Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey

Author: Lopamudra Banerjee
ISBN-13: 9789352074259
Six years back, I had pined for the sheltered silence of a faraway home and had ultimately found one. The domination of nostalgia has been smothering, as I have swam through the suffocating waters of my first friendships, first betrayals, first love, first heartbreak, first exploits in hidden nooks and corners of my forsaken city. It took me two long years to contemplate leaving my city, my home, my parents and the silently brewing complaints of the life I had thought about leaving, for good.

The immediate thought of leaving the heartbreaks, fake friendships and betrayals of Calcutta gave me comfort and sustenance. All I could do during those days was to speak long distance to the man I already knew would marry me in the coming winter or spring. Chatting with him endlessly on the Internet and over the phone, as I wanted to be beautiful all over again, I wanted to hang on to the world of virtual correspondence. There was relief in the thought that I no

longer wanted to curse false friends and lovers who were once part of my tangible world, whose shelf-life of amateurish promises of loving and togetherness had long ago been over. I flew to reach him all alone, seeking to melt into a life that was steadily, stealthily luring me towards the west. I remember now, how I left my mother working with a pious concentration in our big dark kitchen, how I left rummaged books, clothes and my old harmonium in the twilight of oblivion. Moving away, then, felt like a complete solution, an end to a life of claustrophobic familiarity of a suburban life where every move, every step for a girl in a middle class family of parents, relatives, neighbors was predicted, pronounced, clichéd. It was sort of a rehearsed role of integration as I had mingled with the crowd of immigrants at the John F. Kennedy airport during my first visit to the country.

Lopamudra Bannerjee
Omaha, for that matter, was not the first home where I had sought to build a sanctuary with my husband. We began our days together beneath the sullen, smoky spring sky huddled inside the miniature living space of our one-bedroom apartment in a quiet, sleepy town in upstate New York. We toured parts of the north-east of America, parts of Pennsylvania, the sublime hilly terrains of Western New York. The deadly winds, the ice and sleet of winter spoke to us in hushed silence, eventually bringing us to the land of the prairies in Nebraska.

All these years, gradually, I have worked to make Omaha my home with its long, tiring winter days of endless snowfall and mist, its sunlit days of solitude, its somber, clouded summer evenings breaking out into violent storms and tornadoes. It is in no way a love story marked by the irresistible allure of the luxury and ambiance of big American cities and the dreams fostered there. It has rather been a tireless journey of unknowingly embracing the unassuming simplicity and plainness of a quiet Midwestern state, the unlikeliest of places where we had imagined settling down.

My heart has unknowingly embraced it all, the cascading Missouri waters, the plain, green ranches, the winter-killed grasslands of the boundless prairies stretching their way into the faraway west. Our marital bond that brought us together to live in the plains, have blossomed and faded away like the perennial flowers planted in our porch. We have seen ourselves changing apartments, shivering to feel the glass windows of our living room creaking at the onslaught of the deadly west winds, thawing ourselves at the fireplace, being thankful of the central heating system and eventually buying our own love-nest, a small house in a quiet, unassuming West Omaha neighborhood, nestled by the quietude of a quaint old lake.

We have trailed the routes of the plain land in an unhurried, undemanding pace. The unknown fragrances of a once distant soil have now been my own. I have evolved from a loner brimming with wilderness and rage, to a mother, a parent, caressing the light and refreshing scent of our baby. With her birth in the lavish surgery room, ten thousand miles away from her Bengali parents’ origin, she has unknowingly scribbled a significant part of our destiny in the city. I have walked through the bitter frost and gray smoke of the sullen winter sky of the American Midwest. I have embraced shadows of solitude in the furnished rooms of our love nest as the clock has kept ticking on the wall, hour by hour. Did I assimilate well? I often ask myself. I have lied to myself prudently into a home and adored the echoes of barrenness with a focused, diligent oblivion. Strangest of all, I haven’t been able to overthrow the least bit of recesses, in an acquired home, far, far away from my verdant childhood home.

Sometimes, I do feel disembodied, living as if I belonged to an earlier place, not to my present existence in the small Midwestern city of America, not even to my childhood and youth in the far eastern city of India, but to a different welcoming earth where nobody knows or remembers how I was before I reached my present height, an earth where all thin lines of spatial identity dissolve and diminish with the blowing of an instant magic wand. I have eagerly sought the existence of such an earth, to tell me a torrid tale of ordinary human longings left to be explored, ruminated. And thus, the vision of oaks, maple trees, the leaves, barks and fall colors blur in my eyes, only to be mingled with the remembered redness of the krishnachura, the converging treeline of the coconut and bamboo groves of my forsaken hometown. The manicured highways of the interstate, in my furtive glances, mingle with the crooked, narrow lanes leading to an old, abandoned ‘home’.

Years back, I had left the silly old streets of Calcutta in the haste and allure of discovery. I am the burnt out candle, who knows not why she keeps returning to the old flames. I keep coming back, to walk past the smothering traffic of Downtown Calcutta, to melt with the daily sweat and toil of subways and local trains, like the days when I used to commute to my old office buildings. In my cab journeys in the city’s peripheries, I gaze greedily from the window of my cab at the curled clouds, the dust and the soot of a city, thinking how it had once blown me to death with her betrayals.

I return to the chaos and bickering inside the quiet confines of my parents’ home in Barrackpore, to see a broken fragment of my own being, still lurking behind the dark corners of the rooms I had left behind. I return as the dutiful daughter-in-law to a broken, scattered home of in-laws emerging in my life time and again, as a river with secret tides I am obliged to navigate. I return, time and again, to the absurdities of a Bengali household I had so despised and escaped years back. I come back to them, not as the restless, rebel woman, simmering with existential questions, not as a demure bride who didn’t understand shameless traditions of adaptation in a strange family of people who spoke less, felt less. I come back, as a traveler in time, to feel my frazzled self, and to pick up my own scattered pieces and recognize the weightless limbo of a world that inhabits me now.

I am an ordinary, commonplace refugee in North America, and like many others of my ilk, have embedded myself in a family, far flung from what is called ‘original home’. Like many others, I have strived to gain the status of the coveted Nonresident Indian, while my heart continues to ache with the desire to be rocked in the bosom of my mother and to revisit the havens of my childhood.

…My luggage checked in, the forms filled in unerringly, I trudge past the long queue waiting to climb the stairs leading to the departure lounge. I try to look back for one last moment at the multitudes of faces in the crowd sinking away in cold departure. For a month or two, I had returned, barefoot, to the rocks and thorns and stings of the city that has been my first crush, my first impatient lover, my first betrayer, my first tormentor and my first barging intruder. An 18-hour flight booked to Chicago via Frankfurt will bring me and my baby to the eagerly waiting arms of my husband. I am returning to the once cherished anonymity, freedom and worldly comforts of an organized, unperturbed western life.