starstruckme's family moved from America to India in 2004. This is essay about her split childhood is for the diversity prompt on the Common Application. Can you help her edit it? —Sparkitors
‘India’ begins with the descent down the stairs leading off the plane (walkways connecting planes to the terminal won’t come till six years hence) into the torpid heat that rises in hazy hovercrafts from the cracked earth below. My tongue lies fat and swollen; a desiccated lump in my mouth. Each breath leaves an aftertaste of dry air behind—that particular tickle of dust and smoke and a something-or-the-other that banishes all hope of rain.
The walk to the airport terminal leads past a throng of sweaty relatives, their eager waves drooping like wilted plants. The few familiar faces spring out of the crowd in a jack-in-the-box fashion and I try to sift through the assault of greetings for words I understand; my safety nets along with blank uncomprehending smiles and vigorous nods—my allies in conversation.
The baggage claim area is a chaotic aviary with its own assortment of screeching women, squawks of protest and chirpy gossip amidst the shrieks of passengers who see their luggage pass by but cannot get close enough to pick it up. I am jostled, pushed and shoved until the people-current carries me out through the exit and sweeps me into the waiting arms of my grandmother, a tiny slip of a woman, shrunken proudly to a ‘proper figure,’ with glasses that perch comically large on her Cheshire cat face.
An imperious snap of my grandfather’s fingers and all of the luggage is stuffed into the trunks of the waiting cars, and a few moments later I am in the air-conditioned leather-seat luxury of my uncle’s posh new Mercedes-Benz. My cousins and younger brother pile in, while my parents duck under my grandmother’s shrill reprimands to the driver (chauffeur is a title far too grand for such lower-class fellows) and get into the other car.
My uncle is—there’s no other word for it—cool. Thirteen years younger than my father, he is still mummy’s spoilt little darling and has the suavity of a man with a never-ending flow of unearned cash, easily converted into the latest gadgets and luxury cars on the market. The stereo booms with western beats--Hindi music is, of course, passé and unfashionable—and my uncle speeds past the ambling traffic, giving in to my cousins’ pleas. I listen nervously to the blaring horns, all too aware of the absence of a seatbelt, while my cousin pinches his sister; their bickering escalating into a cramped fist fight.
‘India’ begins with the uneasy compromise of too-much and too-little; a cacophony of temple bells, street-hawkers, auto-rickshaws and stray dogs; a mosaic of make-shift homes that eat up the sidewalk next to gilded bungalows and havelis, and the sharp pang of homesickness that accompanies the realization that this is where ‘America’ ends.
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