And so our DNA's are really based on the earth's biology.
To cut a long and complicated story short, I believe all our DNA's have some little coded strand somewhere, that links us to the land we call our own, inextricably linked to the chemistry of that special earth.
Somewhere , around 30-40 years ago, migration from India to the West was a sort of meandering river for several years. Most parents then , slogged very hard to educate their children , denying themselves things and saving up, and it was very common then for children to get financial aid from the Universities abroad because of their hardearned excellent academic performance. Today, what with the economic situation changing over the years, the situation is so different that it is not uncommon to find one child studying/working abroad in a given urban family.
But there has been a price to pay, in terms of wistful parents in their old age, in a society, where there has been a sudden jump. From a society where grown children lived with their families with parents, quiet happily, to an entire population of old parents, that feels the geriatric loneliness, but continues to put up a smiling face to the world, taking solace in the fast communications and visuals of the web cam. Where emails have replaced a worried look, and webcam appearances fill in for a reassuring hand on the elbow.
M was a neighbor and my mother's great friend. Our entire childhood was spent hopping in and out of each other's houses, and we children looked upon her slightly older children, all sons, as kind of role models when we were in school. She was a natural teacher, and a Sanskrit and Mathematics scholar, besides being an amazing mimic with a dramatic bent. She coached students in these subjects at home throughout her life.
The 70's and eighties saw many of us go to the US, some for further studies to return later, and some to a new life in the New World, after completing post graduations. Empty nests were never earlier part of the Indian scene as such. The biggest trauma was seeing your daughter leave to go to her marital home, after her marriage. But somewhere around the late eighties and nineties these same parents suddenly started acknowledging the diminishing nest.
M had three sons, all in the US. One , who had lived with her all along, (and whose children she had looked after as a priority, like her own, so that the couple could work ,) had just left, and she and her husband, a literary person led their own peaceful life, occasionally struggling with old age health problems. They missed their grandkids a lot But didnt want to stand in the way of anyone's ambitions and career plans. The public face was a tad different from what we saw....
Between the two families, I was the only girl child who came back from grad school in the US and remained in India, and I would always go look them up on my visits to my maternal home. They would be full of news about their grandchildren and children. They had visited the US a few times for family occasions when some of the older grandchildren were young, and had great memories. M's health problems now limited her mobility, and so she didn't go on too many long trips. Instead she was a very enthusiastic participant in all kinds of social activities, and was my main accomplice when I was planning a surprise 61st birthday party for my mother, her best friend. She even composed a poem for that occasion and recited it.
One day, I got a call from home, giving me the terrible news. M's husband had passed away in his sleep, after complaining of slight discomfort, after a day spent with some visiting friends. M was devastated. So were my folks, who did their best to help her get back into the run of things in the house, once all the rush of people coming to offer condolences was over.
The children came down from the US. Some to help her organize the confusing paperwork, now that she was by herself. Some just because they thought they should come. And some. because they simply could not stay away. But everyone had to go back to their jobs. It cost a huge amount for entire families to visit, and while the sons came to visit, their families could not.
The nature and vibrancy of Indian society, enables a reasonably fast return to a normal life, with lots of neighbors, friends, relatives, crowding your day, leaving you little time to brood. M's leg was troubling her a bit more now, her movement was restricted. But a whole bunch of parents came by and urged her to take extra classes for their children, and she got used to a solitary life enlivened by these activities. Her friends would drop by, take her along to attend the Marathi theatre , which she really enjoyed. She stopped walking too much, and my mother really missed her friend when she herself was packing for a trip to the US to visit her own sons, and M could not come by because it meant she had to climb a floor. As very old friends since their late twenties with small children, they both shared a lot of confidences, and understood each other very well.
Then suddenly one day, i heard that M was shifting to the US. To be with her sons. They worried about her staying alone. This way she would be close by, and part of their lives. My mother knew about it several months earlier, when M had to make a decision. She could sense was M was thinking. But she also knew, that M would think of herself last, worry about her staying alone causing worry to her children, and as she said , "what could be better than living out your last few years around your children , enjoying their success in life ?".
Her youngest came to escort her to the US. She would stay initially with her youngest child . I had known this fellow as a baby, and was close to him. I was glad she would be with him to begin with. Her house, a rented place, with fixtures and furniture from the childrens' young days was locked up. The landlord, who himself had learned his maths and Sanskrit at her feet, said he would retain the place for her as long as she cared to visit. I would often walk past the place on my visits to my folks , see the boarded windows , search for a gleam of light unconsciously somewhere, suddenly get a lump in my throat and move on.
I lost my mother the next year, and M never saw her friend again. My mother, had returned from a trip to the US where she had gone to attend a grandson's graduation. She had had a bit of a health scare there, but had managed on sheer will power. She flew a long tiring trip of 23 hours, almost exactly 9 years ago, to come stay with me for a while before going to her place. She never did. It was as if she was waiting to reach her homeland before she let go.
I did hear later on from M by post. She was very aware of the cost of long transatlantic phone calls, and restrained herself. I made several trips to my parents place during the year, to do some paperwork, and complete the various formalities, as I was the only child in India, and it fell upon me. I missed the old places to go to. And I wished M was there and that I could go talk to her about my mother.
A year later, on my visit to my parents' house, a neighbor mentioned M was back. Most folks were incredulous. I was, to put it simply, thrilled. I rushed off to her place that afternoon, and was presented with a tableau of M sitting in her living room, her leg resting on a pillow, and assorted middle school children with notebooks sitting around her . The parents in the locality had heard she was back, and had so much faith in her abilities to teach their children, that they came rushing in to welcome her and pleaded with her to start the classes again.
M was back doing what she loved.
I spent an evening with her, listening and talking, and what emerged was something different. She was very comfortable living with her sons . But she had nothing she could do, as unlike in India, there was no concept of people dropping in unannounced. The daughters in law had everything so well set, that they left her out of any work that she could help with in the house. And after so many years , her childrens' families were busy with their own lives, and had little time for her. Casual conversations almost never happened. Everyone was busy. This was worrisome for M. She alternated amongst the children, with the same final conclusion. She was a misfit. Something that was considered normal family conversation in an Indian set up, was now raising eyebrows here. She felt bad about her decision to return. But she wouldn't want to cause a problem in the lives of any of her sons, because she was unable to follow certain norms. Her leg disability restricted her ability to move out of the house, and everyone was very too busy to chauffeur her around, it seemed. Back in India, there were so many people around, she could always wave and stop a three wheeler and go wherever she wanted. Some were even available on phone and would come by to pick you up. She had a talk with her sons and families, and one fine day, her youngest who escorted her to the US, now accompanied her back to settle her in.
M had tears in her eyes when she told me some of her experiences within the family. I made something simple for both of us that evening and both of us shared a quiet dinner. She with a daughter she never had, and me with a mother who was the closest to mine. There was a caretaker lady who came in every evening, cleaned up the place, stayed the night and left after breakfast in the morning, after M had had her bath. M needed help moving around.
I kept meeting M thereafter, often consulting her and confiding in her regarding whatever I was working on, and although physically deteriorating, you could see that she was happy with her life, grateful to all those who made her day, and enjoyed sudden visitors like me. Old students of hers insisted she attend their weddings, someone always came to escort and help her there, some people landed up with sweets to celebrate the success of their child in some exam that she had helped study for. Old folks from the locality, often dropped in to compare notes, talk about hired help, doctors and typical topics such people discuss. And she would write lots of letters. Like the one she wrote my daughter after she competed her boards successfully . Small things, but they thrilled us no end.
One night she went to sleep, and the care taker lady , taking tea to wake her, the next morning, found out that everything was over. Just like that. They called a nephew . He came, took charge and did all the rituals and formalities. None of her sons were able to come at such a short notice. After a suitable interval, the landlord requested the sons to shift the belongings as he wished to allocate the place to someone else, now that M was no more. And one of them came. To do the needful, as they say.
I often wonder, if there is an element of your own earth in your DNA. The feeling of wanting to wing home.
Various people have it to various extents . M had it. My mother had it. To some extent I have it too. I have travelled and stayed for longish periods in many countries, made some very close friends there. But I have always felt that this is my home and my place . Notwithstanding the daily uncertainties of life , the various hassles , unreliable innovative services , inability to do things on time etc etc, this is my place, and it is something, that probably sits there, winking , in one corner of the protein strings of my DNA, as the earth gene in my DNA. It probably came there when I grew up, and is , what scientists call, a dominant gene.
Dr Barbara McClintock, in her Nobel lecture (1983) on the human genome said :
"The ability of a cell to sense these broken ends, to direct them towards each other, and then to unite them so that the union of the two DNA strands is correctly oriented, is a particularly revealing example of the sensitivity of cells to all that is going on within them. They make wise decisions and act on them."
I certainly think the cells have the right idea. Some cells make wise decisions , some don't.
Some folks have that gene, some don't. Sometimes it is dominant, sometimes it is recessive.
As you get older , like me, you notice the dominancy peering round the corner.
And sometimes, you sit back, smile, take a deep breath, and say - "Welcome !".....