After breakfast service you can feel the anxiety of the passengers rise. The line for the loo is three people deep for all the toilets (this is why I brushed my teeth two hours ago). And you can hear the opening and closing of the overhead bins throughout the plane. These non-stop 16-hour flights with 400 desis must be brutal for the attendants, I think as they come through the cabin and spray something into the air.
I feel the plane slow down and descend. We’re about 90 miles away from Delhi and I can hardly believe that such a small distance separates me from where my family came from. I glance past my neighbor and her child, outside the window in the sheer black of night, a string of bright, silvery lights grows into a dense sea of white. We must be over Lahore, a town where my mother’s family was from before it became part of Pakistan in Partition. As I stare at the city below, it looks like a misshapen diamond necklace.
From that point on, the pockets of lights grow and grow and grow, until nothing but amber and white lights spans out from either side of the plane, Delhi waits for us. When we finally land, 400 desis, me included, pop out of our seats BEFORE the fasten seat belt sign comes off and begin opening the overhead bins. Indians are an impatient bunch of people born with firecrackers in our pants. It is not possible to slow us down, because we’re explosive with our determination.
I manage to deplane, collect my bags and get through customs in a somewhat timely and orderly fashion. Despite there being thousands of people outside Indira Gandhi International Airport, I find Dad easily. “Dad!” I yell. “Beta!” he yells back and comes towards me. His younger brother, my uncle (chacha is a younger paternal uncle), swoops in to push the cart filled with luggage to the car. Dad gives me a huge hug and I hug him back. We draw apart, I look at him and he doesn’t look the same. He has lost weight and his shirt hangs sadly across his 5’-10” frame. “What?” Dad asks. “You’ve lost weight. Or something,” I say. Maybe I am jet-lagged and really don’t see emptiness in Dad’s eyes. “There is nothing to eat in this country, and nobody, I mean nobody cooks like your Mom,” he says. “Come, let’s go.” I nod and follow him.