Christmas arrived soon and Ary flew home for the winter break just like most other international students in his program. Following a sixteen hour long flight crossing the North Pole to Dubai and an eight hour long anticipation for the connecting flight to Calcutta with every minute feeling like an eternity, he finally landed at the Calcutta airport at 8 AM local time. Just like the previous year, Ary spotted his parents waiting at the Arrival section of the airport for him. He walked towards them and touched their feet for blessings. Their faces were glowing in joy but they didn’t give him a hug, just as he had anticipated. There wasn’t any lack of love, Ary knew. It was just that unlike Americans or even people from other parts of India, Bengalis rarely displayed their affection. Ary’s guess was that it was British thing that had been passed down to their capital city in India, Calcutta, and its surrounding areas during the coronial era.
The car made its way through the morning traffic in the city towards their home in the southern suburbs. The dust, characteristic of winter in Calcutta, caught Ary off guard just like the previous year. He rolled up the window. The car sped past the iconic Victoria Memorial with its marble structure resplendent in the morning sun, the rotating fairy above its central dome and its gardens thronged by holiday crowd. Everything seemed to be just like the way it was a year back, when he left the city. Only his parents looked slightly older.
But it still felt weird. So much had happened to him in this one year- all the long nights and failed experiments in the laboratory, the making out that one night with an American girl whom he just met at the bar, the arrival of Diggy in his life, the trip to Yosemite, the confusion regarding future research. But his parents just went on and on talking about the wait at the airport, the confusing announcements, the trouble in parking the car and so on. They only wanted to know whether Ary had eaten well and slept well during the flight, and whether his studies were going all right. They didn’t seem to have any interest in what all happened to him and how his knowledge and thinking and outlook towards life evolved over the course of a year in a distant land, who were the friends he hung out with, whether he had a girlfriend, etc. Ary didn’t expect anything better than that. To them he had become an entity that disappeared through the security gate at the Departure section of the airport beginning of every calendar year, called every four days on the phone throughout the year saying he was doing fine and then reappeared at the Arrival section of the airport at the fag end of the year. All they cared about was that he disappeared and reappeared in good “physical” health every year. “Mental” health was a subject actively avoided.
Thankfully he had some great friends from school days still living in the city with whom he could share everything. Soumya was around, and so was Sourav. He met them frequently and spent long hours with them just like the good old days. Ary realized that as long as his mother was around his stomach would always be taken care of and as long his best friends from childhood were around his soul would mostly be taken care of. All the turbulence in his head slowly subsided as he enjoyed the company of family and friends and stuck to the plan of continuing with his current project till he got his “Nature paper”. Three weeks just flew by and now it was time to head back to Berkeley.