to be welcomed back home!), your skill in multiple tight rope walking comes to the fore. So many people to visit, so little time! Yet you manage to divide time equally between both sides of the marriage, friends and other myriad relatives, visit all those temples/churches/mosques to fulfill the promises you made to different gods, do your shopping (don’t forget the vazhayila), pacify and help your child cope with ‘the way things are’ over there, et al.

In the meantime, if there is a wedding thrown in, it is an added bonus, when you can cut off quite a few house visits from your list since you get to meet a lot of people at the wedding. And what’s more, you get an authentic sadhya thrown in to sweeten the deal. In the midst of all this, you desperately hope, your child has bonded with your family and roots. You set time apart to listen to complaints, solve problems, perhaps create a couple of your own, finalize deals, dilute crises or simply comfort a lonely parent with your mere presence.

You do it all in those three precious weeks and before you realize it, it is time to pack again. The countdown startd the moment you set foot home, but this time, there definitely is a lack of excitement as you cross out days. This packing is more difficult and your heart weighs heavier than the bags. You take no pride in packing 4 dozen delicate glass bangles or an even more delicate meenchatti so perfectly that they get to their destinations with not a crack on them.

And after a final goodbye, and a silent prayer that the next time you come home, all those faces would still be there to greet you in person and not merely smiling down from walls, you pick up that carry bag of memories and head back, desperately struggling to knock back those tears.

This year I am one of the unfortunate ones who does not get to go home. But to every NRI going home, I wish a safe trip and a pleasant stay at home. Come back with lots of happy memories and plenty of chakka upperi.

PS: Like i said, this is an old one and this time I do get to pack my bags:)
Read here as originally posted in

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