Human Interests and Social Pursuits

“This Is A New And Better Beginning By The Bay.”

When we landed at San Francisco Airport, it was raining. We called a cab to take us to our hotel. We had visited the city by the bay several times before, but this time it felt very different.

For starters, we were travelling with way too much luggage. We also felt completely exhausted, very unlike enthusiastic travellers. This time was indeed unlike our previous excursions.

It was in January 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic became what it was, that we took the decision to move back. Both me and my husband were working at a tech giant based on the West Coast. However, our families were way back in Kolkata. We had spent almost a decade in the US for our academic and professional pursuits. Meanwhile, our parents had aged and battled various ailments. We felt we needed to be closer to them, and visiting once a year was simply not enough. We boldly decided to bid farewell to our life in the USA and return home to Kolkata, driven by our passion for entrepreneurship.

While the decision was a tough one for various reasons, one thing we hadn’t fully anticipated was the exact process of shipping our belongings back home. One thing became obvious at the outset: we could not carry our furniture back. Hence, we had to sell it off or donate it. This was an emotional process. After all, we had picked out each piece of furniture that adorned our apartment. From the red recliner in the living room to the cosy nightstand in the bedroom, they all had fond memories associated with them. But we had to brace ourselves and slowly start the process of listing our furniture for sale or donation.

The second task was to sell our car. That was difficult. We just couldn’t seem to shake off memories of the countless trips we took, and even just driving to work or doing weekly grocery runs, our silver Camry was our dear friend. I vividly remember the day we took our car to the dealership and signed it off. The sight of our dear companion standing forlorn in the parking lot is not something I can ever forget. It probably was tougher on my husband, as he used to drive our car on most occasions and felt quite heartbroken to part with his dear possession.

So, it probably goes without saying that when we landed in San Francisco this time, we were physically and emotionally drained. Because it was not a typical trip, this time around, we decided to stay like locals and chose a hotel in a residential neighbourhood. On our previous trips, we had stayed at fancy hotels at the Embarcadero, close to the Oakland Bay Bridge, and once even in the historical Palace Hotel. But this time, more than exploring the city like excited tourists, as we had done several times before, we wanted to recharge and rewind.

We started every morning with a stroll by the bay, with seagulls flocking around and saying hello to the sea lions at Pier 39. We followed our breakfast at the café by the bay with long walks on the city’s wavy roads. We often pondered how similar the roads are to life itself, full of ups and downs and surprise turns. Yet, we must attempt to brave through such situations with a steady heart and a warm smile.

On one of those mornings, we made our way to Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Shop. As we learned the intricacies of the chocolate-making process and feasted on delicious hot chocolate while picking up some souvenirs for home, we felt sheer joy and warmth, engaging in discussions on how we planned to adjust to life back in Kolkata.

One of the things that left us quite overwhelmed was the loss of my fancy designer purse containing my shades, makeup, watches, and jewellery, and ironically, the keys to all our suitcases!!! This happened sometime on our trip from the airport to the hotel. Urging hotel staff to show us their CCTV footage led to the alarming realisation that I had left the purse in the cab that brought us to the hotel. By this time, it had already been more than an hour. Multiple attempts to contact the cab driver via the company that took the reservation failed. This was a big blow to our already exhausted selves. The hotel staff suggested we retire for the night and try to contact local keysmith services the next morning.

And so, we did. The keysmith who arrived the next morning got a big van with them, much to the collective shock of other tourists. This van had an uncanny resemblance to the vehicle the wicked robbers in the Home Alone movie rode in!! This recollection did bring a smile to our weary lips.

As it turned out, the keysmith was efficient and broke off the locks on our suitcases. All you need now are new locks, he declared with a smile. We did finally get a set of new locks from a nearby grocery store. It felt good to regain access to the little part of our world that we had managed to carry along after an unforeseen hiccup.

We decided to file a missing report for the lost designer purse, as its contents also held deep sentimental value to us. We found our way to the closest police precinct to do the needful. Once we were there, we were quite unprepared for the whole experience. In our 8+ years of stay in the US, we never had to venture inside a police precinct; on occasion, we may have had to interact with officers on the street. We discovered a homeless man inside; he was begging the police officers to let him stay somewhere for the night. The kind lady who spoke to us did listen to all the details but was frank. The officers simply had too much going on. Looking for a missing purse was the least of their priorities. While we were still inside the precinct, we heard a gunshot nearby, and an alarm went off, leading to a group of officers marching out to attend to the scene. The lady who attended to us gave a wry smile. This is the crime situation; you can understand how busy we are. Be careful while you make your way back to the hotel, she added. As we slowly did, the realisation dawned on us that, while our problems often seem huge and insurmountable, bigger issues do exist in the world. I guess this entire episode taught us the art of letting go.

When we boarded the flight back home, it was International Women’s Day, and the all-women crew conducted the Air India flight back home with much elan. Indeed, it was a proud moment for all of us, especially the women on the flight. After we landed in Kolkata, following a stopover in Delhi, it was raining once again, kind of like a full-circle moment of reaching home. The pandemic-induced lockdown hit us within a fortnight and put some more obstacles in our way as we endeavoured to establish our educational venture. Like many families worldwide, the pandemic struck us hard, resulting in the loss of one of our dear family members. Despite encountering numerous obstacles, we persevered with optimism and faith.

Our experience of wrapping up our lives in the US, bidding goodbye to one chapter of our lives in San Francisco, and restarting at the bay after having parted with so many dear possessions taught us the important life lesson that indeed we can restart at any time. Now that we’ve trained some students at our institute who are placed in premier institutes in the country, when we look back at the wonderful reviews they’ve left us and when they tell us how they’ve benefited from our mentoring, we do feel a sense of validation. Life does move through various phases. Just like the wavy streets of San Francisco, life flows and meanders through twists and turns.

In the midst of everything, we welcomed a baby boy into our family last September! This came with its own learning curve. Parenthood is indeed another winding road, where you feel a strange mix of exhaustion and elation in equal measure! We have been trying to use our learning from our years spent in the US to navigate the challenges that we face now as well. Crossing unchartered territory, both literally and metaphorically. The exact situations are quite different, but the context often allows us to draw from our previous learnings. And now, visiting the Bay of Bengal with our infant son, the reflection that comes to our minds is: Life is all about connecting the dots!

Arijita Mukherjee Chakraborty

Arijita Mukherjee Chakraborty is an author with a passion for writing. She grew up immersed in books and has a particular love for authors like Satyajit Ray, Jhumpa Lahiri, J.K. Rowling, and Paulo Coelho. Arijita holds a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois at Chicago and previously worked at Intel Corporation. She returned to Kolkata in 2020 to be closer to family and now runs an edtech startup mentoring students in STEM. Writing serves as a therapeutic outlet for her thoughts and emotions, showcasing her unique perspective, shaped by her academic background and life experiences.

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