I Did It All By Myself

Where are you going?

Actually, I am going to Cairo which is in Egypt. 

What is the purpose of your travel?

Ummm, I am going for an internship. 

Is anyone traveling with you?

I usually don’t travel solo, but today I am going alone. 

But beta, if you can get an internship in India, why do you want to go and work in Egypt particularly?  

Hmmm, sir, maybe I can, but I think I am going for the experience

I fumbled on every answer because I was so used to my father answering these for me.Trying to convince the Immigration officer of my plans was actually a reassurance I was giving myself to stick to the plan.

As you can probably tell, I grew up pampered and sheltered. My support system was just like a really strong tree to me. My beautiful tree-house protected me from storms. It provided for me with its fruits and leaves. Pretty birds came by like beautiful experiences and opportunities. I always thought independent life was only ‘maza and masti’. I was confident that I could handle that life so I went all out by signing up for an internship all the way in another continent for 45 days. 

My confidence melted away when the Immigration Officer put the reality of the situation in front of meI suddenly understood why everyone around me had been concerned about this trip. They were probably right. I had never traveled alone, never lived alone, the political situation of the country was a tiny concern, nobody in Egypt would come to my rescue, and to top it all, I didn’t even know what to expect out of the whole trip. Without even realising, I somehow found my way to the boarding gate. 

I was lost in my negative thoughts when my attention was drawn to a small family of four sitting across me waiting for their flight. Their young son was playing with his older sister. She reminded me of me: an obedient little girl who took care of her younger sibling and always stayed close to her parents while the whole family was travelling together. Today, it was completely the opposite. I was all alone at the airport, ready to fly across continents. And why?  My friends would never let me forget how lucky I was to study in my hometown while they had to settle in a new city for their education.They were jealous of me and I was of them. I just wanted to live their life for some time and see what independence tasted like.

As I was mulling over my new route to independence, I heard an announcement- my flight was now boarding. I started gathering my belongings ready to go, unsure if I was heading to the boarding gate or the exit gate. Just then, I received a sign from the universe!. The music shuffle on my phone played a beautiful song by Rabindranath Tagoreji in Amitabh Bacchan’s voice. 

 “Jodi tor dak shune keu na ashe tobe ekla cholo re”.

If no one heeds your call, then march on alone

Yes, I was afraid.

Yes, my mind was hesitant.

Yes, it was time to change my tag from dependent to independent

I closed my eyes and let the song flood over me. As I called my dad to say my goodbyes, I continued walking towards the gate I thought would be the best for me. 

While the plane flew over Mumbai, I kept thinking of what independence actually is? It’s different for everyone but it drives you to want it. I thought of how dependent I was too! My parents took care for all my needs. We had domestic help and the dhobi bhaiyas at home. The convenience store dada always knew what’s about to run out in our kitchen better than us. It is so easy to wave my hand out and shout, “Rickshaw” every time I want to go somewhere. In the instance that someone misbehaves with me, I can always count on the public around to help me teach the culprit a lesson. I realised there was nothing easier than growing up in India.

After landing, as soon as I breathed in the Egyptian Air, I was looking forward to the changes I would experience there. I would finally be in control. Grocery shopping with my mom was a very restricted shopping experience. But my first-time solo grocery shopping was so much fun, I bought everything I liked on the shelves. I loved waking up and sleeping whenever I wanted. The housekeeper and laundry lady loved me and made me feel welcome. Making toasts, maggie, and heating theplas was very easy too. Everyone was super nice to me because they thought I would be heading back to India within a week. I was living like an Egyptian Princess. I spoke to my parents everyday. The first week went by like a breeze.

After that, things got real, real soon when the bubble burst and everyone realised I wasn’t going anywhere. When I calculated my daily expenses, it turned out I was spending way more than expected. I had carried enough theplas with me for 45 days, but somehow, most of them got spoiled. Now, I had to source all my vegetarian food from whatever was available around! Even my parents got a little occupied with some work back at home, so we rarely spoke. Never before had I missed the comfort of my bed and favourite blanket back at home so much. 

I always imagined independence would taste like asab (Egyptian sugarcane juice) but instead, what I was experiencing was pure karela juice. In Bollywood movies when the actor faces challenges like this, one 3-minute song or a short fight scene solves everyone’s problems. Here, I was stuck with the unlimited karela Juice. The only thing that kept me going was Ekla Cholo Re playing repeatedly in my head. It helped me endure and accept the bitterness, and look for the sweet tinge that came with it. Though I lost my way to my hostel every single time I tried to get home, I gradually found my way to the independence I was looking for.

The karela juice concept changed how I thought, it became important learning for me. Now, whenever I think “someone can do this for me”, a voice in my head says Ekla Cholo Re. Recently, during the lockdown, I didn’t even realize when I subconsciously practiced this. With absolutely no need for travel, I had parked my car and put it aside for 2 months. When the car was needed, I realized the battery was drained. While cleaning out the boot, I found a wire pair that is used to jumpstart a car. Something started cooking in my head but the next minute, singing to the tune of Ekla Cholo Re,  I heard myself say, “Pappa, we are going to fix the car ourselves!” This was my superman moment. I could hear the Jagruti from the Mumbai Airport cheering for me! I didn’t think this was possible, but because I made Egypt happen because I had experienced the karela juice, I successfully jump-started the car myself – twice! The sense of accomplishment that I made this happen was overwhelming.
When made correctly, we can taste the sweetness in a karela juice overpowering its bitterness. Jump starting my independence in Egypt made it possible for me to jump-start my car that day.

[as appeared first on the Enterprise India Fellowship Website]

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