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


Chapter Three           My New Home  

The plane landed in Chicago after midnight. Our friends, doctors John, Eipe, Radhakrishnan and Rajasekharan met us at Chicago O’Hare airport and drove us to our apartment in Berwyn. I knew the street address on Kenilworth Avenue by heart, because I had addressed umpteen envelopes carrying pages and pages of my love and my tears and my hopes to my husband for the past seven months.

If first impressions count, I should have turned tail and taken the next flight back to where I came from. The blast of Winter air hit me as I walked out of the Airport. Balu Chettan, (Raj,) had warned me in his letters how cold it was, and I did wear woolen pajamas under my saree, and a warm woolen sweater. Still, arriving from Trivandrum, where it was 90° F when I left, it took my breath away.

He quickly got me into the car and Eipe turned on the heat. As we got on the road, the vision of countless cars traveling at an immeasurable speed on what appeared to be long ribbons curving into the dark night, which I was told were ‘highways,’ and the lines of white head-lights coming toward us, while lines of red tail-lights went in the direction in which we were headed, was confusing. To my simple question as to how fast we were going, I was told, “50 to 60 miles per hour.”

Having left my hometown roads just seventy-two hours earlier, where the fastest a car went was 30 mph, and slowed down or even stopped for horse drawn carriages sharing the same roads, the traffic that I saw, in the middle of the night, was unbelievable and scary.

Once in our apartment, I shared all the news from our hometown, Trivandrum, with the friends. I unpacked my suitcase and distributed the items I had brought for them from their families.

I handed John the baby pictures of his firstborn, the baby he had not seen yet. John had left for Chicago in December 1963, and his son Bobby was born in January 1964. Special banana chips from Eipe’s mother, which he immediately opened and shared with us. As I opened the bag of curry powder, homemade in my mother’s kitchen, I remembered Balu Chettan had said in his letters how they missed our food and was waiting for me to arrive and make an authentic and tasty Chicken curry. I invited them all for dinner on Sunday. It was 2.30 A.M on Friday.

We still sat reminiscing, when the phone rang. Another friend, Dr. Thomas Bose, called to say that his barber had given him such a bad haircut that morning, he did not want to shock me in the middle of the night; that is the reason he did not come with the others to meet me at the airport. Because I was to start my Residency the next day at the same hospital where he worked, he promised to see me there.

I walked around to see what the apartment looked like, since this was to be my home for the next year or two.

There was one spacious room with a large couch set against a wall, and a window on the opposite wall with pale yellow see-through curtains, open to the darkness of the night.  Off to the right of this room I entered a small dining area with a wooden table and two chairs leading into a kitchen with a refrigerator, stove, and kitchen sink. When I opened the refrigerator for a can of Pepsi, my back touched the side of the sink. It was the smallest kitchen I had ever seen.

The kitchen in my Ammoomma’s house had wood-burning stoves which held pots large enough to cook rice for ten to twelve people each meal. The outside sink, where cooking pots were washed was at least three times the size of the kitchen sink I was faced with. This little kitchen in Berwyn was where I would cook entire meals for the first time in my life. I knew how to make idlis, steamed rice cakes, and I knew how to make my favorite deserts. Knowing I would be ‘keeping house’ when I came here, I did work with the cook back home to prepare some curries and some vegetable dishes, unique to our part of India. However, I had never in my life cooked an entire meal for five people, let alone for the two of us. I took a deep breath and said to myself, “I have to start somewhere. Might as well be here.”

Returning to the main room, I passed the group of friends and on to a dressing area with built-in cabinets and drawers for clothes. This led into the bathroom. Although small, the sink, bathtub and bathroom were clean, and the white towels spotless. This was encouraging.

Where is our bed?  Where is our bedroom?  I racked my brain and failed to come up with the possibility for a space for the bed. Where has Balu Chettan been sleeping?  I did not dare ask him in front of the four other friends. Knowing we had parted as newly-weds just months ago, and knowing this was our first reunion; any question of a missing bed would bring an onslaught of ridicule. I was smart enough to hold my tongue. I could barely wait until they left, about 3:30 A.M.

“Where do we sleep?”  My question was answered with a burst of laughter, a hug and a kiss.

Balu Chettan took my hand and led me to the couch, yanked off the cushions, grabbed the seat up and out popped a full sized bed all made up with fresh white sheets. It was magic. Laughing uncontrollably, he brought out two pillows and a blanket from a cabinet and set out to make the bed.

I burst into tears. Balu Chettan pulled me close in a tight embrace. “Sorry Penné.” His soft tone soothed and comforted me. Penné, (girl,) was what he called me, his own special girl. I wiped my tears and kissed him, holding on for dear life.

My sobs had released the tension of departure from my own familiar home, and my arrival in a strange land. I sighed with relief that I didn’t have to sleep on the floor in my new apartment.

I had never seen a hide-away bed before.

January, 1964


2 responses »

    • Thank you Candace. Reallyiate your comments. I will continue with my memories, and also plan to add about mygrowing up inIndia Shaku

      Have a great day! Shakuntala Rajagopal


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