Bittersweet goodbyes: Realities of immigrant life

Life's Like That is a weekly column, where Suresh Pattali writes about his musings on everyday life


Suresh Pattali

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Published: Thu 24 Mar 2022, 6:22 PM

Last updated: Fri 25 Mar 2022, 4:02 PM

It looked like a scene wrenched from Rabindranath Tagore’s The Postmaster. But less poignant and less pastoral.

“Papaji, I’m leaving Dubai. This time we are going to be an ocean apart.” Vava sounded as insouciant as the Postmaster on the phone. As if she has become blasé about the numberless meetings and partings going on in the world.

“We just got up, and there’s still a lot left to do to before calling it curtains on an immigrant life — from phone and utility disconnection to loan and card closure.” It wasn’t raining pathos as in the Tagore classic. Was she masking her emotions with a thick veneer of conscious volition?

“When is your flight?” I knew the schedule but wanted to confirm as they had postponed twice earlier.

“Seven in the evening tomorrow.” The rest of our conversations went as scripted by Tagore such as “When will you come back?” and “I am not coming back”, etc.

For a long time neither of us spoke another word. The phone went on dimly sighing as the shimmer of an early summer dried up the vestigial feeling in the corner of my eye.

“Will you come to see me off at the airport?” She broke the silence.

“No, I have work. I’ll see you some time tonight.”

Then I felt a pain at heart, like the Postmaster, but chose not to shed a tear, like the Postmaster. The rain-swollen river did it for him. In my case, it was the desert kicking up a hot dust storm. I wasn’t like this. To cry is an innocuous expression of feelings, whether it’s joy, sorrow, or love. An emotional creature, I always chose to cry my feelings out in the prime of my life.

Every time I set out to take the Jayanti Janata Express to Mumbai where I worked, I cried and hugged Amma and Rudrayani, the neighbourhood grandma. I sobbed all the way to the train station, and craned my neck, with tears streaming down, to get the last fading view of my dear ones through the window as the locomotive chugged away.

My son never cried in public. Every time he went to the med school, he faked an upset stomach and unloaded his emotions within the four walls of the washroom — at home and at the airport — multiple times. “Cry and let it all out,” I always told him.

Vava’s Sharjah apartment looked like a scene from the Ukraine conflict. She and Sarath sat in a sea of remnants from their short urban life, sorting the trashable and the baggable.

“You need not be anxious about my going away, Papaji,” Vava said, playing the reverse role of Tagore’s Postmaster. “I am always there for you,” she said, calm and composed.

Just as I was wondering why I am unable to soak in the agony of her unspoken grief, the boy hugged me. A bear hug which drowned both of us in a maelstrom of anguish. He wept out loud — in the kitchen, in the living room, in the lift, and on the way to my car — unable to whisper what his heart wanted to. I found myself in the salt of his tears.

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