Another flight to India and a reminder of what it (sometimes) means to be Indian.
The jostling, the usual chaos of not-quite queues and non-Indian passengers appalled at Indian co-travellers happily moving other peoples’ bags around in order to make room for all.
“Thoda adjust kar lo ji”.
A family of three – the youngest of whom is easily 60 – are sitting separately and they seat their oldest relative – a sweet and very old woman – next to me.
I make the mistake (or so it feels) of pointing them in the direction of their seats, and before I know it, several boarding cards are being thrust under my nose with the absolute assumption that I will interrupt my phone call to help them find their seats.
When meals come around the old lady next to me wakes up suddenly and makes a grabbing motion for a bottle of water on the tray being served to the passenger next to her.
The stewardess (also an Indian) without batting an eyelid protectively takes her hand and asks the man next to her if she can give this lady his bottle of water; she will give him another.
He immediately nods, ‘of course’.
The old lady refuses a meal and throughout dinner the same gentleman checks with me worriedly about the fact that she’s not eating, why aren’t her family checking on her…this, a ‘typical’ Punjabi man who is a whiskey and 2 bottles of wine down by dinner, and from whom I have been plotting to protect myself and the old lady if necessary.
Because we all do this for each other, he hands me his disembarkation card and explains that he’s not wearing his glasses so I should fill out his card for him.
It is assumed that I will do this for him gladly.
Old lady gets up to walk around and I gently let her family know she hasn’t eaten.
Karela rolls (she is diabetic) are produced, a fuss is made. At some point I blow my nose (for the 15th time, while reading my book) and like my own grandmother, she takes my hand and tells me, ‘Tu theek nahin hai. Rain de hun.’ You’re not well…let it be now.
Telling me perhaps that I need to sleep.
I suddenly find myself yearning for both my grandmothers.
For all the eye-rolling and impatience that I feel at the chaos of us Indians and our not-quite queues, I’m so glad to be heading home.
It is a place where old and young people can still absolutely assume that someone around them will look after them.
And we do.