“An enjoyable… memoir of India.”
On India’s Independence Day in 1962, an Ohio family of six landed dockside at the Bombay Harbor, stranded by holiday miscommunications. It was a fitting introduction to an upside down lifestyle ahead. A two day train journey to their temporary home in the Punjab confirmed the fascination and unpredictability of travel in India.
A Fulbright grant bought them to Chandigarh, the ten-year-old Punjab capitol. Making a home and learning to adjust to India’s complex ways were challenges. Culture shock hit often, and local schools stunned the children. Fortunately, neighbors were welcoming.
Journeys by bus and train took them almost the length and breadth of India. Visits to the Taj Mahal, the Ganges at Benares, the Sikh Golden Temple, four major cities, a hill station, an ancient cave temple carved from rock, and a mud-hut village just skimmed the surface of all that is India. But they revealed awesome beauty and appalling poverty.
Traveling abroad with an open mind and a spirit of adventure can be transformational for any of us. For the author, a single serendipitous photograph on a Punjab college wall recast the entire trajectory of her path toward a fulfilling lifetime.
Unbidden memories of Susie’s agonizing night in Bombay echoed in my mind. In a rush, raw, desperate homesickness gripped me. Where had that month of crazed preparation and the next month of surreal travel landed us? It dropped us into a two-story basement of a house without enough beds to tuck in my children for the night! How could I have snatched them from the safety of their known world and plunged them into this bleak abyss of the unknown? This forbidding place was to be our secure mooring? How could we survive here?
Clutching Susie, I gave in to unrelenting anguish and guilty remorse too deep for tears. The first stab of intense pain spread into an all-encompassing ache. It penetrated every cell of my body, immobilizing me for an immeasurable time. There was no buoying spirit of adventure now to clear away my misery. There was no turning back.
Then, out of the black night, sweet, lilting flute notes floated through the window. A lone pedestrian walking on the country road was keeping himself company in the solid darkness, playing tunes on his bamboo flute. We were not alone, the music reassured. The calming benevolence of his music slowly flowed in, replacing the fear and self-reproach with hope for the months ahead. That gripping homesickness never returned.
Jean Durgin Harlan, PhD, taught child development at Ohio University. She is the author of Science Experiences for the Early Childhood Years, Kindergarten Science, and Science As It Happens. Retired from her clinical psychology practice, Harlan lives in Columbus, Ohio. She has five children and eleven grandchildren.