I am writing this from the patio in the house I grew up in. I can see the same neem tree I had known as a sapling, now all tall and proud, and the birds sing the songs from my childhood. The weather’s gray and cool but nice; the rain hasn’t bored me yet. It’s been raining ever since we arrived here two days ago, and it’s quite refreshing not to feel the sticky heat we did on our last visit. The little one’s napping on my bed in my room; the room that knew the best of me and the worst of me. It is absolutely quiet around the house except for a kid (the goat kind) bleating in front of our gate, and him I don’t mind.
It’s been a week since we landed in India, and already this trip has been a whirlwind of sentiments and memories. It is quite something, to take two flights and a five hour road trip to finally reach home in Tezpur. But before I even reached home, our four day stay in Guwahati at my in-laws opened my eyes, my heart and my mind to things I had never seen, felt or realised before. And all it took was a trip to Fancy Bazaar.
Now if you know the geography and traffic situation in Guwahati you will know that to journey from Sixmile (where my in-laws live) to Fancy Bazaar is a twenty minute drive that feels like eternity. This time though, little munchkin snug on my lap and my eyes glued to the window, I took in everything with a hunger I hadn’t known I possessed. I must have had a silly smile glued to my face as I kept mumbling a running commentary for my sole benefit. “Ah, Momo Ghar… Wonder if their momos are the same… Wow… That’s the road to my hostel… And Dighalipukhuri is still the same after all these years… Oh wow, Cotton College looks the same too, but what’s this new place right across? Oh man, my Physics department… Sigh…. Panbazaar looks just as it was, maybe a little dingy… And Millenium… This was the only place we were allowed to eat in before our hostel freshmen social, oh, and Sheikh Brothers!! I don’t think I’ll ever forget the taste of their bread; I had it everyday for three years in the hostel…!” It was a literal trip down memory lane. And when my father-in-law parked our car in Fancy Bazaar and we stepped out, I was almost overwhelmed by a sudden gush of memories, a whole gamut of emotions. The streets and shops that I had known like the back of my hand felt weirdly alien, like some long lost friend who has aged and looks just vaguely like the friend you had last seen. The shops on the footpaths though, still sell the exact same stuff I had seen seven years ago. The noises, the cracked footpaths and gaping manhole covers…. They all welcomed me home, reminded me that despite having gotten used to squeaky clean Singapore, the girl in me will always belong to these spit stained uneven streets, because they know me like no other place ever will.
Seven years. The last time I was in Fancy was to buy glass bangles to match with the mekhela sador that I was to wear for my sister’s wedding. I had gone to the same shop in Ahmed Market I had frequented all three years, so much that I got a guaranteed discount each time I went there. Had I known that it was to be my last time there in seven years I might have done something momentous. Had I known that the next time I would be there, would be with my husband and his family and our daughter strapped to my chest, I would have lingered longer, taken in a lot more instead of hurrying out like I was prone to.
Of course, all those emotions and sentiments were unceremoniously tossed away the moment we drove into an impregnable traffic jam. I mean, it might have been a normal day to day affair for people used to it, but to our unaccustomed eyes, it was chaos of epic proportion. We were stuck in a tangle of cars, trucks, bikes, rickshaws and thelas for almost an hour, with no one heeding any attention to traffic rules. Horns honked loud and continuously, people hurled instructions and sometimes obscenities at each other, bikes revved and took their chances at slipping through gaps, and all the while, rain poured relentlessly. We made it home in one and half hours, right in time before the streets got flooded.
That night, as we sat and complained about the utter disregard for traffic rules, and lack of regulation and potholes and flooded streets, I realised I had become one of “them”. You know, the NRIs who come home once a year and get all snobbish and pretentious and turn up their nose and go “Oh, I’d forgotten how dusty/dirty/stinky this place is” It is true though. Singapore had completely spoiled me when it came to security and hygiene. And listening to distorted news from far away with a near foreigner’s perspective only made me more paranoid on Indian soil. I am not proud of it. Far from it. I find it sadly ironic that I don’t feel comfortable in my home anymore.
But that is a lengthy discussion for another day. For now, we’re all snuggled up in cozy Tezpur, and we’re set for a month. Little girl’s bringing the roof down and making everyone dance to her tunes, many times literally. She loves her Koka’s fiddle and will sing along when he plays it for her, just as she loves the wooden staircase leading to my father’s meditation room. So far she’s seen rabbits and crows and goats, and is surprisingly gentle with the trinkets and oddments my mother had scattered about the house. Looks like it is going to be a long deserved relaxing holiday after all.