TRANSPLANTED From 110 degrees in the shade to 10 degrees in the Sun


Chapter Two                      My First day in this country                  The New World

On January 30th, 1964, I landed in New York City, where the welcoming torch of the Statue of Liberty glistened in the evening light as my TWA flight descended from the skies.

My husband came to greet me, his bride of one year.  He flew in from Chicago the previous day and had stayed with his friend George, an intern at a State Hospital in Upper New York.  George was kind enough to bring him to the airport.  I walked out of the Customs area, approached my Balu Chettan, that is what I called Raj, and reached down and touched his feet, to honor him as my husband and my elder.  My greeting evoked laughter from Balu Chettan and George, because as two young modern physicians in America, they felt the custom was quite antiquated.  But not me.  Although many miles separated us from our motherland, my heart and my points of reference about everyday civilities of life remained the same as when I left, just two days previously.

We said goodbye to George, and went around to the airport restaurant where my husband bought us donuts and coffee.  With the donuts and coffee we walked to the boarding gate for the plane to Chicago.  My first bite of the donut surprised me with the sugary taste.  In Kerala, we make a salty snack called Vada, which has a central hole and is deep fried.  Although the donut resembled the Vada, the taste was entirely different without the usual onions green peppers and black peppercorns that are present in the Vada.  Despite the total difference from the Vada, I liked the donut.

Seated comfortably at the gate, we held hands and spoke of how we had missed each other, and filled in the news of how we had fared without each other in those long months apart.  Time passed quicker than we had imagined, and suddenly we realized we were the only ones left in the waiting area.

We stopped an airline crew member and inquired why they had not called for boarding.  We were told that all passengers had boarded, and that the aircraft was ready to take off.  We had missed the calls, totally engrossed in each other.  The doors were closed, and the accordion-ramp had been retracted.  We begged him to reopen the door for us to board.  He said his hands were tied.  We needed to get to Chicago, Balu Chettan had to report to duty at the hospital the next morning, and I too was scheduled to start a new job the next morning.  Seeing my tears and the despair in our eyes, he was kind enough to have an airport officer telephone into the plane, and have the crew reopen the door, which had been locked already.  They had to recall the staff to roll the ramp back, so that we could enter the plane.  I am sure the other passengers got a big kick out of a young red-faced couple scrambling to their seats.  As soon as we buckled our seat-belts the plane rolled off to take its place in line for takeoff to Chicago.

Thus we barely made the flight to Chicago that January night.  We were greatly relieved we did not miss the flight, or both of us would have needed to make excuses for being absent from work.  As fate would have it, I did start my Pathology Residency on time the next day.

Shakuntala Rajagopal


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