In Flight / Arathi Devandran

I find myself trapped between worlds.

I am in the airplane, and I am a few hours away from landing, from returning. When I entered the airplane, the steward saw my passport and said, “Welcome home”. Somewhere in me, that phrase prompted a reaction – almost a surprise because yes, I guess I was returning home, but what a foreign feeling that was.  

I have always envied people who have a strong sense of home. Of those for whom feelings of rootedness is second-nature, so familiar, either because they connect with the space they are in, or because they are so okay with themselves, so in sync with their bodies and minds that the exterior doesn’t really matter – the knowledge that this is all part of the maya.

In Gehraiyaan, Deepika Padukone’s character repeatedly intones something that is eventually revealed to be what her mother tells her before a pivotal moment in both their lives “I am so stuck.” It is a literary effect employed by the scriptwriter, I presume, to juxtapose against the themes of chaos and change that is depicted by the short frames of crashing waves that we witness throughout the show. Hearing the phrase in the film was startling, because just a few days before this trip, I remember saying the same phrase to my husband, that I feel “stuck”, even as I am constantly moving and functioning through life.

In Hesse’s Siddhartha, the titular character has a long, beautiful monologue in the concluding paragraphs of the novel, where he explains to his (still seeking) childhood friend Govinda about his philosophy – about the idea of oneness among all things in this existence (Brahman, the Atman, anima mundi) and about the connecting force that runs through all things in this life – love. I feel tears in my eyes reading it, a soft word “oneness” ringing in my ears.  

I started reading Siddhartha at the height of my COVID ordeal, when my body was rendered useless because of perennial exhaustion, when it felt like there were a thousand ants crawling up and down my esophagus, when my nights were spent coughing, trapping me in what felt like a never-ending loop of illness and delirious thoughts. Siddhartha’s words formed images in my mind of a life long past, not mine, or maybe mine because all lives are my life, and my life is all lives.

That period felt never-ending.

In Gehraiyaan, there is a concluding scene when Ananya Panday’s character asks Deepika Padukone’s whether they could try to move on from the past, to break the loop that their parents’ lives, rife with their own karmas and baggage and choices and consequences, had been playing out. As I sit in the airplane with a small night-light illuminating my words, I think about the many times I have been on a returning plane, grappling with this same discomfort of returning to a place, of the layered complexities surrounding the word home that I excavate furiously whenever I am in transit.

Can I break out this loop I find myself in? Am I stuck? Or am I in motion? Does it really matter?

My husband is sleeping beside me peacefully, and I look at him in fondness, for he has found his home in himself. It was probably one of the first things that attracted me to him, one I never fully understood until the two of us began making our own home together.

There is an infamous story about a coffee my husband spilled on our then-very pristine and very new beige carpet that we had bought for our home in a new country. I remember having a huge meltdown, crying as if my life depended on it while my husband and I took turns scrubbing the carpet furiously, desperate to get the stain out. I realised sometime later that it was less about the carpet and more about what I had perceived to be a hairline crack in the perfection I was trying to create in my home. Since then, that carpet has seen multiple stains, multiple spills. It is splotchy and ragged, with a corner bitten off by our dog.

I barely bat an eyelid now.  

Maybe my idea of home has changed. Maybe carpets don’t matter as much to me. Maybe I’ve realised that the perfect comes in working through the stains of living, instead of seeking the pristine. I don’t know.

I shift in my seat. AR Rahman’s Muthu’s journey plays on loop on my headphones. In Tamil, he croons, “Oh will my heart ever forget? The silt in my heart? What will happen to the butterfly fluttering inside?”

I close my eyes.

Arathi Devandran curates personal experiences, snapshots of the world and the stories people are willing to share with her through prose and poetry

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