The November smog, fluid, ethereal, stings in my eyes. I drift
again, from one nook of the city to the next as my eyes browse through the blur of the hedges, shrubs and trees. Today, as I come back to rest beneath those shaded canopies, nothing seems ephemeral; nothing is lost in my quest to understand where ‘home’ actually is.
“Where do I drop you, didi? Ghaat to eshe gechhe. Namben ekhane?” (We are there at the Ghaat. Shall I drop you here?) The old, wrinkled rickshaw-puller asks me after we cross over the maze of traffic and reach a quiet, silhouetted nook where the
crows and sparrows caw, chirp and greet me in unison.
“Yes, yes.” I nod my head, “Take me a few blocks closer to
the Ghaat. Can you?”
I find my moorings in the sleepy, surreal troughs of the river Ganga; the water, a gray, permissive color.
I stand for a while on the derelict steps that lead to the bank of the river Ganga. The boatmen row their boats in the river, murmuring a faint, familiar song. I get down a few more steps, the water drenching my feet, circling around my toes, my fingers, my ankles in spirals.
“Do you really think Ganga water is the purest form of water, Ma?” I had questioned my mother, a precocious child in school. “If it is so, why don’t we drink it daily with our food, or why don’t you cook our food with it?”
My mother’s ringing laughter and her answers to the child years back in time flashes in the quicksilver water. It is here that her ashes, the pure, slow-moving dust have dissolved.
“How long will you be here this time, Papai?” The water, tugging at my feet, asks.
“Not for long, just a month.” I reply.
“Oh no, not again! For the umpteenth time that you are in
transit, do you know where your true home is?”
“I think I know now.” I reply. My heart is sliced in two fleshy chunks ten thousand miles apart, and they beat in two separate rhythms in the two terminus’s together. The evening breathes over my shoulders, as I take in the haunting smell of homecoming, yet again. I trudge past the traffic lights as smoke rolls through my tongue…. The nape of my neck hurts as the dusk gives way to the chilly wintry night.
The rickshaw puller takes me back home, the nocturnal photosynthesis tosses me up again …
The smudged moon sinks yet again, breathing heavy, the rickshaw puller humming a popular Hindi song of the 80’s, sure remnants of my childhood days. I try to hum along with him, slowly, my whispers broken, my voice hovering from across the void. I sway in the haphazard wind that bears tiny droplets of
rain. Under my breath, my ribs and bones, my veins and tendrils dance in the smog.
Many moons back, on yet another November day in the city, I had waited, weathered, umpteen heartbreaks. I had been twisted and turned over and over until the wait became a cursed game.
“I do not want to wait and rot here anymore. Either I find a distant home for myself, or live nowhere at all!” I had cried out to my husband over a long-distance phone call, some weeks before we tied the knot, my voice breaking out in spurts in the ether waves.
Today, I come back to those ashen fringes. The homecoming is a curious, ardent leaning over a rickety balcony, rehashing those lost, jinxed words. The homecoming is the strange, unexplained smell of the damp, crooked seat of the rickshaw that takes me back home. I burn, like incense, into the flaky skin of home, chasing the smog and lost colors. The crickets chirp, mingling with the shrill, boisterous sounds of the conch shells while the housewives prepare themselves for the evening rituals of prayers. The recycled
dialogues of daily soaps, the ad jingles and the lectures of Godmen and ministers reverberate from the television screens, as I stumble again, in the damp, sweet and odorous home. I walk in, slowly waning, melting into the home that I might never have escaped at all.
Do check out the book ‘Thwarted Escape: The Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’ in Goodreads:
A book poster that has been created for the memoir: