I’m currently sitting in Cafe Coffee Day in Bangalore airport; three hours into an ostensibly long layover. I have four more hours of listening to the hammering of construction work, which I’m sure has been going on since I was here last year. I’ve just consumed what I know will be my last latte for quite a while, in fact it will probably be my last hot drink without 3 tonnes of sugar in it until I return back to the UK in August. The transformation from my internship persona of the last six weeks into youthful backpacker is well underway. I changed into what was one of my favourite salwars when I got off the plane from Abu Dhabi this morning. However, I’m actually feeling quite self conscious in my worn out, bedraggled salwar which has severely suffered from a hard life of hand washing and sun bleaching over the past few years. The other trendy young people in the airport are all wearing sleeveless salwars or at least ones which look new as opposed to mine which looks like it should only be used to do the washing up! But whilst I’m doing my best to revert back to my past Indian lifestyle, it’s clear to anyone that I don’t live here anymore. There is only a single silver anklet sitting above one of my Nike trainers, as opposed to one on each leg which is the tradition. I am wearing trainers and socks instead of the standard chappels; sandals or flip flops which are easy to slip off when you enter a building. Instead of an equal number of bangles on each wrist I have a watch and a hair bobble, the remnants of my glass bangles in shatters at the bottom of my bag. And finally, instead of a doopita to cover my modesty – I am wearing a grey sweater with ‘Just do nothing’ emblazoned on the front. A slogan which seemed quite edgy, quite alternative, something which was mocking of the iconic sportswear brand when I was back in London. But somehow in this context of a country wrought with corrupt government officials and wealthy upper class families, who literally do just do nothing, it seems wrong, distasteful almost.
For the first time I get the feeling that returning to Vidya Vanam might not be all that I’ve hoped for.
Last summer when I visited the school again, one year after I first left, I was almost surprised by the fact that it hadn’t fallen to pieces without me. Of course, I knew that it wouldn’t and that time doesn’t stand still, and I was ultimately very happy that everything was still continuing to be successful but I just couldn’t stop the intrinsic human emotion of jealousy creeping in. It’s difficult to acknowledge the fact that students get new favourite teachers, they grow up, your friends share experiences and memories that don’t include you…but it’s also life. One of the downsides of having multiple homes is that you just can’t be in all of them at once.
So this year I’m prepared, I’m only going for two weeks – just enough time to catch up with the people that matter but not enough time to settle, to become complacent and to make it my life once again. The intention behind this is that it will make it easier to leave, but my eyes are already pricking with tears at the thought of travelling on to join my flatmates in Indonesia at the end of the month, and I haven’t even got to Vidya Vanam yet. However something I learnt on the journey from Heathrow is that friendship and relationships can take many forms and these are all valuable in their own right.
Checking in for my flight from Heathrow was quite last minute – there were about 8 seats left by the time I remembered to do so- none of which were the aisle or window. I chose seat 69E, partially for the comedy factor of sitting on 69, but also because it was beside someone else who hadn’t yet checked in. I decided that meant that they thought like me and thus would make for an interesting journey. As it turned out I had one of the nicest journeys you can imagine. I was sitting beside a little girl called Siona who had a vocabulary and brain which stretched far beyond her four years. Her and her mother were travelling to Bangalore to visit their family for the summer. Throughout the journey the girl and I played games on the TV screens, played I spy and chatted about magic powers and action dances (whatever they may be.) When Siona finally tired of entertaining me, I got chatting to her mother. One of the first things we bonded over was how unwelcoming English people are! This had troubled me all through my six week internship in London and Geetha had experienced exactly the same thing when she first moved to Stevenage eight years ago. Although the situations were very different – I was trying to engage in conversation with people on the tube and laugh with them as I lost my balance and she was attempting to integrate into a new culture and society which she had moved to permanently – the lack of warmth was so bemusing to both of us and we instantly became friends. Throughout the journey to Abu Dhabi and then the connecting flight to Bangalore, we talked about differences between India and the UK; the culture, the food, the intricacies of language, we talked about the role of women in Indian society and how we could change that and we talked about each other and our own experiences of both countries. When we got off the last plane, Siona clasped hold of both her mothers hand and mine, beamed a cheeky grin and said ‘I had great fun! It was lovely to meet you.’ They waited for me to come through the lengthy visa checks as they fast tracked on an Indian passport. I watched Siona as Geetha chose a decent Scotch for her in laws and then it was time to say goodbye. Geetha asked me to come back to their family home in Bangalore to rest before my next flight this evening. Despite being tempted, I declined. Although totally trusting her intentions I knew it was the first time that she had been back to India for two years, I didn’t want to interfere with any reunions or celebrations.
It would have been very easy for me to plug my earphones in and ignore the hyper girl screaming ‘we’re flying we’re flying’ before the engine of the plane was even switched on. But by not doing that I met two lovely people, I learnt another story, another part of India and another perception of the world around us. I may never see Siona or Geetha again, so to those silent people on the tube it may seem pointless having spent time and effort to get to know them. But to me it exemplified the fact that it is possible to have different types of friendship. It reaffirmed the fact that only visiting my kids at VV once a year was enough for them to know I care and believe in them. It settled my mind about the fact that friends that I have from school, friends that I have from uni, friends that live in England, friends I barely ever see, they are all still my friends and my relationship with each individual is valuable in it’s own right. Not only that, I gained a packet of chocolate buttons which I’m sure no one would complain about!