BY Naazish YarKhan

‘Time flies when you’re having fun’ is such a cliché and yet, there aren’t more appropriate words to describe my current stay in Muscat. For all the many times I’ve been here, none have been as charged with fun-filled activity as these last two weeks. I had siblings, cousins and relatives descend to this haven in the Middle East to celebrate my brother’s wedding reception. We spent a night out in the Wahiba Sands and ran the gamut of activities from dune-bashing to camel rides to counting stars in a bejeweled sky. That I couldn’t scale the sand dunes as quickly as my younger cousins or nieces or nephews was testimony to the fact that I’d well and truly graduated to ‘aunty’ status.
Then turning our attention from desert to sea, we hit Jussa beach and headed into the deep blue to look for dolphins. After that, in true ‘aunty’ fashion, I sat on the sea shore while the twenty-somethings and kids frolicked amongst the waves. I reasoned that the temperature of the water was the deterrent. But who was I fooling? I wasn’t interested in getting soaked and sandy.

Amidst all this, of course, was my brother’s wedding reception – the reason our family had assembled here. It was a nine year gap since I’d last met my brother, who now lives in Australia. Assembling as adults always brings with it the question of how the persons we have grown into, will all meld together. Will it be one well-oiled machine of a family or will there be more friction than not? Well, the chunks in our heart, as each of the cousins, and today my brother and his wife, left are better proof than what words can articulate. Our group of Charades playing, Tag playing goof-balls whittled down day- by-day until just my sister and her kids and one of my cousins and my own family are left here. The sound of laughter and shrieks of excitement still ring in my imagination but the people to accompany those sounds don’t come sauntering down the stairs, ready to pile into the car. The memory of us singing and telling jokes, as we drove all over the place from my parents home in Al-Hail, is still vivid. But those who came up with some of those brainwaves, are nestled once again, in their routines and daily agendas, in far away lands. Yep, there were some arguments but the ache for those mostly happy, laughing faces is a tell tale sign of what remains in our hearts.

As I prepare to leave this Friday, it’s a sad feeling, too: This notion of leaving your parents to their own doings, leaving them to an empty house, where the room doors don’t open and shut constantly because the grand-children have too much energy. Where the kids don’t run up and greet their nana, or ask him to watch them perform a play. It makes one question the notion of families and how it no longer means togetherness. In our romantic minds, sure, that’s the image conjured up when you say the word ‘family’ but how often, in our real lives, is it that? Mine isn’t the only family where the siblings each live in a separate country and/or continent. In fact, rare is the Indian family where families live in the same nation. This is as true of well-to-do families, where economics may not necessarily be the driving factor.

But I have nothing to complain of. Guest worker visas, with no family re-unification, ensure that families will be separated for years on end. A conversation with a Philipino friend revealed how she had raised her siblings, only a few years younger than herself, while her mother had worked overseas. South Asian laborers, too, live with this reality only too intimately. The emotional cost of missing your child’s first birthday, his first words, his graduation from high school. Children growing up without their father’s hand on their shoulder, or their mother’s kiss on their head. There was a documentary on the emotional and mental costs on immigration once about villages of women, left without their men folk, living with the uncertainty that their husbands would ever return from foreign shores or stay faithful while gone all those years. Thinking of those realities, rather than my own impending departure from my greatest cheerleaders, gives me goose bumps all over. A psychotherapist once said, adulthood is when you learn to be a parent to your own self. I guess I don’t want to be that adult for today. Good parents give their children both roots and wings. So how come we use those wings to further ourselves from our roots?

And then I slap my wrist. Am I, in my sadness, being ungrateful for God’s blessings? It’s a privilege, in a way, to be a writer and a writer with an audience, at that. I say this because, sitting here, compiling these thoughts has left me with one feeling. A feeling that I’d not necessarily begun writing the article with, and that is gratitude. Gratitude to God that my family and many of my cousins and relatives were able to come together for this occasion, from all parts of the world. Gratitude for the laughter we shared, the catching up, the getting to know each other better. Gratitude to my parents for being such incredible hosts to us, to their grand-kids and all our relatives who shared their roof recently. Thanks to them, we kids were able to renew ties, and no doubt, we’re all returning home richer for the love we’ve shared, the memories we’ve created together. In five days, God willing, I will be returning to a cold, far away city called home. As I prepare to leave, I pray that this short yet fully-lived vacation, will become one of many, many family reunions.