I wonder if people in America know how much I miss the doorbell ringing twenty times a day, now that I’ve moved back from India?
I miss having sweets and tea ready to spread out the instant someone stops by for a visit. A beggar lady might be rummaging around our yard looking for plastic or cardboard, a child strapped to her back and I’m helping her search. At the same time, a neighbor stops by to ask for some of our jackfruit while a carver wheels his cart through our gate looking for knives to sharpen. Perhaps the man from the electric company stops by in the middle of all of this to deliver a bill. Better yet, it’s the postman with a note to pick up a package from America! I might hear the daily fish man calling “whoooo, whoooo, whoooo” to show he’s nearby.
Sounds of quick honks saying “I’m here, coming around the corner” from passing motorbikes and rickshaws, mixed with the solidarity of the clockwork-like call to prayer from the mosques nearby all competing for attention. I felt so surrounded by humanity—close to people and not alone. I remember sitting in our house in America our first-week home and being overwhelmed by the sound of the deathly stillness. Silence. It’s quiet here. Where are the people?
I miss Ayisha making chai in my kitchen, during breaks in our daily language sessions. She would laugh over the English word “bubble” and how I kept using the local word for “cloud” in place of “children.” “I have four clouds,” I would say confidently. Later, I learned the words for “shame,” “forgiveness” and “sadness” from her, and we cried and prayed together because language and the Spirit of God allowed it. I miss her asking me, expecting me, to pray for her illness.
I miss Mohammed mopping the marble floors sparkly clean each day and killing a spider or two for me before I could see it. We called him “Spiderman” and he called my husband ‘boss.’ “Where will I go with “boss” today?” he would say with a grin as he swept the floor and the smell of him burning our trash smoked the house.
I miss Bindu, who sewed all my churidars—my Indian clothes, to finally fit me just perfectly. She showed me where to buy the good material that doesn’t lose its dye, and even sewing in some of the latest styles. I miss so many of the local people; the preppy train ticket man, the toothless egg lady, the aged newspaper man, the mobile phone fill-up lady. Even the quick vegetable and fruit stand boy, the fatherly bread man, our regular rickshaw drivers and on and on the list of people goes.
I miss our teammates in each others’ houses every single day, having coffee, and more coffee; praying, laughing, sweating together, and sometimes crying and disagreeing. We had to cry, laugh, and disagree because our lives intertwined so completely. I wonder if my friends back in America know what it’s like to live in a sort of hippie commune and how fulfilling, satisfying, and tenaciously vulnerable it is?
What I wish my friends in America knew about my life in India is that people and relationships are everything there. The clock stops for people. Time is irrelevant and inconsequential if you’re with a friend. And you’re always with a friend in India.