Lockdown has given me time to think of loss and for me that word always takes me to one of the closest and most wonderful relationships, the one between my grandmother and myself and here I write for the first time about the journey we made from India to the UK. I must have been told the story many times but in my imagination it always grows larger, the snow thicker, the plane bigger… so here is my writing from isolation:
I am 18 months old, bound for England, huddled beside my majee on a plane for the first time. In my baby mouth I only know the words of togetherness, gatherings. We have been as closely bound as stitches on the rajaii that the women of the house sew between cups of steaming chai, laughing and gossiping.
I will learn new words, loose words like bird and school and milk. And slowly the thread that pulled us all tight will start to unravel.
As soon as we touch the new land my majee kneels on the tarmac covered in snow, her white chuni billowing behind her like wings. She presses her forehead to the runway as if it were holy Sagarmatha, the peak of Everest. She rises, leaving her palm prints, a flash of memory engraved forever.
Where is the slick fur of the home cows, the dusty walk to the well, the world that knows my bawling baby steps? I sit on my haunches, smooth heels against the floor, slurp my tea.
Jasbinder Bilan is a children’s author. Her debut middle-grade novel Asha And The Spirit Bird won the Times/Chicken House Competition. It was longlisted for the Jhalak Prize 2020, shortlisted for the Waterstones Book Prize 2020 and won the Costa Children’s Book Award 2019. Her next book Tamarind And The Star Of Ishta is published in September 2020.