7 red stripes, 6 white, and 50 stars across a blue rectangle in left hand top corner
When I was deciding over coming to US for work, almost no one I knew talked to me about it objectively. Vikas was convinced I'm running away from Ghaziabad for foolish personal reasons, "Mansi is not Ghaziabad; Ghaziabad is not Mansi", he told me again and again, hoping I'd yield to reason. If I were he and he were I, I'd do the same.
We were both born and brought up in the same city. When you live in the same city for 23 years and have only one close friend, it's something you don't want to let go without fighting.
My mother was very encouraging but I knew she was very sad on the inside. My brother had moved for work to Kanpur some months back and once I was gone, my parents would be left alone. If I were my mother, I wouldn't let myself go at any cost.
Tricolor; Saffron, White and Green stripes, a 24 spoke wheel in the center. 'Ashoka Chakra'. I've been asking around for a small flag of India to put on my work desk for several months before I decided to call my brother back in India and ask him to mail it to me. He went to a local Gandhi Khadi Ashram and bought one for me.
Papa was concerned how I'd live and manage my life, "There is no one we know in that country, not even the most distant relatives. It is tens of thousands of miles away. What if something happens to him? Who would inform us? What is wrong with his job here? He earns so well, what's wrong with him?" he often asked my mother.
All this while he also kept getting the stuff he knew I'd need in travel and after reaching there. A table alarm clock, a very inexpensive one, with Mickey Mouse waving a hand in the center; He remembered how I loved him as a kid. An umbrella, a thick double-sided jacket ... All the little things, as if they don't make them in US.
When I received the Indian flag in mail, I was very happy. I felt that a part of home is with me. Like the long since broken Mickey Mouse alarm clock I still keep by my bed because that reminds me of my father. Man of 26 years, I still cry when I'm touched, the emotional weakling that I am; and I did.
It wasn't the flag. It's not like I didn't miss India, but I didn't miss it all 'that' much. All I missed was 'Home'; all I missed was myself a few years in the past, that careless kid. This thing, this piece of cloth was a part of home to me, part of myself.
Tayaji, my father's elder brother, was the only person in the family and city to discuss my future plans like a friend with me, asked me about my fears, tried to fit him selves in my shoes and honestly talk. He told me he was proud of me to have made it on my own to US.
"You're the first one in the family about to make a living in the big country. Next generations will use you as an achievement scale. But going there is not enough. You should also prove yourselves, in work and in culture. Meet local people, understand their view of life, and talk about your own. Such experiences make one a wiser man."
When he got up to leave, I touched his feet like always, he touched my head like always and said, "Don't worry, and remember, you come from a family who's seen the hardest days possible. Your grandfather started his life from scratch after partition in a new country; a new city with new friends and not one of his ten children are without good education or good jobs. Like they say in America, 'You can't not succeed'", and he chuckled.
My naani (Granny), who I call Jhhaiji with love and respect, kissed my forehead when I told her I've got a job in US and I've decided to go and join it.
I pinned the Indian flag to the ceiling on top of my desk and started to answer all the obvious questions of the visitors - "No, I don't miss India all THAT much", "No, I'm not THAT patriotic towards India", "No no no - I do care about it, only that I'm not very crazy about it", "It's a gift".
My last evening in Ghaziabad, I was smoking after boozing with Vikas in his car at a gas station near my home. "Don't go buddy, you'll never come back." He told me.
"I would, in at most a year", I said.
"No one ever returns from America, ..." he said.
"I would", I assured him.
It's been more than three years; I've visited home more than once in this duration but have not yet decided to move here or return for good.
Trying to call India was so difficult on 11th September morning. Almost every one from India wanted to call and tell their family back home that they are fine. Although everyone knows back home I'm in California and attacks were in New York, still, when you are tens of thousands of miles apart, distance of hundreds of miles seem miniscule.
I started calling at 7:00 in the morning, and soon realized that it's not going to be easy, but knowing how worried my father can get in such situations, I kept trying. Near 11:00, I could reach home. Papa picked up and as expected, was very worried for me.
"I'm fine papa. West coast is fine; and thankfully I'm there", I assured my father.
"There is nothing to be thankful about in this entire episode Rishi", my father said rather seriously, "Its just plain bad news."
By evening, the events had settled in deep. As much as it was difficult to stop reaching out for news through radio, web sites or everything catbox; it kept making me very depressed by the hour. My mood kept getting viscous and viscous.
After about a week of this episode, I was filling gas in my car when I noticed this women selling American flags by the side of the gas station; the small ones for the radio antennas of cars, larger ones for hanging in balconies, T-shirts with flag imprinted.
I bought a medium sized one for my car antenna and fixed it on my car.
I was driving down home with American flag waving on my car's antenna representing my support for the cause. And it occurred to me slowly and steadily; it started to settle in that this flag has also, in few past years become a part of my life. Not any more or any less than the tricolor, but in its own niche, in its own fashion, this is also a part of the person that I am today. 7 red stripes, 6 white, and 50 stars across a blue rectangle in left hand top corner.