Holidays must end, as you know; all these memories taken home with me…
– 10,000 Maniacs, Verdi Cries.
Mid-afternoon in Kolkata. Outside the airport doors, it is a hot, blue day. A haze of dust hangs in the air. I can still see the palm trees and mynah birds, the flurry of taxis, and the cohort of buses arriving at the kerb. The sun is at its zenith, casting hard shadows onto the ground. The tinted glass of the windows and doors gives an impression of coolness inside. But out here I am still shrouded by the hot breath of Asia. I have left the chaos and madness of downtown Kolkata behind. I have paid off my taxi driver: a thief who demanded twice the agreed fare once we’d arrived outside the Internationational Departures building. I have my backpack on and my passport in my hand. All I need to do now is to walk through the doors and out of Asia.
Travel is a disappearing act. Leaving for home is, in itself, an adventure: a transition from the outlandish back to the mundane; from the extraordinary back to the ordinary. The adverts, the city bill-boards, the newspaper headlines, the hectoring political loudspeakers: these things spoke to other people. I was leaving. I was leaving the haze of the Indian subcontinent and disappearing back into the clear air of my homeland.
Asia is vast. It spans the world from the edge of the Bosphorus in Turkey to the islands of Japan and beyond: a distance of 11,000 kilometres, or 8,000 miles, or 36 million feet. Someone who lives in Istanbul is as much an Asian as someone from Jakarta or Aurangabad or Kobe. Nearly four and a half billion people walk on the continent of Asia. And for the past month, my two feet had joined them.
But now, I was tired. I wanted to go home. I’d had a great adventure. I’d discovered a lot about myself. But I need the quiet, empty landscapes on New Zealand’s South Island. Holidays must end, as you know, and I had these memories to take home with me.
The doors slide open with a sibilant hiss. The hot breath of the city, the aromas of dust, vegetation, drains, closely-pressed humanity and the background whiff of kerosene from the jet engines roaring overhead fade into memory. India lies behind me. I step through the doorway and out of Asia.