India is first and foremost the land of smells. Entering the airport or most large buildings there is the unmistakeable smell of stale sweat and spices masked only by the copious amount of bleach used for cleaning in any Indian facility. It’s a comforting smell, as are the smells coming from the kitchen where I sit and ponder this. Cumin seeds crackling in ghee, fresh green chillies burning my nostrils and the smell of the cold steel thalis. Outside the streets are less appealing but nevertheless they have a real small. The smell of dirt,dung, exhaust fumes, aluminium,fresh flowers and sizzling street food trigger memories in my brain and livens me up.
I have been to India before. In a weird way, India feels like home for me. My father, falling in love with India when he was 21, has instilled this love in myself and my sister permanently, even going so far as to name us Leela and Lakshmi. I spent part of my childhood growing up in the lush foothills of the Himalayas, I spent christmas breaks traveling around Rajasthan with my family visiting family friends, eating Nutella smeared on Chapattis, searching for the best Dosas in Delhi. I love India, which is why I have decided to come back. From the minute I step off the plane, from my first taste of chai from a street vendor, the first rickshaw driver that tries to rip me off, the first conversation with head wobbles; from when I change into my Salwar Kamis in the Dubai airport, braiding my hair into a plait, applying a bindi – I feel home, enveloped by India’s crushing,warm and all-consuming hug.
And so it is now. I sit cross-legged on the cold marble floor, the daughter of the cook curiously contemplating the giant white woman in front of her. A cup of warm sweet milk steams in front of me, a TV in the background blares popular Kollywood songs. My eyes are drooping and tired from a long day and night of travel. My head feels heavy, my mind clouded but I feel good, my heart is happy. How could it be otherwise? I am in India. I am home.