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Anu Kumar

The Sound of Planes

America at Peace (detail) by Rockwell Kent

In my teenage years, an old radio kept me company. My father’s job in the government moved us around to various places in the country, and we lived in five different houses during those years. I would tune in to shortwave stations and encounter the sounds of static, a prolonged buzz, even bubble noises irrupting like someone giggling in space. I believed then the universe could fit inside a small box and that it could be carried around everywhere.


Once every month, my parents drove to a town an hour’s ride away to buy household supplies. We lived then in Orissa, a state in India’s east, in a town called Sambalpur by the river Mahanadi. My parents drove in my father’s official cream-colored station wagon, north toward Jharsuguda, following the highway that still runs along the river.

There weren’t many of these cars then, and even now, for the Fiat Company soon stopped making them. It was a low roofed car, and very spacious. Because my father was an important official, it had a red beacon on top. But this was rarely used, except that one evening when an errant trailer driver refused to give way to my father’s official car on the highway and Mahakud, the driver, kept honking away. He made a persistent and prolonged peeping noise, his brown stubby thumb pressed right at the center of the steering wheel. Then Mahakud pressed a switch somewhere to his left, just by the gear stick, and I saw the front window take on a shiny glaze, streaks of red light dappled across the car’s bonnet and the road ahead turned an eerie blue color.

The driver ahead pulled his truck to the side, the vehicle lurching in seeming reluctance, and father pulled down his side of the window and shouted a few choice words to the driver.

The driver had glazed eyes, I remember, and wore a turban. So he was a sardarji, a Sikh from the Punjab, a state up in the north. He was very far from his own land, I thought, and I envied him the fun job he had moving around the country in his truck, though it could get tiring. He only nodded at my father’s words and kept nodding even after my father had finished and gestured to Mahakud to drive on ahead. We were already far ahead, and when I looked back, I noticed the truck still standing, a bit askew, by the roadside. It looked like a forlorn small black square framed by the trees on either side of the road.


My parents’ Jharsuguda trip happened usually on the first weekend of every month. They returned home with huge bags full of everything possible – household essentials and food items in bulk. Soaps, bottles of vegetable oil, sacks of flour, and rice and smaller packets of dal, and then cookies of different kinds and fruit cakes too. Occasionally, when our parents were especially indulgent, we received small bars of Cadbury’s milk chocolate.

My parents went to this town, almost an hour away from home to get these supplies, for they knew a Marwari merchant who had a big store there. They had known him for a long time. The store wasn’t like the malls that would come up two or more decades later, first in India’s big cities and then everywhere. The store was like a big hall, more than twice the size of the drawing and dining hall of the old bungalow we lived in then. Jute sacks, the size of tall oil drums, full of flour, rice and pulses were arranged in the center. And on shelves all round, arranged in some order, were the essential household stuff – cookies, hair oils, soaps, detergents, even incense sticks. There were exotic things like pineapple tins, cereal boxes—I remember thinking later how no one really had these kinds of things then—and tins of Milkmaid, and packets of Maggi noodles that had just become popular.

“We are going to the merchant’s place.”

That was how my father referred to Mr. Singhania in the beginning, knowing we would understand what he meant right away. My father was not the kind to make long explanations.

I imagined Mr. Singhania as someone just like the merchants depicted in the comics I read then. These comics that were quite popular, usually told stories from India’s history and old mythological tales, and even today, when I think of kings of old, and ancient gods, I picture them the way they appeared in the comics. Merchants were timeless, they had lived through every period of history. In the comics, they wore long robes, intricate turbans, and were always looking over their account books, trying in every way to save costs and make money. I imagined Singhania as someone just like them.

Singhania turned out to be a short, slightly plump man, with a beatific smile. The time I first met him, he was wearing what everyone then called a safari suit. This came with loose flapping pants and a short-sleeved shirt with four pockets. Singhania lived in a big house, right by the railway station. In old towns, as I learnt, merchants lived close to the rivers and later by railway stations for that was how goods were transported easily, and right under their eye. In that sense, Singhania was really timeless.


The front entrance was just a door cut into tall, yellowing gray walls. It was deceptive, for the house one stepped into was really a huge mansion. This is what I always remember: the steps with patches of moss on them leading up to a courtyard with blue green pillars, the patterned railing with spiral shaped balusters to one side, the red-stoned staircase that led to the drawing room with sofas as big as small beds, and the divans with spotlessly white covers.

Singhania’s wife waded in slowly, her sari end pulled half over her head. She was dimpling and plump, and every step she took, she moved a bit sideways too. Following her were two servants bearing trays of what she called the choicest Marwari snacks. Especially made for children, she added, and we filled our own small plates with bakarwadi, square flour cookies, pakoras, smaller fritters, and a grainy pea-filled mixture, and then some sweet, called the boondi.

Father must have seen me reach out for a second helping, for he was looking at no one in particular when he said it was best never to be greedy, to eat just a little of what was offered. Otherwise, we would find it hard to rise from the very low diwans. Singhania threw his head back and laughed, his palms placed over his rounded stomach. His wife smiled, almost indulging father in one of his jokey moods.

It was always a startling experience when one sat on the divans the first time. They were lower than one imagined, and one sank into them. But after that first thump, you could pull your legs up close and sit, chin on knees. The grown-ups of course sat on the sofas that looked like sleeping elephants. To us, relegated to the divans, they looked suitably enthroned.

There was low chatter as the adults spoke. But the room was big and contained a lot of other sounds: the fans revolving overhead – four big ones – the clink of the cutlery, the men laughing, and the clothes flapping in the wind outside somewhere that we couldn’t see, though the iron-barred windows were all open. And I remember the sudden silence that fell. The merchant Singhania whose hand had strayed toward the low table where he had placed his teacup, went still, and his head lifted slightly, toward the left. His hand remained stranded in air for long seconds, and the words he was looking for, came only moments later. His head stayed cocked to one side, as his eyes slowly moved toward my father, reminding me of the crows that always gathered at this time outside our home.

Did you hear that?

We too had heard the low whirring, and the slow droning. Come. He was still talking only to my father, and now he rose with alacrity to lead him through a curtained louvered door, that had an arch cut over it, and opened into a shaded verandah. I followed as did my brother. Singhania shaded his eyes and I looked where he pointed with his right index finger, toward a low white wall over which we could see a field of sorts.

Beyond the wall, to the right, low flat-roofed buildings appeared, and the field was untended, green, and brown in places, and a gray road stretched in its middle and ran a long way. Then, far away just where ends of the gray road met, a dot appeared, and became, at the very moment of our gasping in surprise and our mouths falling open, a plane. Something small, and yet, because we had never seen a plane on the ground before, big in our eyes. It was indeed tiny, and slowly grew in size, but not too much. It flew low over the runway, its wings moving up, and then down as it flounced, and bounced, and advanced, the droning rising to a throb in our ears.

With perfect grace and poise, the plane rose, slowly and with certainty, past the house that appeared on its left, and took off lifting its nose, a shadow revealing itself behind the window and just as quickly vanishing. There was a blinding red flash as it caught the sun’s eyes, and our eyes followed the plane till it was swallowed by the pink and yellow clouds of late evening.

It was all so magical that I’ve always carried this memory. The plane had never seemed anything bigger than a big bird, from the moments of its first appearance from behind the house standing diagonally on the right, and the way it had bounced, jolted on the runway, before soaring up into the sky, high above that quiet, slow-moving town, where right on the road outside, I had seen a bullock cart, trundling along, carrying stacks of tendu leaf, and coconuts.

That’s the .. Singhania mentioned a name I didn’t catch. My eyes were scrunched up, and I was still following the plane, now a tiny white speck in the sky. I listened to its low droning noise as it circled the town. I wondered what the pilot saw: if he had the whole small town in his sight, if the river came to him as a small stream, and if he could see the low mountains and the waterfalls. If he simply spread out a hand wide, his fingers stretched as wide apart as possible, he could hold the whole town in his palm. While from where I stood, I could only see the courtyard below, a bit of the wall, and the ground behind it with the runway.

That small plane, the sound of its soft droning lingering in my ears, made me long to step out of this small world, and the town I lived in. To me the plane signified freedom, of blue far-stretching skies. I knew then how big the world was, and how small it could also look.

In the New Jersey town I live in now, a place no bigger than the towns I lived in when younger, I hear similar sounds, of small planes flying overhead, right above the maple and pine trees, and these sounds always bring me back to that earlier time.

The sounds haven’t changed. They make me feel that time can go backwards and take me with them. When I stand absolutely still on the sidewalk, and stare at a plane, I remember the way I stood in Singhania’s verandah. I somehow understand that disparate things and moments, separated by time, can still be connected. That this world is bound in ways special and unique, and that we can work out these connections, build threads, like our own webs, linking us to places, times, and the people we once were and knew, those who live still in the places we go to and those in our future. There are sounds that one carries within, even in memory, wherever one goes, that return out of the ether in sudden moments.


When we left Jharsuguda later that evening, I strained to look out of the car window for the plane. But there were sluggish purple clouds tinged by the setting sun, and specks of black here and there, not the flash of steel gray that would have given away a small plane streaking through free skies.

I thought then how these small planes had so much a sense of independence, a feeling of isolation too, for there would be just one person or maybe two in the cockpit. I found that intriguing. Some nights later, looking up, I saw a plane in the night sky. Sambalpur of course did not have an airport and the planes we saw were those that flew far overhead, the big planes looking as tiny as the one I had seen some days earlier. These were big planes flying from big cities to the north across the ocean and elsewhere. Perhaps no one in that plane, reclining in their seats or looking down at that moment, even knew of a town called Sambalpur.

Years later traveling with my husband and daughter from Singapore, I tracked the flight path and noticed the moment when the plane seemed to be right over Sambalpur. And I wondered if a little girl like me was looking up – though there are more distractions for children these days – and thinking of worlds far away just as I had done those many years ago.


In Sambalpur we lived in a big house by the river. On quiet afternoons we could hear the washermen, and washerwomen too. The sound of clothes striking the wet boulders came to us time and again. The sound would echo through the still river, the craggy low hills, the forests, and return. The sound brought images too. Of women standing on the gray stone boulders, the river around their ankles, the stones, and their metal anklets, glistening in the sunlight. The way they raised the wet clothes high over their shoulders, and how they lowered their arms, in a swift graceful arc toward the stone. Thwack. Thwack. The gulls overhead always flying away startled. That sound held bubbles of water, bursts of sunshine, the warmth of a quiet afternoon and in the pauses, distant conversation, and occasional laughter too.

My uncle once told me of sounds he knew too, in the town he lived in long ago, as a child. Sounds like a cannon going off at regular intervals. That town in the place of his childhood and youth that took on different identities over time– from being first a part of Bengal, a united province in British ruled India, it became East Pakistan after Independence and Partition in 1947, and then after another war, the country called Bangladesh in 1971.

The town of his childhood, and the district it was part of, went by the same name, Barisal. A place close by the sea, crossed and broken up by several rivers, including the big ones, Meghana and Jamuna, and other ones with musical names: Kirtankhola, Haringhata, Paira and other smaller ones no bigger than streams. It was almost like several small islands had fused together over centuries, even millennia, and the silt and alluvia borne by the rivers, had become soil, damp and marshy in places, ideal for the cultivation of rice.

The sounds were loud and booming, he said, and they’ve stayed in my ears since my childhood. I must have heard of the sounds first from my parents and all the older people who told me about what they had heard.

A booming sound on clear days, mornings, and nights when everything else around was still. Like a fog horn, or a giant ship moving in the sea not too far away. He smiled, his eyes crinkling up. These sounds made me want to leave and see the world for myself. See the big ships sailing the seas, docking at ports far away, in countries I knew only from my school atlas, and sounding their long sad mournful horns. Sounds that only ships, forever moving on, never stopping for long, could make.

But those cannon-like sounds, uncle said, no one knew the reason they happened in the first place. The British, through the 1870s onward, sent teams to find out. There were various theories. One postulated that the sounds came from breakers dashing with force towards the shore. But this didn’t hold. Waves never really made a booming sound, they came shoreward making an undying shushing noise, a sound inviting the world to listen to the universe’s quietness. My uncle was a strange man, giving to talking like this. But he was a physicist too and knew a false theory when he saw one.

Then it was said it was some kind of an atmospheric disturbance, something like thunder going off in the far distance. But can you imagine that, he said, not really expecting an answer from me. The sound of thunder is a majestic one. Anyway I am glad this theory didn’t hold too. A clap of thunder that makes you look up in awe and fear is quite different from a boom that shakes the ground under your feet.

There was for a time a ban on loud marriage celebrations in Barisal. The government, and the police, strictly monitored these, hoping to trace the booming sounds to noisome rituals. One had to give advance notice about such events to the local administration, and so your grandparents’ marriage, my uncle told me, was a quiet affair. It had not been a long marriage too. My grandfather died only ten years later after a sudden illness.

But those strange sounds. Boom. Boom, he raised his voice suddenly, and because he was a soft-spoken man, it startled me, and we laughed. I knew then how the cannon would have sounded on quiet nights, with the faint splash of river waters, the stirring of cattle, the birds in the trees and, somewhere not too far, the moving sea waves. The silence around brought every sound closer. And in the midst of this, a boom, a cannon going off, could shake things up. It’s an elemental, unplaceable sound belonging to neither land nor sea, and I have carried my uncle’s story, and that sound, with me all these years. He had moved to London in his early twenties and would live there till his early death in his mid-fifties. And this story, his memory of the “Guns of Barisal,” as the sounds are popularly called, remains his gift to me.

It surprised me some years later, the time I lived in Maryland to learn that there was a heavy metal band based out of Seattle, with the same name. The Guns of Barisal. They were a band of three men playing metallic rock. To me, it sounded like the grunge music born in that city on America’s west coast, the metallic sound of instruments drawn together in a spirit of angst. I wasn’t a fan, but given their name, I badly wanted to be one. What made me curious and won the band considerable loyalty on my part, was the title of one of their tracks, ‘Vimana’ – meaning, a flying machine.

It is a four-minute track with the acoustic guitar and drums making a music that is perfectly synchronized– wavy and cyclic and forming whorls of sounds in turn to each other.

Those old sounds from the rivers around Barisal, what my uncle talked about, have died away now. No one hears them anymore. The “Guns of Barisal” are now only a fable of sorts. I have a clipping from an old magazine that uncle once sent me, all the way from London to Delhi, where I lived then. The theory of how the sound of guns came from pirate ships, as they sailed along a secret canal dug through one of Barisal’s many rivers, down to the sea. But the pirate ships were never found. There was also speculation that perhaps there was a volcano underwater. But no one found that too.

For some time, my physicist uncle thought the sounds were made by earth plates moving over one another, deep below sea and earth. Land and water miles below the earth’s surface are always in motion, and the earth’s layers made and remade, invisibly, over the centuries. Perhaps the sound came from this, or from upland as well, when the rivers brought with them all that silt and soil and alluvium to be deposited.

On Facebook, I follow groups related to my family’s lost hometown – for my father, uncle, and the other brothers, all left in batches, from the 1950s onward, a time of uncertainty, and never returned- and the stories about the guns of Barisal guns now appear only in stray mentions, coming up in the way legends of old are told and retold.

Like the low drone of small aircraft, I carry the memory of this booming sound with me. It reminds me of my family’s past. Like the other sudden sounds breaking out in the quiet – the washing carried on by the banks of another river, Mahanadi, the one I knew from the days of my childhood – I somehow believe that I will never lose my past, and that my family’s stories follow me, no matter where I live in any part of the world.

I did not make these connections seamlessly, but I did come to recognize the patterns the sounds made, aural connectors of my life. In Maryland, we lived in a town to the state’s north called Timonium. That too was the name of a band. It played slow, moving music, with someone singing in a sepulchral voice. There were mornings, the hours I spent on my own, quietly writing, when a sudden boom, a hollow echoing sound, would leave the earth shuddering for a few seconds. The table I wrote on, would shake but in moments, things would go still as before.

The sound came from sonic booms as fighter planes that practiced not too far away flew fast and broke past the sound barrier. The sound was heard up and down the east coast, from New Jersey, Delaware, eastern Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Boom. And then the earth’s shudder. I knew then what uncle had meant. This booming I heard on quiet mornings in Maryland matched the story he had told me, the stories he had heard, and the sounds of a home lost long ago mingled in a new place, where with my family, I was trying to make a home too.


From Sambalpur, that town of my childhood, we moved yet again to a small quaint town called Charbatia. It was five hours away to the south, and closer to the sea. In Bengali, the language we spoke at home, the name meant “four bowls,” but Charbatia was in fact a secret aviation research base, one set up initially for spying on China in the early 1960s.

Charbatia was an orderly, well-arranged small town, looking just like any other American suburb, whose pictures I’d seen in old magazines, the ones mother got from her book club. These were browned well-maintained issues of Women’s Weekly and Woman & Home. The town had a neat main road, with office buildings and library to the right, the two-story apartment blocks to the left. Smaller roads led away, one to the primary school, and another to the bigger houses at the far end of the town. We stayed in one of these big houses, at the far end of a street, in the town’s farthest corner.

It was the first time we had ever lived in a two-storied house. My father said this first, in a note of astonished surprise. I understood what it meant to him. He had left behind the sprawling house of his childhood a long time ago in 1950. The riots that broke out frequently over the next few years made return difficult, and after India’s war with Pakistan in 1971, he knew he could never go back. The journey, if he ever made one, would be muddied with all the violence that had happened, the blood that had been shed, the lives lost.

My father then, in the time before he found a job in the government, lived in rented rooms in guesthouses that he changed often, or else he shacked up with a relative in Calcutta. Then he alternated between roomy old bungalows in Odisha, and to government apartments in Delhi. But this house in Charbatia, the work of an American engineer, Keith Williamson, who had designed the town too, was quite American. Something that struck me only years later.

The house I live now in a New Jersey suburb is quite like the one in Charbatia. It was a square, low house, with compact living and dining spaces, a garage converted into a study, a neat kitchen with perfectly aligned pantries, a courtyard, and matching it almost, at the second level, a terrace that looked out over an open scrubland area marked by tall grass and a copse or two of eucalyptus trees, leading right to the barbed wire fence that demarcated the airport.

The secret airbase had been built with American help in the early 1960s. Several bigger events had helped shape it, such as the American fear of China making its own nuclear bomb. A fear that matched the Indian need of knowing what the Chinese were up to. In 1962, a war with China ended disastrously for India. The Tibetan rebels who needed a base, had one first in Nepal and then in India too. The Khampa rebels, as the refugees were called, had their own regiment in the area around Charbatia, but the base became better known in official circles for its secret reconnaissance missions to China. Planes like Gulfstreams, Lear jets and U-2s made sorties over the Indo-China border and returned with photographs taken with special high-tech equipment.

In Charbatia, the first apartments housed technicians from the CIA who processed and developed the photographs. This was mainly on the insistence of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who only grudgingly agreed to these secret operations—primarily to stave off the Chinese threat, as his advisers said—and then insisted that the special photographs had to be developed in India. There were also direct flights to the US, that stopped once to refuel in Taiwan. Indian scientists and technicians who worked on these special high-end cameras made these secret long-haul flights for training.

My sister and I envied these families for they had in their house vinyl records with hits we’d heard only on the radio, video cassettes of American classics like the Sound of Music, and they wore the kind of American clothes that made them special: satiny full-sleeved tops, jeans, denim jackets. Such clothes would only come to India a decade later when the economy was opened up, and the big brands set up their huge shops.

When my father came to Charbatia, as the most senior officer in charge of administration, it was the mid-1980s, and the planes no longer flew all the way to the US. There were now the old American Lear jets and also Russian-made AN-32s, and the Indian pilots made smaller, routine mission flights to other bases in eastern India and by the China border for their own reconnaissance missions. The scientists who still worked there carried with them the memory of the old days. They were a doddering and somewhat eccentric lot, with their bowties and watch-chains attached to their coats.

The pilots deputed from the air force now appeared as shrunken imitations of military personnel one saw in countless films and on television. With their joviality and swagger, they were desperate in their attempts to show their superiority over the other staff, the technicians, and others. Unlike the pilots of old, they no longer flew the transoceanic route all the way to the US. Regardless, they wanted to remain important and necessary in their smaller planes, flying the shorter, inland routes. Twice daily, planes took off from Charbatia and landed – from bases with equally secret and musical names – Kakardooma, Doomdooma and then Delhi as well, where the bosses of the India’s spy organizations had their offices.

During hot afternoons, when school was closed, I’d cycle, my sister seated behind me, down the grassy scrubland, and the thicket of eucalyptus trees towards the barbed wire fence that separated the airport from the rest of the town. We would leave the cycle sprawling on the grass and climb onto a low mound that allowed us to look over the fence into the airport, its gray runway burning in the heat, and the curved hangars that looked black and empty most times. We would see the nose of an aircraft in the inky darkness like some prehistoric giant insect. Sometimes we would spot the occasional soldier, or two, as they perambulated along the perimeter. Sometimes we would be lucky to spot an airplane actually landing. We would first see it like a black speck in the sky circling overhead. The faraway buzz would soon become a low, insistent droning.

Then for some moments, the plane would stay out of sight. I remember how alarmed my sister and I were the first time, as over the tall eucalyptus trees, the low hills, the plane suddenly zoomed in, a blinding flash of gray, the sun zinging off its wings. We felt that its nose was sniffing us out, we saw its wheels slowly emerge, and the sounds everywhere had all combined to shape a vehement growling, a whirring and finally, a fierce blazing and slashing noise. It was as if the earlier quiet had never existed.

It was this, the aircrafts landing and taking-off twice a day that gave this secret airbase a reason for existence, when the Americans no longer visited as frequently, and satellites with advanced technology that enabled photos to be taken from space began to be launched.

Whenever I saw the planes up close, or from the terrace that looked out over the flat grassland, the low fence, and the tall trees, I remembered too the low plane I’d seen over the late evening skies of Jharsuguda, and I felt a connection. Not just in how the planes looked, for most of them were small and lightweight, bouncing lightly whether on landing or taking off, but also in the moments of remembering. A moment that joined present to past and, later, would meld into the future too. The sound of the planes, the way they looked high in the sky reminded me always of the strange yearning I had at these moments, a sense of being out of time, of looking down at the whole world. It made me understand even then that the world was big, and that regardless of everything, we were ultimately small when everything was scaled up and defined.


In Charbatia, my father once came face to face with the country’s prime minister. It was the most important thing to have ever happened to him during his tenure there. The prime minister was on tour, traveling from Calcutta to the east to a city in the south. It was the time for elections, and Charbatia, the town of four bowls, was the ideal stopover. Father told us that the bathroom had been specially spruced up for the prime minister’s use. The walls had been painted and a special set of buckets and towels ordered from Cuttack, the nearest big town. And father also did a surprising thing. He never cared much for people’s status, nor did he bother about recording celebrity moments, but now he dug out his old AGFA camera from an old trunk where it had lain for over a decade and more.

“I don’t think I can get a picture of the prime minister,” he told us, trying to downplay our excitement. Yet he checked his camera repeatedly.

“It’s a top secret visit besides.”

“A top secret visit to a top secret place,” my brother quipped, and his smartness impressed my parents as it always did.

Father did get a picture of the prime minister’s plane, as it stood waiting on the small runway after the prime minister had quickly dashed down the steps and into the office. He didn’t walk sedately, father said. He was light on his feet.

The office had seen a small makeover too – with a new comfortable sofa and a table with bottled water and packets of cookies, and tinned fruit cake the Americans still sent over during Christmas for the scientists and senior officers. The prime minister who did indeed, as Father vouched, look as fair and handsome as his photos, shook hands with everyone who waited, including my father, and then he finally spoke. “Thank you. It’s a long flight. I’ll just have some water.” He said nothing more, and was really very polite, my father said.

From the terrace of our house, we had seen the prime minister’s plane too. A sleek white efficient machine that came gracefully down, and just as lightly went back into the sky taking away the prime minister.

I believe my father liked the prime minister after that visit, no matter that in a year or two, he would rail furiously against him as corruption charges were leveled against him. Those allegations cost the prime minister the next election. Two years later, he would be assassinated; blown up by a suicide bomber, not far from the place where he had traveled seven years earlier soon after his plane took off from Charbatia.


In Montville, a small town in north New Jersey, the house we live in is at the corner of a gentle curving road, overlooking a pond at the back. I see deer often, rabbits too who devour the flowerbed time and again, groundhogs who get run over more than the deer when they stray on to the road, black Canadian geese, and a small brown fox that appeared a couple of seasons before vanishing. Some severe winters, bears come by as well.

And then there are always the planes. The small biplanes that come from Morristown airport, 40 minutes away. They fly low and sometimes circle to great heights, making that noise that is already familiar to me. The low sweet buzz on clear afternoons that reminds me clearly of similar days of long ago, and tell me time can be fused, that things are never truly left behind.

There was the time my husband spotted Air Force One parked at the Morristown airport. He was to travel with his boss in the company plane to Salt Lake City. It was a privilege for him, and as he waited, there was the president’s plane in its open hangar not too far away. He couldn’t resist taking a photo and putting it on Facebook. And I told him then the story of my father taking a picture of the prime minister’s plane. Later my father had stuck the photo, a plain black and white one, in one of his albums, the last one he numbered by date and time. Often curious relatives who visited, looked at it. A plane? they would ask.

“The prime minister had come.”

I don’t know if my father ever embellished that story a bit more. It wasn’t like him. Just like my husband, who grinned and shrugged ruefully when asked about the photo of Air Force One.

“No I didn’t see the president,” I heard him tell someone. “Just the plane being readied for him. Anyway presidents aren’t like you and me, strolling along runways, with nothing to do but take pics.”


About the writer:
A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA Program in Writing, Anu Kumar lives in New Jersey with her family. Her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, The Maine Review, The Common, Chicago Literary Review, and other places. Kumar also writes history pieces and other nonfiction for the Bombay-based independent digital magazine called Scroll.in. In 2021, Weavers Press in San Francisco published A Sense of Time and Other Stories, a collection of Anu Kumar’s short stories.

Image: America at Peace (detail) by Rockwell Kent (1882-1971). This is a detail of the mural in room 1334 of the New House of Representatives Office Building in Washington, DC. 1944. Public domain.

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