essay / memoir
geeta kot har i
There is a reason we were planted in a certain place. . . . Our people have a
saying: The whole essence of travel is to go back home.
—Chinua Achebe, interview in the New York Times, January 10, 2000
ccording to Hindu tradition, after death, the soul leaves
the body and is in transit for 14 days as it leaves this earthly plane.
When my mother died, my aunt advised me not to cry as it would
make it more painful for the soul to detach. I cried in private then,
at three in the morning while my father slept in our hotel room, and at the
café in Khan Market where I went to write—and every time I cried, I thought
about my mother’s soul on the move. And then I cried some more.
Among the many items my mother left me after she died: some notes
and a stack of old passports, including her ﬁrst two Indian passports, issued
in the 1950s when she ﬁrst left India for the United States. Multiple visas
ﬁll the pages: Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Switzerland, Germany,
Israel, Norway—and the G-4 visa for the United States, the one constant in
all her passports for the next 40 years.
I should frame these passports and place them next to the Pan Am post-
ers on my kitchen wall, for when I think of my mother, I think of her ﬂying.
I think of her in transit. The framed posters feature propeller planes ﬂying
over the island of Manhattan—one in daylight, the other one at night. Both
80 3 fourth genre
planes hover over the southern tip of the island, with the Statue of Liberty
visible at the bottom of the nighttime scene. In these twin landscapes, there
is an Empire State building, but no United Nations. These are not the planes
my mother would have ﬂown when she left India in 1951, but when I look at
them, I imagine her hovering over New York, full of anticipation and excite-
ment, homesickness and nerves. She was the