Wednesday, December 21, 2011

home is where the heart is...

Hi I am Sejal and I have been Chennai-free for nearly a year!  Chennai is an addiction.... one I needed to quit.  (Although I didn't know I was addicted until I quit!)

We left Chennai in India about ten months ago.  I had been preparing for our exit for almost ten years!  We had gone there on a short term assignment which became very very long term.

My Darling and I came to Chennai with three suitcases and a three year old.  We left Chennai with a twenty foot sea freight container, 18 pieces of baggage, loads of hand luggage, a twelve year old and a five year old.  I guess that is what you call value added!

Both kids took the decision to leave in different ways. The Ray wanted to know when she would see her best friends again and Nikh flatly refused to go. He started trying to find a family that would take him in and our many many good good friends obliged without hesitation - thanks a bunch!  Made my life that much harder!

Anyway we arrived home (London, that is!), it was still in mainly holiday mode.  This was still not reality.  As months went by, Nikh, The Ray and I started to realise that this was our new REAL life.  My Darling started his travelling again and we had to deal with a new set of issues that could not be solved by maids, cooks and drivers.  We had to deal with it all on our own. We did.  We survived!

Nikh was still not quite happy.  He wanted to go 'home'.  I told him he was home.  He chose to ignore me!  We agreed to VISIT Chennai at Christmas.  In the end, I changed the dates as none of us were truly settled and this would be five steps back.  Our recovery was dependant on how we dealt with this revisiting of old haunts, old friends and AISC.

We landed in Chennai during the Easter holidays (Spring Break for AISC).  It was a bittersweet arrival.  It still smelled yucky, the airport was still hot, humid and crowded with disorganised travellers.  But it felt like a homecoming! It was familiar and comforting (never thought I would say that in a million years!!)  I had made plans with as many of our friends (more like family) were in town and we were booked back to back for the whole of our stay.  

We started with brunch at The Park with the usual suspects (!!), moved to meals galore at The Madras Club, Tuscana, Golden Dragon, Bayview Point, Woodlands etc etc and umpteen homes.  We had idlys, dosas, tiramisu, Indian Chinese, the freshest fish in the world, dim sum, Thai, Italian, homemade wadas, cheese dosas  and so very much more.  We did nothing but eat, drink, shop and grow out of our waistbands!

It was an absolute pleasure to spend time with people we love and those who care about us in return!  We played water polo in the pool at Fish Cove, cricket on the beach, did one more turtle release and spent so much pleasurable, treasurable time with these wonderful people.  We missed some who were on holiday, but will make plans over the next few months.  We went back to AISC - so much a part of our lives for so many years.  It is changing and growing. It was both hauntingly familiar and strangely unfamiliar.  It was lovely to sit and chat with friends just like the old days, with the thoughts of departure held firmly at bay.

Nikh drifted through the school remembering his time at one of the nicest places in Chennai.  When he was done, we left.  More hugs, kisses and bittersweet tears.

After a final frantic shopping dash, we headed down to Fisherman's Cove where there was one last batch of Olive Ridley Turtles waiting for us to help release them into the ocean.  The joy on my kids' faces, the awe and wonder on friends' faces who were doing this for the first time and the pleasure of sharing such a wondrous experience was simply incredible.  At the end of a day spent splashing on the beach and in the pool, playing with people we like to be with and eating such delicious fresh fish and chips, we went back to the town centre to pack and prepare to leave.

One last night out again with two charming kids and we were on the home stretch, literally!  One last friend to visit us, straight off the plane, out of the airport and to our hotel just to spend an hour together.  lots more tears, hugs and kisses and we were off.

As we took off, both kids held on tight.  Nikh looked at me with sadness and said, "Chennai will always be a sort of home, won't it?"  The Ray insists she is a Chennai-girl as this is her birthplace.  And I?  I will hold cherished memories of a place that filled me with love, laughter, joy, pain, frustration, heat rash, tears, gallons of alcohol, dozens of mosquito bites, snakes, cockroaches, biting spiders, incredible experiences and so many many lifelong friends... how could I not think of it as a home?

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