Monday, November 03, 2008

Homeward Bound

The day is etched firmly in my mind. London had victoriously wooed me away from Bombay, and as I tearlessly packed my bags, and bade my parents an abrupt good bye, I was aware of the lack of emotion in me. In one moment, it impressed me, in another it scared me. How had I become so stone-hearted for ambition?

But, as I realized a return trip later, there was no emotion simply because there was no loss. Or, more accurately, no acceptance of a loss. Because somewhere in my heart I knew myself well- I am a romanticiser of places. Unlike others who miss people, my memories are linked to places. Which suits me fine, as people can sometimes go away or, worse, they can change, but places stay where they are, weathered by the forces of nature and progress, forever losing their exteriors but keeping their interiors.

And so I knew that wherever I went, I'd never lose the Bombay that was mine. Deep ensconced in a cobwebby corner of my vital organ, it would live on, adding juxtaposial layers to itself with my every frequent visit back. And so, on that gloomy Sunday of the twenty fifth of September 2005, I ventured out of my house, my city and my country, with a sprightly and adventurous step into life as a Londoner.

If anyone doubted my resolve to revisit and renourish my India roots as frequently as possible, they were proved wrong after barely 90 days. Just as family had begin to convert my room into a much-needed storage area, and friends had started to resign my phone numbers to the Etcetera list, there was I, punctually standing at Bbay airport, excitedly calling everyone to announce that "Yeah, you heard it right, I'm BACK!". My mom, disgusted at being deprived of a proper nostalgia, gruntled, "Khota sikka" (false coin, literally, basically meaning someone who doesn't live true to his word". I grinned.

And it has thus continued over the years- friends' weddings, house-hunting and renunion Goa trips all providing the necessary excuse- and the surprise turned gradually into annoyance. Quippy friends asked whether I'd procured a lifetime all-seasons ticket, and gradually even the familial luxury was stopped. On my 1st visit, I'd found the family driver proudly waiting to pick me up in the dusty Maruti and excitedly enquiring about London on the way back, but the next few times that seemed to be replaced by a frustating nonchalance...and last year I'd been politely informed, "Sorry beta (child), the driver's got some urgent work, so could you please take a cab instead?".

So by now, the India routine has been well-polished and tried-and-tested. As I finish dealing with betel-nut-chewing customs officers whose purpose in life is harassment, and venture out into the polluted Bbay air, unheralded and unnoticed except by opportunistic cabbies, I feel I have arrived. Of course I have, silly, but I mean, my instant ability to relate to my suddenly-different surroundings sends congratulatory blood to my head. The unconfused dual life, the balancing act- it all gives me a kick. I'm as home here as I was in London 8 hours and 7200 km ago. With these thoughts I hail an autorickshaw, for-the-heck-of-it'ly haggle the cost of a trip to Mankhurd and settle down comfortably into a very uncomfortable, shifting seat, looking forward to watching grime, odours, noises and the Bombay evening engulf me through the rickshaw's open windows. For a Bombay lover, its undiscriminating discomfort is itself its most comforting aspect.

(Not-so) soon, I reach home. Everything looks familiar and I even know the people on the streets- the baais (maids) still huddle around, kids still play cricket on the streets and cars still run into each other. But as the heart leaps in comforting joy, exclaiming, "I still haven't lost you, Bombay!", the futility of it all suddenly reveals itself to me on the subsequent landing.

Isn't all the frequent visiting an unending race to play catch up? With India growing and transforming itself in leaps and bounds, isn't what I really fear is losing touch with the beloved city, of having a generation gap with one's own childhood friend? And then I realize it, at the base of it all is my endeavour to keep unshaken my delicate faith in the constancy of places.

But I needn't worry, I relaxedly tell myself, as "Sumeeeeeettt, dinner is ready!", my mom's voice sails through the cool December air, like it always used to, rising above the latest item number blared by the neighbour's proud imported amplifiers, as they always did, and the shrill shrieks of the newest contingent of building (Indian slang for an apartment complex) kids. But I'm busy reading the girl's emails from London, and at the same time making clubbing plans for the night, waiting to explore the side of Bbay that I previously couldn't afford to- Oh boy, isn't it great to be home!


giri said...

with an unparalleled virtuosity, Mr. Mehta stipples the narrative with tiny details that conjure up nostalgia from every corner of one's subconscious. Indeed, reading these blogs is like swimming in an ocean of old memories.

Anonymous said...

While I feel Sumit touches upon some valid points in this insightful blog, I would like to know more about the other side of the Mehta. I heard a rumour of some new found fighting skills that would make a hilarious story.

Ro Ro Ro a Boat said...

isn't what I really fear is losing touch with the beloved city, of having a generation gap with one's own childhood friend?

Love it Mehato!!!!

Atticus said...

@Giri: hey thanks man! and what a nicely written comment! where is the link to your blog? :P

but yeah I did try to include small small things in the narrative to evoke those memories.i felt like going on and on and on writing, then realized it was too long and hence stopped!

@Kirky: hehehe. someday will write about my dhalsim activities!

@Roa: thankssss :)