What’s it like to not know where you were born? I mean really know, other than in name and location. To never have seen the streets winding back and forth from the houses and shops. To never have felt the way the sun warms the air, seen the moon color the landscape, or heard the bird songs waking the morning in that particular place of the world. Even to not know the melody and lilt of the words “Nini, Baba, Nini” sung sweetly by an Ayah in a language as foreign as any other language to a newborn’s delicate ears. The journey of birth is always epic for mother and child.
Since I was old enough to listen to stories, I have heard the story of a little girl born in Moradabad, India. How her mother contracted paratyphoid in the spring of her pregnancy and had to be rushed the Salvation Army Hospital. How Lal Mohamed, the Muslim cook, asked permission to ride his bike to the hospital, kneel toward Mecca and share his morning prayers by her door, each day until she recovered. How the mother returned to the foothills of the Himalayan mountains to her husband and two other daughters. Then the terrible fear when she relapsed a few months later, traveled by train to Barilly, shivering under wool blankets in the August heat, to rest at the home of Drs Charles and Wilma Perill. And I have heard how an English midwife at the same Salvation Army Hospital offered the mother a cup of tea after safely bringing a healthy third daughter gasping into an October morning in a barely new, yet ancient, country.
So, when my sister Susan asked me to come to India to celebrate her birthday and bask in the sensory collage of Uttar Pradesh where we were born … to feel the reincarnate quality of that place I had heard of like a ballad, or folk tale, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate midlife journey because I was that little girl. We board the plane in Newark and begin traveling forward, back in time …