I have twenty one kilos to my name right now. I know precisely because before our frenzied check in for our flight to Amritsar we weighed all our bags and redistributed and left things behind to avoid even the slightest overweight fee.
Half a kilo is chai masala, my favorite taste of India in the only form that is bring-home-able. I hope I can make it for my American family as well as my mata ji in Varanasi did for me. She measured out how much spice and sugar we needed and handed the spoon to me to dump it in the pot, congratulating me on my amazing cooking. I am carrying memories of sipping chai by streetside tea stalls and from a big mug during Hindi lessons.
A lot of what I brought I could have left in California. More space than it deserves is taken up by a skirt, a nice outfit from home which I immediately replaced with kurtis and an anarkali when I got to India. I packed for every eventuality, despite the fact that the majority of our trip was in a city with no shortage of tiny general stores tucked into the alleys near my house. I have two bottles of bug spray, almost entirely unused (which I came to regret during my brief bout of dengue).
The space I devoted to bags of my favorite American sour candies was freed up quickly, although I suspect it will be filled up again before my flight home with burfi and soan papadi and coconut ladoo.
I haven’t had my Spotify, so I have recorded a list of songs in the back of my notebook to eventually become a Bollywood playlist I can bring home. I’m bringing my new ability to dance the first ninety seconds of Malhari.
I’ve left other things behind here. Photos of San Francisco and gifts from home now live with my host family, left behind with a note Saurabh-ji helped transcribe into Devanagari script. A scarf I bought on a desperate day of cold in Ladakh was abandoned in Varanasi’s heat. Books I brought were swapped and read and annotated and torn and eventually left at our program house to slowly turn yellow in the monsoon dampness.
“Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”