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Oindrila Mukherjee

Updated: May 21, 2020

I am always home.

I am 7,888 miles from home.

I cook too much food for one person, mincing and stirring until my apartment and I both smell of spices. Today some of my friends and I are playing Chopped. Trapped inside our very own reality show, we select ingredients that everyone must use. I marinate chicken with yoghurt and tandoori masala, roast parsnip sprinkled with cumin, drizzle spinach and cranberries with vinaigrette. I plate the food so it is aesthetically pleasing for my friends on social media before settling down for a virtual drink with the other contestants. Like me, they are all immigrants from different countries, and like me, they live alone. We are all hungry for connection.

In India, migrant workers line up for hours on city streets for a small bowl of rice gruel. This is all they will eat today, before they return to the rooms they share with a dozen others. They are separated from their families, unable to return to their villages during lockdown. But some of them will try anyway. Some of them will starve to death on their long walk home. Some of them will be run over by a train while they sleep.

My apartment is full of flowers. Sweet-smelling pink hyacinths, red tulips, yellow roses. I never really understood the fuss white poets made about this season until I moved to Michigan, where the winter strips the landscape to its bones. There is a lot I am only beginning to understand now. The sudden arrival of blossoms on the branches of trees that lay bare for months stops me in my tracks. And when the birds start to sing outside my window, even though it is the cruelest month, I open it anyway and let the cold air numb my face.

My ageing parents call from the other side of the world to say they are still alive, and that they can now hear foxes cry out at night in their city of fifteen million people. The sky over Delhi has turned blue for the first time in decades. Thousands of flamingoes have descended upon the wetlands of Mumbai. The snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas are being sighted from balconies across a country where most people had only seen the mountains in movies. I feel something like disappointment, because this is not how I remember my past, and because now I cannot even say, At least where I live it’s prettier.

Disappointment, it turns out, is everywhere these days and it takes many shapes. I hear from people long lost who are now scattered across the globe. Childhood friends and old lovers from different continents want to compare notes across time zones. They ask me how I am, suddenly interested, suddenly kind. We unmask ourselves. We forgive each other.

The whole world has become a foreign country.

In the evenings, when I need to get away from my computer, I take long walks in the woods as the sun sets over the water, slowly at first and then in a mad rush as if it has had enough of this day. Somewhere in a neighboring city, people are protesting against the governor with guns and flags, enraged at their loss of freedom, more ominous than a virus. But here there is no one except me. The evening turns purple with longing. A little rabbit hops up, unafraid, and looks at me to ask, Now that everyone is lonely like us, are we supposed to feel better?

Try to be happy, little bunny, I reply. You may never know the pleasures of monsoon. But at least you have the spring.

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