What I missed most when I moved from India to Atlanta? The steady stream of visitors to my home.

Doors are for letting people in
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India

Illustration by Grace Helmer

The house where I grew up in India had eight entryways, some wide and welcoming, others narrow and inconspicuous. Early every morning, before the newspaper delivery man tossed a neatly folded edition of the Times of India on our dew-covered front lawn, my arthritic grandmother would shuffle from room to room unlocking all eight doors.

Throughout the course of the day, one could expect periodic visits from providers of services and purveyors of goods. Fruit and vegetable vendors carting their wares along neighborhood thoroughfares yodeled for attention at the kitchen door. The occasional bangle seller, rag collector, or astrologer would ring the back doorbell in staccato touches. The cleaning lady sauntered freely through the foyer every afternoon with a loud, lilting “Namaste!” to announce her arrival.

Neighbors often dropped by unannounced for a cup of tea, always bringing a generous portion of a freshly prepared delicacy or sweetmeats to accompany a felicitous announcement: stellar grades on an exam, a visa to study in America, the arrangement of nuptials, the birth of a child. It was this constant opening and closing of doors that I missed most when I moved to Atlanta with my family more than a decade ago.

Our single-family home in Morningside had only two doors: the mudroom, which served as our main access, and the front door, which we rarely unlocked. Once all the affable neighbors had come by with thoughtful welcome gifts, the front door was nothing more than a cobweb-festooned bolted barrier expressly purposed to keep people out.

Cocooned in my house—embellished with Indian motifs and redolent with the dense aroma of curry—I felt safe, but not at home. It was just too quiet. No honking, no hawkers or carnivalesque wedding processions. The absence of sundry sounds was a constant reminder of what I’d left behind. The silence, though agreeable, was oddly unsettling in equal measure. I missed the mayhem. I missed, too, the unplanned, spontaneous comings and goings of neighbors (that on occasion I had thought of as intrusive). Everything in America seemed efficiently structured and excessively orchestrated, from children’s playdates to a cable technician’s visit. The predictability of quotidian life, the almost certain knowledge of who stood on the other side of a closed door, was at once reassuring and monotonous.

One afternoon during our first summer in Atlanta, the anomalous chirp of the doorbell took me by surprise. The sweet young girl from across the street was at our door holding an empty cup. She stumbled through my name in greeting, apologized for the bother, and asked to borrow a cup of sugar. It warmed my heart to know that she had chosen to come to our doorstep when there were so many other homes in the neighborhood.

The next morning there were a bag of cookies and a note at our door—a “musical” greeting card with a child’s voice belting out the words “thank you” in tuneful repetition. And all at once, I knew I was home.

About the author
Reetika was born and raised in a small town in northern India. While growing up, she traveled the world extensively with her father, an officer in the merchant navy. After receiving and honors degree in psychology from Delhi University, she worked as a flight attendant with Lufthansa before settling to write, first as a senior features editor for Elle magazine and then as an associate features editor for Elle Decor in Mumbai. She later moved to Atlanta, where her work has been published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Khabar magazine. Recently she published her first work of fiction, Kismetwali & Other Stories. Reetika is currently working on two books and contributes regularly to Medium and other online journals.

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