15 minutes later, the alarm rings and Aunty awakens. I am relieved from ending the pretense of sleep. I sit up in bed, looking and feeling fresh. She makes me a cup of coffee, while I go in and wake up my SIL. We chat for a little bit and they tell me what the boys were upto while they were there. Soon, I go in for a shower and by the time I am ready, the driver has come. I can barely contain my excitement. There are so many dimensions to my happiness. One, I couldn't wait to see the boys! Two, I couldn't wait to see my family. Three, I love the open road between Pune and Mumbai. Four, I would be able to catch a sunrise. So armed with all my enthusiasm, with the Canon in my hand, I bid gay farewells to this new family I am getting to know, for the next time I see them will be at the start of the festivities!
Its Republic Day and the roads are open and free. There are ample distances between the vehicles, and there is a light nip in the cool morning air, which awakens my senses even more keenly. This is my first sight of my country by early daylight. I am emotional about it. I am grateful to be here, all the more. The familiar and the not so familiar sounds of desh greet me at every corner of the road, and gladden my heart. From time to time, I see the flash of the tricolour, sold at every street corner.
Pretty soon, we have left behind the denser areas and are headed towards the highway. And I get a chance to view a Mumbai sunrise. The big round fiery ball from pictures of science appears to me now, in a clear arc of diffused glow. I love the feeling of having gained in on the day. An early start is always a cheerful prospect. I take out the camera and click. Ahead, the driver flashes me a curious look in the rearview mirror. I must seem soo.. touristy to him. I take out my walkman and plug my ears, adding some background music to the passing scenery...letting the mood flow to the tenor of the song I am listening to...sometimes full of beat and rhythm, pulsing with life...sometimes a tad wistful, ringing with nostalgia and bygone days, but everyone of them rich in meaning and implication. I cannot imagine a more perfect time or place than the here and the now!
Soon, we are on the Pune highway and the traffic has thinned out even more, and the driver steps on it. A part of me gets alarmed from time to time at the way he swerves the car in and out of lanes and gets ahead. But soon, I relax under the skilled navigation and go back to enjoying the passing countryside. From time to time, I slip from the spell of the moment and my thoughts drift to my family...imagining the face of each of them, anticipating the warmth of welcome. And I realise how woefully incomplete is a phone conversation. No, nothing could ever come close to breathing the same air, sharing in the same moments of a day, occupying spaces right alongside. Nothing can come close to this kind of personal contact, I realise with resolution.
The tunnels have begun to appear. And this particular one transports me back some 15 years ago, to a train journey from Chennai to Pune. There used to be a lot of tunnels in that segment. And in that beautiful monsoon of a time, me and Appu pressed our noses to the pane of a first class window, and counted each tunnel we crossed, gasping in awe at the marvellous spectacle when we emerged from each one! At the time, the count was 18. On this journey, it was a mere 4. But to make up for that fledgling number, I did manage to take a photograph to substantiate an oft used metaphor....the light at the end of the tunnel...Now I know why it is used so much. :)
Soon, I began to tire of my own enthusiasm and feel a wee bit carsick. I think I am ready to be done with travel. We are making good time and soon are in the outskirts of Pune. I can tell by the way the roads have narrowed and from the way the people are dressed. My heart races when I am on a familiar road....which I recognise even with all that has changed. We turn into the lane with the white picket fence, auto stand at the corner. My heart picks up a beat...and this is it. We are here. I am home. It is all I can do to wait patiently as the driver unloads my suitcase. He motions me to go ahead, thank the Lord. I race up the stairs and the screen door is shut. And just as I begin walking towards it, I see Pops' face peep out. A huge smile erupts as he exclaims to everyone else...she is here!
I walk in to warm smiles and Thambi's puzzled face. He looks at me dazedly for a long time. Then, slowly he comes into my arms and puts his head on my shoulder. I am definitely home.