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The first thing I notice, as I step off the plane in Chennai, is the air. It has the musty, humid smell of a jungle, with a dash of car exhaust thrown in. The ground staff are waiting with wheelchairs and walkie talkies, many are smiling, some have their hands clasped in a prayer gesture, a common greeting in India. They are warm and welcoming. Indian folks are notoriously friendly.

I hurry to the passport control line. I’m nervous because every year I make a mistake on the landing form, and one of these days that mistake may get me pulled into an immigration office. I’m a foreigner and everyone knows it.

After passport control, I head to the exit. Even at 2 am, hundreds of locals are leaning against a metal guard rail outside the door, waiting for family and friends. Women wear colorful saris and the men are dressed in white shirts and pants. Freud might have something to say about that, but I’m no psychiatrist.

I get a taxi. The driver is barefoot. Oh well, OSHA’s long arm doesn’t reach this far. Inside the vehicle, I swat at mosquitoes—malaria, anyone?—as the driver laughs dismissively. I ignore him and keep smashing mosquitoes. They bleed red. Is that my blood?

The streets of Chennai are a shocking sight. There’s big tangles of wires dangling from power lines, trash everywhere, potholes galore, and stray dogs searching for dead rats or whatever food they can scrounge. Skinny old men wearing coats and scarves huddle around 55 gallon drum fires. It’s only 75 degrees—chilly by local standards. 

Arriving at my hotel, bundles of incense are burning on the reception counter. Fluorescent lights illuminate colorful pictures of Hindu gods hanging on the walls. After checking in, a barefoot bellboy takes my bag and leads me to my room. I tip him, close the door, flop down on the spartan bed and let out a laugh. 

The long trip is over and I’m back in Mother India. It feels just like home.

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