Jasleen Kaur

March 2018

The one place where I see so many people of different cultures and backgrounds around me, so many colors, so much love, hope and joy. I love flying. I love spending time at airports because I get to experience so many lives. I live what people around me feel and who would miss a chance to experience so many beautiful emotions?

I see the mother who carefully places her 4-5 year old kid on top of the stack of suitcases on the trolley giving him a ride towards the gate. The child experiences so much joy; I can feel it in my heart. The father of the child waits for them at the gate - the hugs, the unspent tears, the kisses that follow, are expressions and emotions so strong that overwhelm me only by looking at them.

I see the woman clad in the burkha hugging a man who I think is her husband. She cannot stop sobbing. I believe she is taking an international transfer. There was once when I hugged my ex at the Mumbai airport and cried like a baby before the security checking, not caring what people thought. The way it pains to let go of someone you love so deeply and knowing you would never see them again. You want to hold on to them so tight that you can etch that in your memory forever. Not trying to get carried away with my past – the lady in the Burkha - she hugs her husband and cries so hard that I am forced to pray to God to ease her of her pain. The husband trying to not cry, ultimately gives away and starts crying too. Its so overwhelming and painful, but at the same time I am hopeful. Lately, I had been feeling that true love had ceased to exist. The practicalities of life can make us take decisions that hurt so much, but we take them anyway because “it’s the right and practical thing to do, isn’t it?”. But the couple, who cried in each other arms were clearly in love. And love made me hopeful. Hopeful for myself and for the couple that they would meet and spend the rest of their lives together.

I talk to the Costa Coffee sales girl who surely loves to chat. I tell her that I am going to be at the airport till evening. I am waiting for my parents and brother and we would head to Ludhiana together. She exclaims that she is from Ludhiana and starts telling me how much she misses home. Its been her first time out of home and she asks me to take her along with me. I told her she is most welcome to join us. She talks about Ludhiana and how her parents want to get her married. She comes from a village and the boy who they want her to get married to, does not want her to wear jeans. With anguish in her tone, she says, “I am frustrated, I don’t want to get married. There are so many restrictions after getting married. I just ask my parents to call me home, not get me married, but let me be at home and spend time with my family. I don’t even like working here alone”. I feel so lucky to not have been going through this time of my life. I immediately thank God to have given me such amazing parents, who have supported me despite facing every odd one could think of. I know it has been a tough journey for them, but they kept going for me, for us (I have a younger brother who is an amazing guitarist and I am sure that one day he is going to rock the world with his music). My father who comes from conditioning where it is difficult to support anything beyond studies, buys my brother a guitar whenever my brother wants one and I feel blessed. Blessed that there is so much love in the family, that we are ready to break every shackle. It is this love that has helped us reach pinnacles in life. No wonder my parents are happier than I am for my admission to UT Austin for a doctorate degree. It is as if all their dreams have come alive because I got through a good college with a funding. It might not be great deal for people around me , but for my parents it’s the best thing that could have ever happened to them. I knew it when my mom told me, “I would not have been so happy if you were getting married. This means more to me that you could ever know”. She could not go for her Mphil despite getting into the best college during her times because her family did not allow her. I don’t think I could feel even 1% of the joy she must be experiencing when I am doing what she couldn’t. I think I would know it when I have kids of my own.

Two women- one middle aged and the other old come and sit across me. They are Sardarnis and the old lady looks exactly like my grandmom. The same silver shining hair, the similar light colored clothes, the same gait. When the middle-aged lady goes to buy some food for them, the old lady initiates a conversation with me in Punjabi. She asks me where I am from. She tells me that she was born and brought up in Malaysia and is here to visit the golden temple and would stay in Amritsar for a week. I reply to her question. I tell her that I have come from Bhopal and am waiting for my parents to come from Siliguri. My brother would come from Noida and we would go for my sister’s wedding. She them bombs me with the question that their generation can never stop themselves from asking – “Are you married?”. I say no – and she says “All of you stay so far away from each other. That just does not seem right”. I smile, and I don’t know what to say to her. I then continue typing on my laptop and both these women continue talking to each other about aloo tikki, rasmalai and Chandigarh’s aloo parathas. We sardars are all and always about food, even if we hail from any damn part of the world!!

I look at a lady in the wheel chair. I feel sympathetic, but then I don’t. I want to feel empathetic and not sympathetic. Working in the research sector with the unprivileged, I have trained myself to not pity, but learn. Learn to look at her smile, despite being in the wheel chair. Look beyond the wheels at her strengths, the way she would struggle to get up one floor – something that we don’t even spend a moment thinking about. I wonder how helpless she must feel to be dependent on someone to carry out minimal tasks in her life. I would have preferred dying over being dependent, but to be dependent comes with so much strength. I realize that humans need to be dependent to lead a fulfilling life. Some less, some more. But dependence, and to accommodate others in your lives is a highly difficult and a highly valued strength. More important than being independent is to learn the skill of being dependent. That’s what I decide today – to try and accommodate more people in my life. To be more dependent and to accept that it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to sometimes say that I need help in doing something – who knows what life has in store for use. If I am independent in everything that I do today and tomorrow I land in a wheel chair, how would I even gather the strength to just ask?

While I am taking my emotions out on the laptop, I see a family who is waiting for their taxi driver to arrive. From the way they speak, I understand that the Uncle’s phone’s battery is almost dead. He doesn’t even have a charger (I think of how in our generation we could go without clothes but not without our chargers and a backup power bank!). I offer to charge his phone with my USB cord connecting it to my laptop. He thanks me as if I he had won a lottery. You know it’s the little things that matter most. A hug cannot be replaced with anything when what you need is a hug. A smile and an assuring nod of a loved one cannot be replaced with money when you are low on confidence. When you sit at home and everything seems wrong, and there is a call from a friend who forces you to come out of your home, takes you for a lovely outing, cracks the silliest jokes ever and makes you forget about your worries – could never be replaced with probably anything I could think of. Someone offering to charge your phone when you need to talk to your taxi driver who could arrive anytime is more important than money. (Now don’t argue that if someone gave you money you could have used the payphone at the airport to call your taxi driver - you get my point – so much for thinking smart!! – and yeah, how would you know what your taxi driver’s number was unless you had written it somewhere?)

I look around and see people. I see buses and people in the airport bus shuttles. I see people in a rush, people who are taxi drivers and are waiting with placards. I see people grabbing a coffee before they head out. I see people with Delhi Duty free bags (wondering about the amount of alcohol they must have bought!). I see policemen – some with a smiling face, some tired after the night’s shift (I landed during early hours), some grumpy, some who greet every passenger as they leave the airport. I see dogs sniffing around (for drugs?) – I want to go and hug them – but I don’t want to end up being bitten, so I control myself! I see the cleaning staff in the washroom which I have used three times in the past 5 hours now. I see visitors, eager to see their loved ones. Here’s what I feel – happy and grateful. Grateful to be given the opportunity that I can express. Grateful to be able to give words to my feelings, happy to know that I am strong, happy to realize that despite the extra emotional and over sensitive being that I am, that’s what’s so unique about me. I am happy that I work hard and am honest. Happy that I feel for people around me. Happy that when I see an old man walking on a hot scorching summer day, I not only feel how drenched he must be, I offer to buy him food so that he continues his journey. I am grateful that I have been given the ability to look around and be a source of joy to someone. Grateful that despite failing in love so hard, I still could love and care deeply. I count my blessings everyday realizing that God made me a beautiful soul, a soul who most people trust and look at as a listening and calming presence. Happy to be able to look for happiness when things aren’t that great, happy to be able to look at the silver lining when the sky is covered with dark, black, depressing and angry clouds. I am grateful to know that despite being just a tiny dot in the enormous world, I am blessed to make people around me happy and to make a difference even if it is small!