I walked out the iron gate that said, "Christ Cottage," with a bag on my shoulder, and a suitcase that kept getting stuck between the cracks in the tar roads. Blackie and Bozo, my two dogs, followed me up to the bus station. I tip-toed to the bus avoiding the flem and supari(1) on the floor. When the bus left I stuck my hand out the window and waved to all my friends and neighbors who had come to say good bye. When their faces turned to brown specks, I placed my hand on my mother's arm and asked her what America was going to be like. She turned around and looked at me with her eyes full of tears said, "Well everybody has lawns, and all the houses are in perfect rows. Nobody visits you and spends time with you, because in America time is money. You also have all sorts of machines that do things for you." Mommy paused for a second and then she held my hand tightly and said, "You know what Priscilla, I think you and I are going to miss Panchgani. I already miss all the neighbors. They are always there when you need them. You won't ever find people like that in America. Panchgani's the most beautiful place in the world." I looked at her as if she was crazy, and then stared out the window only to see a little boy urinating in the gutter that was overflowing into the street. "What is there to miss about the stinky, smelly place?" I asked myself.
The village was far behind us, and everything from here on was dense jungle. I remembered Daddy's stories of how he killed leopards and cheetahs that troubled the village. It looked dark and scary. "In America there won't be scary jungles, only roads," I said to myself. I kept thinking of how wonderful everything in America would be. I would get a whole new wardrobe since children in America didn't wear uniforms to school. I would also get to watch color TV, and play cool games. I could go swimming in the pool that was in front of our apartment. Mommy talked about the pool a lot. I remember her telling Sabia our neighbor, "These Americans are so shameless. You should see them, they only wear a bra and underwear to go swimming." Sabia was shocked because she was a Muslim and covered her body from head to toe. I had never been in a pool before. The first thing I wanted to do when I got to America was take off my clothes and go swimming.
I kept dreaming of America and before I knew it we were on a plane ten thousand feet above ground. Wow! I thought to myself, "I am half way there." As I put on the headphones to watch the Hindi movie I thought about my Hindi and Marathi (the state language) class. I remember Mr. Bodhe and how he would make me repeat and act out verbs in front of the whole class. I also remember how my wrist hurt because he'd make me re-write every word that I forgot to put my mathras(2) and dots on. I rejoiced knowing that I wouldn't have to study those languages again. In a few hours the stewardess brought us our lunch. I had tandoori chicken with rice, and rice kir(3) for desert. As I started to eat my lunch, Mommy turned to me and said, "This is probably the last time you'll get to have Indian food with real Indian spices. "
"So what, " I replied in Hindi.
"Well, if you want some of mine, you can have it."
I looked at my plate full with rice and said, "I donít think so."
She smiled at me and went back to eating her food, and I picked at mine till they took it away. Soon we were in New York and now all we had to do was take another flight to New Orleans. I could not believe I was in America. The floors in the Air Port were so clean I could literally see my own face. I glided through the tiles and when there were carpets I put my hands down to feel it. "Mommy, " I said, "Does our apartment have a carpet that I can roll on."
"Yes Beti(4), our apartment has a gray carpet." Although I was thrilled to hear that we had a carpet the word, "Beti," sounded weird. We were in America and she was speaking in Hindi.
"Mommy I want you to speak to me in English since weíre in America; after all I want to practice my English," I said. She said nothing back, and I just sat there looking at everybody as they hurried from one place to another. I noticed their clothes. I had never seen anything like them. They were wearing stockings, short skirts, jeans, and sleeveless blouses. I felt weird and left out since I was wearing a chalvar kamise(5) and was covered from head to toe. While I was staring at the crowd and their clothes I heard, "All those boarding flight number 756 to New Orleans Louisiana please get your baggage ready to board the plane." Within the next twenty minutes I was in the plane with my seat belts tightly fastened.
The stewardess went through her normal routine of telling us not to smoke and where the exits to the plane were. Although this was the fifth time I heard the safety instructions, it was different. Here was an American stewardess with a blue skirt and white blouse instead of an Indian lady dressed in a gaudy sari(6). The other thing that was different was that the stewardess didnít have to read the instructions in Hindi and then English. "Well this is great!" I said to myself, "They donít have a different language for every state you go to." Within no time the plane took off and I put on the headphone and flipped through the various channels. Although I had no idea what the words to the songs were, I enjoyed them. I loved the drums in the background, and I loved how my heart raced with the fast songs. I started tapping my feet and nodding my head. Time went by quickly and the stewardess brought me a Coke, and a turkey sandwich that had Mayonnaise, and mustard oozing out the sides. This was the first time in my life I had tasted a turkey sandwich, and although this took no longer than two minutes to make I loved it. I loved the way the bread and the juices from the turkey churned in my mouth. "Thereís nothing better than America food," I told mommy.
"I hate this," mommy said, "Iíd rather have India food. Did you know that these Americans donít cook . All they do is pop things in the microwave. Thatís why most of them are fat, and die of heart diseases." I looked at her big belly that hadnít shrunk since she gave birth to my sister Lydia and laughed inside. I went back to thinking of America and planning my next five days, and before I knew it we were in New Orleans, Louisiana.
I settled down in no time, and life in New Orleans was just what I expected it to be. I had lots of new friends from school and I talked to all of them on the phone. I watched a lot of television and knew the theme song to every sitcom. I loved the fact that there were lots of television stations. This was totally different from India where we only had one channel. One night while I was doing my Homework, watching football with my dad, and talking on the phone, my phone clicked. "Hold on Illi," I said, "Iíve got another call." Then I yelled at my dad who was shouting at the top of his lungs because the Saints were doing badly. "Dad turn the volume down and stop yelling. They're the ones that are running around while you stuff you face with chips." Then I switched over and said,"Hello!" and the person on to other line said, "Namaskar," the Hindi word for hello and then rambled on. I didnít catch anything she said except for one word and that was, "Diwali." Mommy took the phone from me and I got up and went to my room.
I collapsed on the bed as I thought about Diwali, the festival of lights. Images swirled around in my mind. I remember getting excited about Diwali and buying lots of fire crackers to light up the night. My friends and I, half of whose names I try but canít remember would decorate the tiles in front of the door with bright colors of chalk powder. We used to have a name for that, but I can't think of it right now. Anyway, we would make lots of different designs. I can picture the designs in my head. They were like the designs from the kaleidoscope. We would also light oil lamps or Diwals. This symbolized the festival of lights. I remember thinking of how the lamps were in the shape of my best friend Deepa's, eyes. I always admired her for that. I try to picture her, but all I can see are her eyes staring at me, the rest of her has been burned out of my memory. In the same way I try to picture everybody in my mind, but a lot of them are hidden in the jungle of my memory. I try to fill them in, but only a few features pop into my head. Geeta, had long black shiny hair, and Sabrin had really fair skin. Shahina had gold hoop earring with rubies dangling in the middle, and Joti had a noes ring that sparkled in the moonlight. The more I think the more my memory spins round and round like they way we danced out in the roads while our ghagras(7) fluffed up in the air. We would dance in groups of four with dandas (8). I remember the rhythm, the clashing sticks, the cascading glass bangles, and bare feet hitting the cracked roads. I can see all of them from afar dancing, laughing, and speaking to me in a language that was once familiar. Theyíre all tiny brown specks waving and all I can do is lie down and watch.
1.Supari is a red mixture that people chew.
2.Mathras are accent marks.
3.Rice kir is a sweet dish made with rice, milk, and other spices.
4.Bethi is the word for daughter in Hindi.
5.Chalvar Kamise is type of dress that is worn in India.
6.Sari is the traditional dress that is worn in India.
7.Ghagras are long skirts.
8.Dandas are short bambop sticks.