“Lime pickle or ginger powder for tea? Which of the two should I leave out?”
Despite Air India’s generous baggage allowance on the Tokyo flight Sarita had agonized over the two after dealing with winter clothing, homeopathic medicines and Vicco Vajradanti toothpaste.
Her son was on a sponsored study course at the University of Tokyo. This trip had come up unexpectedly. The family was to attend his graduation nearly six months away but they had received an official email from the Japanese government mentioning a cardio vascular affliction. “I will need more time to get clearances for international travel. You better go alone,” her husband had urged her. He had seen her off at the Indira Gandhi International Airport with words of encouragement and reassurance.
Sarita was not fooled. Her sixth sense was telling her to prepare herself but she calmed her restless mind during the flight with a looping recitation of the Gayatri Mantra. At the Narita airport, she scrutinized her son keenly as he busied himself with her baggage and the cab.
“Did you bring the gift for Sensei?” were his first words as he turned towards her in the car. She nodded briskly, her eyes drinking him in. The voice stuck in her throat, choked at the memory of her own panic attacks back home at the thought of him alone in a foreign land. She fought down an insane urge to run her hands over his limbs just to make sure he was whole. “I got an inlaid bangle box, thought your teacher would appreciate something traditional” she was finally able to put his mind at rest.
He was pleased, “Can we have her home for a meal soon? Her conversation classes have been a great help.” She patted his knee, swelling up with pride at his ease in this vending machine capital of the world while he pointed out the landmarks along the drive to his university. They were soon enough, removing their shoes at the door to his dorm.
The sun rose sharper in Tokyo. “Mum, be careful with the garbage, all right. Two separate canters come for the cans and the organic.” He had been full of stories about Sensei “I will walk Sayuri Sensei to the dorm from the Ebisu station, she is not familiar with this ward”, he had announced over the kitchen clatter during breakfast.
Sarita saw him off to school and busied herself with organizing his mini residence, “My poor baby does not get time to clean and cook.” And there was the happy anticipation of meeting someone mellow who had clearly been an anchor to her son.
Tokyo’s street lamps had come alive when the front door lock clicked open from outside with a key. Sarita watched curiously as an elongated young Japanese beauty undulated in, ahead of her blushing son. Several times during the polite evening, insecurity stabbed at her as she watched Sayuri’s serene melancholy fend off his smitten looks. He had clearly drawn great strength from her. “Your son is a brave man. It can get very lonely here if you do not know the language,” Sayuri smiled at the mother, admiring the bangle box closely. “Yes, we got an official communication about his health,” Sarita’s voice was tentative.
There was the slightest hesitation before Sensei dived into her neat handbag to pull out a tightly folded sheet of paper. “I took him to a private clinic here before the school got wise to his condition” she held it out for Sarita.
Indeed, it was a medical prescription in her son’s name drawn up by one Dr. Tsuneo Takagi, Researcher and Social Isolation Expert, Roppongi Hills Clinic.
The words pierced her clouded vision as Sarita struggled to reconcile cardio vascular trouble with medical notes on social pain, expatriate loneliness, interaction therapy and depression.
A voice yawned in her head. It was her mother, “Don’t be so ambitious! Keep your children with you as long as you can, you are sending them too far away from home.”