The two Delta flights took off almost at the same time. DL421 was pulling out of its gate in Accra airport and slightly delayed DL2017 was already screaming down Runway 8R-26L in Atlanta airport. Two Roy family members were headed towards the same destination – JFK New York. Except Natasha had no idea.
I had been waiting for this day for five long months. I had been waiting for her to come back from Ghana safely. For a person who has only stereotypical knowledge of Africa, it was a hard thing to get used to when she declared that she would spend a semester in Ghana, Africa. However, there was a part that knew that she had to do what she needed to do and experience the real world out there all by herself.
The distance and lack of knowledge brought in a sense of helplessness too. This is not like New York that if she fell ill, we could jump on to a plane and be beside her. Just to get a visa to West African countries is a five week process that starts with yellow fever vaccination.
Still, we had thought that either Sharmila or I will visit her once during the semester. Well, unfortunately, days after Natasha left, we lost our father in law. Sharmila had to make two trips to India. And that put paid to any chance of going to visit Natasha.
There were no direct phone calls for five months. Internet was very spotty for her. Those frequently-interrupted voip calls were our only way of hearing her voice. The text messaging was the life line.
Thru the pictures she had sent us, we got to know a lot about Ghana. Their people, their food, their lifestyle, their value system and so much more. But the best part of everything – and the one I feel very proud about – is that Natasha, outside of her studies devoted a lot of her hours helping out orphans and developmentally challenged kids in Accra. In fact, she got herself associated with a school there and spent 2-3 days every week. Getting to see the pictures of the kids around her was incredibly satisfying.
Courses and subject knowledge can be taught over time. Compassion and empathy are difficult to teach.
So, here I am – sitting at a hotel bar next to the JFK airport. A few hours of sleep later, I will have to show up at the airport at 5 AM and see what her face looks like when she sees me!!
If everything goes smoothly and she can stay awake, I have a lot of questions for her about Ghana. On second thoughts, I think I will ask her to sleep in the plane after a 12-hour overnight flight already. I just want to sit next to her for some time after all these months.
Usually, Thanksgiving in the Roy family means going abroad somewhere as a family. We do not have any kith or kin outside of India to speak of. And Sharmila’s birthday is usually a few days away (no more anniversary wishes please!!). That makes it a good excuse to bond together as a family as well as celebrate Sharmila’s birthday somewhere nice.
This Thanksgiving is a little different. We are spread all over the world spending time with an extended definition of family.
Sharmila is in India to spend some time with her mother (we lost my father in law a couple of months back).
Natasha is in Ghana spending time studying and looking after orphans in a school which has become her new family.
Jay Jay is with his friends in the USA.
Nikita and I are in the Dominican Republic spending time with each other and our closest family friends in Atlanta – the Mukherjees!
This year is a virtual Thanksgiving for us!!
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!!!
… or in other words, free wine for me.
I came straight from the airport and arrived earlier than her. It was funny hearing all the visitors talk about her and her paintings as I milled around incognito.
At one point I walked up to a couple staring at one of her works and asked “You like this painting?”. The old couple immediately touched the painting protectively and said “We have already bought this”. Like I was going to snatch it away from under their nose or something…
I just said “Oh” and shimmied on…
It was almost 8 PM by the time I sank into the empty chair in Delta’s Skyclub in Chicago, suitably tired after a whole day’s worth of meetings. My flight kept getting delayed and it was getting increasingly clear that I was not going to reach home before 2 am in the morning. Not having anything better to do, I shut off the laptop, tucked in my papers and pen and grabbed a glass of wine.
Turning towards the elderly gentleman sitting next to me, I asked: “You are headed to Atlanta too?”
He: “Yes, sir! You too, I presume?”
Me: “Indeed. It is going to be fun trying to get back home tonite”
He: “Atlanta is home for you?”
Me: “Yes. You too, I presume?”
He: “Not really. I have to get to Nashville from Atlanta. I am going to miss my flight. Probably will get a flight early in the morning”
Me: “Do you know the Atlanta area? Do you need help with hotels?”
He: “Thank you. My granddaughter has already booked me at a hotel next to the airport”.
Me: “Great! I am Rajib, by the way”.
He: “Charles. That name – you are from India, are you not?
Me: “Indeed! Have you ever visited India?”
He: “Visited? I used to work there.”
That was surprising. I have met elderly Americans who were in India during the world war but not too many who actually worked there.
Me: “You worked there? What were you doing?”
He: “I was in construction that time. We were doing projects for power stations”
Me: “Which parts of India?”
He: “Around the borders of West Bengal and Bihar. I do not remember the exact names but this was all around coal mines there”
That was exciting. I am from that area.
Me: “Asansol. Purulia. Raniganj. Chotta Nagpur. Do any of those names mean anything to you?”
He struggled to remember – “I think they are familiar. Something is coming back to me. We were about four hours of train journey from Calcutta. Calcutta had some great British clubs.”
By this time, I was excited enough to blurt out quickly – “Believe it or not, I am actually from the area where you used to work. A place called Durgapur – which is only a few miles from those places you remember”.
He seemed more surprised than me.
Charles… Nashville… Construction projects… West Bengal… really old person…I kept musing…
“Wait a minute. This was in the 50s. right?”, I asked.
“Yes. Sound about right”
“Were you with Tennessee Valley Authority?”
“That is the only company I have ever worked for. How do you know about that?”
“You are just not going to believe what I am going to tell you now. I actually know you. Or rather, I have heard about you.”
“Really? From who?”
“Do you remember a Rakhahari Ghosh when you worked in India?”
He drew a complete blank.
“You called him RG, I believe. Apparently, you had handpicked him and given him a double promotion”.
“Something seems to come back to me. A thin, short boy, if I remember correctly. He was very hard working. Most hard working of the lot”
“Yeah, that would be a good description.”
He seemed to be somewhat lost in thoughts..
“He left me, I think, after some time”
“Yes, against your wishes, he left the job”
“I think he wanted to join a government job”.
“Yes, again! He took a job with the Indian Railways”.
“So, how do you know him?”
“Rather well. I married his daughter. He is my father-in-law. And he will be thrilled to bits to hear your voice. Do you mind if I call him up right now?”
“Sure. I will be impressed if he remembers me still.”
“He does,” I assured him as I speed-dialed my father-in-law.
Just as he picked up the phone on the other side, the PA system came alive in the Skyclub drowning his voice.
Strangely, instead of the lady coming over the PA system with yet another announcement of delay, it was the sound of a dog growling loudly.
I woke up from my bed, startled.
Sitting up, on the verge of breaking into a sweat, I realized that I was dreaming all this time. I came in very late (actually very early this morning) and had gone off to bed immediately. Even the dog was too asleep to realize it. Now he had figured it out and was on my bed wanting attention.
Half sleepily, as I gave him a belly rub, my thoughts went back to that day in 2014, when my father in law and I were sitting around the kitchen and over a cup of coffee, he told me the story of his first job and how he had always regretted later going for a government job per his parents’ wishes. He wished he had stayed back with Charlie.
Somewhere, in the back of my mind that day, I had made a note… What if I found out Charlie some day? What if I ran into him? How cool would it be to put him and my father-in-law together again? That would just be an incredible chapter in my life.
The chapter in my life, unfortunately will remain incomplete forever.
We lost my father-in-law a few weeks back.
Instead of closing out the chapter, I choose to put a “…to be continued” in the end.