There was a time, some years ago, when nearly every other month would see some aunt or the other jetting off to the US to assist their daughter during childbirth. The process would start with announcement of the good news followed by frenzied months of preparation. It would kick off with applications for passport and visa. Every new development would be discussed, debated, put to vote and finally taken a decision on. If there was a small item in the Hindu on page 14 about restrictions to the number of visas being given out that particular month, favourite gods would be invoked, sacrifices promised and fasts undertaken in order that such a decision not affect the concerned family member's application.
An auspicious day would be chosen and packing for the trip would commence. Sarees would be chosen, suitcases dusted off, woolens borrowed and dry-cleaned. Contents of the suitcase would be constantly rearranged like a loose-limbed jigsaw puzzle. Half a kilo of thuvaram paruppu would take the place of a sentimental maroon saree when a casual mention during weekly phone calls to the US would reveal that dal prices had risen sharply in the preceding months. There would be the mandatory horror story narrated by another US-returnee who would recall how a ghastly black customs officer refused to let a pack of rasam-podi enter the hallowed grounds of America. And as the big day drew close, the pace would be stepped up. Like a bee hive, the would-be passenger's house would buzz with activity surrounding the trip. Finer aspects of the visit would be nailed in place, numerous rehearsals of the procedure - from check-in to immigration - carried out, farewells would be bid and just as you begin to wonder if they would ever leave, they would. Over the next months, we would hear all about trips to Niagara falls, dollar conversion rates, massive supermarkets, twin SUVs at the garage and 5-bedroom suburban houses. Some years later, when the cousin was having another child, the whole procedure (with the exception of passport application) would be repeated all over again.
Sometimes I wondered why the aunts and uncles were never invited to visit their children at times other than during child birth. Did my cousins not think their parents (particularly the girls') deserved a holiday in the land of milk and honey? And why did the aunts and uncles, despite whispered stories of endlessly lonely days stuck in the house with an infant while the parents went out to work, always seem eager to jump on the next flight westward? Is it because this would be their only chance of visiting the promised land? And a rare opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren?
Such were the thoughts crossing my mind when I called my parents in India last year to tell them that there was to be an addition to our family.
(to be continued...)