One of the few incidents I remember from my largely uneventful childhood took place when I was about twelve. It was July and that usually meant that one set of cousins was going to pay us a visit from abroad. I still remember how we would wake up bright and early and tidy up the house, making sure that every last thing was in place for these relatives from distant lands. And when the time would finally come to pick them up from the airport, we would wear our smartest clothes and hop into the car. That year it was the turn of the US cousins to visit. (When you’re twelve, it’s easier to describe them that way: US cousins, UK uncle, and so on). I still remember the youngest kid getting into the car, obviously drained from the flight. He fell asleep almost as soon as we set off, while his older brother struggled valiantly to keep his eyes open, and make polite conversation with his 'Indian' cousins, as his mother had taught him to do throughout the 15-hour flight.
About 10 minutes into the ride home, the younger kid woke up and looked out the window, only to see a couple of cows standing lazily in the middle of the road. I noticed that the look his face was a strange mix of fear and confusion. He then turned to his mother and whispered 'excuse me' (this was another thing his mother had taught him: when we're with your Indian cousins, always say 'excuse me' before you interrupt someone, ok?)
'What is it son?' 'Um, Mum, how long till we reach the city?', he asked softly. I held my breath, this was it, the moment was here, the young boy's first brush with reality, his first lessons on India, a land he knew nothing about, and felt no connection with. I turned to his mother, smiling behind her pink designer glasses. Here it comes, I thought.
To him: 'What's the matter son, the cows scaring you?'
To us: 'The poor child, he's not used to seeing animals on the road.'
To him again: 'Isn't that great son? Remember how we saw cows once on a farm on our way to Kansas? Would you like a chocolate?'
And yet, it never happened. The moment never arrived. My aunt slowly wiped the hair from his face, and said 'Son, this IS the city.' I smiled. Yes it was. It was the city.
At the time, I wasn't sure why his mother didn't bother seizing the opportunity to educate her little American son about his motherland. And I wasn't sure whether my cousin thought it normal for cows to be standing in the middle of the road in a real city. But looking back, it didn't really matter. It was the city. And that was enough.
One day I hope that my cousin will return to India with his own little children, and I hope that I will be around to drive my own kids to the airport to receive them. And maybe one of the little boys will turn to his dad and say 'Excuse me dad, how long till we get home?' And perhaps his father will smile and say 'Son, this IS home.' Yes, this was home.
And that was enough.