Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Where is home ?



Scene 1

As the aircraft started hovering over the city and started moving close to it, from down below the clouds the unmistakable skyline showed up. In the afternoon sun, it looked magical even to a seasoned non-New Yorker like me. I looked at the man sitting next to me and asked him – “ Now that you have lived in New York for so long, do you find yourself at home here ?” He looked away, uncharacteristically, at the now prominent skyline and said slowly – “Well, you know Anirban, I grew up in the suburbs of Boston but I have left it and my parents now live in Florida. But I don’t quite feel like a New Yorker yet although I enjoy being here.” He stopped for a second before he said , almost hesitatingly, “ I have this feeling of homelessness now - I don’t quite know where my home is anymore. “ After an even longer pause, he added , “ I am not sure I like it but its not that I can change it”.


Scene 2

A sudden wave of sleepless gave me a jolt. I looked at my phone. It was 3:30 am. I was back in India after almost three long years and was sleeping in the room where I spent my high school and college years before I left Kolkata. I knew I couldn’t go back to sleep any more. I got down from my old bed and unsure of what to do, started connecting my computer to the power socket.  A few moments of electrical lapse of reason and the light turned up. I looked around. Almost nothing in the room looked like the way it used to be. I sat down on the lonely sofa and started opening my e-mail. Almost like a long-lost reflex action coming back to me, I had a sudden yearning to listen to Gulzar’s Fursat Ke Raat Din. I did not have the cassette anymore with me and my portable stereo system that had kept me company on many such late nights was several miles away in another home. I turned to my friend MusicIndiaOnline.com that had rescued me abroad on many such occasions. A quick search, a few moments of  nervousness and then it showed up. Like a friend who never betrays you, Fursat Ke Rat Din was indeed online at mio. I clicked on the “play” icon desperately hoping that it would work one last time. Gulzar’s unmistakable voice came ringing through – “Ek mood, ek kaifyat, geet ka chehra hota hai. Kuch shahi se ……..”. I opened up all the windows. It was dark outside and almost everyone around was asleep. A mild wintry chill came gushing into the room. Suddenly something clicked into place. I sat down in front of my computer and started working on my e-mail. I was at home again.

Scene 3

On the morning of the day before my flight back from India, I boarded a bus from Rabindra Sadan and asked the bus conductor – “ Will this get me to Purna cinema ?” He nodded and looked at me with slight disregard – anything that moved in this direction, by necessity, had to go by Purna. When he finally signaled me to get down, after managing the act of getting off from a slightly moving bus, I gathered myself and looked around. Suddenly I got a tremendous jolt ! What I had expected to see right across the street was a stripped down version of the Purna that I had in my mind - with large hoardings and posters of movies, mainly Bollywood, occasionally Bengali. It had been an unmistakable landmark and even from within a crowded bus, you could figure out that you had reached there. Nothing remained anymore. The cleaned-up front face of the building looked scarily naked. It seemed like even the political parties were reeling from a hangover before taking over the space with their agenda.

Scene 4

As I walked towards school with my elder son, he complained “It is really cold”. I reassured, “ Well, you have been in a warmer climate for three whole weeks. That is why it feels cold. I am sure it won’t feel so cold tomorrow”. I added, with hesitation, “Well you know Ishaan, that you have missed school for two weeks”. He didn’t look at me when he replied , “Yes, I know that”. I responded, like my typical self, worrying about his progress in school, but in a low voice since I could not anticipate his reaction, “Well, you must try to catch up”. He said, “Yes, I know”. Unlike other mornings we were not walking to school with his friends since they had decided to go by car. The windchill, after all, really bit into the skin. We chatted more about his trip back to India as we approached the school and I became yet more unsure of how well he would connect back. This was the first time he had been away for such a long time. As we got down the final flight of stairs, he said, “Well, you know that you have to stop here”. Right at the beginning of the school parking lot, we had a mutually-agreed-upon, unmarked line, beyond which he had to be on his own. As I watched him walking away, head slightly down, my worries grew. Suddenly there was a shout and he sprang towards a group of three kids. They jumped up and started running together towards the school. Ishaan became a red running spot getting away from me, into the doors of his school. In the soft winter morning light, I knew that at least my son was back at home.