It's only four-thirty a.m. when, as we say in Hindi, my sleep opens -- my body's cadence stuck somewhere between yesterday's Florida and today's Bombay. Dawn breaks evenly across my window as I put on my sandals and step outside into the smoky morning, instinctively heading straight toward the sea.
During the one-mile walk to Carter Road I see more life than I do in complete days back at home in the U.S. The milk man delivers his plastic pouches to a shopkeeper by tossing them one by one in a perfect arc from his bicycle into the kiosk window. Men jog past me in semi-athletic attire, sometimes in chappals that flap on the pavement. Bandra's old church ladies, in their floral-print skirts and dresses, saunter by with sleepy dogs.
Indians are not an extraordinarily active people, but they are people of slow and steady routine. A morning walk for the uncles and aunties, always around six a.m., a cup of tea on the table with The Hindu at seven. I have nothing of the sort in place, even without jet lag, but it's soothing to step into their rhythm.
When I get to the sea I am already damp from the thick, humid air. I walk past the coconut water cart, a sleeping rickshaw driver, and a bench where I've ended up on more than one date with guys I no longer talk to. The waves have no answers for me today -- maybe because I have too many questions.
Last night, when my airplane landed, I took to Twitter (I know, I know) and told two thousand of my closest friends that "Everywhere feels like home." Because everything does -- the purple jacaranda and cooking dinner for my parents in Tampa, and seeing the friends who knew me when I cried hysterically anytime my family left my sight. But also this: the choked roads of Bombay's Western Express Highway, the brick streets named after Catholic saints, the fresh mangoes in the fridge.
There's a decision I need to make soon -- a decision that would already be made if not for a sense of constant belonging. For this, I get advice from all angles. From a mentor who tells me to "get the fuck out" of India before the small risks I take turn into big ones. From the roughened, hardworking guy in the village who asks me if there is anything more real that what I see in front of me out here, away from the self-importance of city-dwelling office people. I wonder who needs me more, and if my idea of need is just a naive and misguiding illusion.
As I look out over the sea wall, the buzz of Bombay waking up behind me, there are many voices in my head -- voices of my family and friends and editors and people I write about. When I turn back they're so loud that I no longer hear my own.