Homecoming

The humid air, intolerable, pinpricked with dust, gave way to a cooler breeze as the shared cab ascended through the winding roads, much broader now, towards Shillong, towards home. Palm trees disappeared from sight while gentle rolling hills dotted with deciduous trees appeared, and were soon replaced by the evergreen groves. The hills faded from a tint of bluish green to grey to faint outlines far in the horizon. A mist was settling over the hills and grey fleecy clouds saddled with moisture from the Bay of Bengal caressed the summits of the jagged hills much like the nimble fingers of a gentle lover grazing the hollows of the neck of his love. The glistening blue green and silver of Umiam lake shone through the gaps in the thickly trunked pine trees before revealing its majestic bosom to the weary traveller. Home was nigh. Houses, small and large, wooden, atypical of Shillong, rose-cheeked children, billboards, cement advertisements, signs welcoming one to the ‘Scotland of the East’ appeared at every turn and twist. Home, after a year. Changing, unchanging.

I have been doing nothing at home, no hopping from an aunt’s house to another uncle’s, no small talk with neighbours, no chores. Reading, wrapped in woollens, blankets, the playful kitten, conversations, reading more, watching the incessant rain, the dance of golden sunbeams and grey menacing clouds, pondering fill the empty hours. I sit in the overcrowded veranda, stacked with things useful and useless, old notebooks, old clothes, sheets, curtains, geranium pots, marigolds, chillies, boxes, shoes, and watch the changing world; old houses giving way to new ones, hills peeping through the narrow slits between the building façades, the neighbourhood children engrossed in a game of hide and seek, the muffled sound of some 80s western hit, the rain, until the icy cold embrace and my mum’s plead force me indoors. Another new house in the neighbourhood. The construction rods, unparallel, form uneven rectangles with the electric wires running from one light pole to another, customary to Shillong. Neon street lights, green, red,  weather-beaten corrugated roofs, lace curtains across windows, house sparrows, washing lines held taut by bamboo poles, fluttering clothes, asymmetrical houses, Shillong, changing, unchanging.

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The rain never stops. Pre-monsoons, a cyclone over the Bay of Bengal, a depression. Be what may, the rain, after the sweltering, dusty heat of Bangalore seems paradisiacal. The ceaseless patter of rain on the tin roof makes me yearningly nostalgic and longingly hopeful. Nostalgia, the carefree days of childhood, gumboots, rains, howling winds, an umbrella, a riot of colours, the handle shaped like the head of a swan, the sky pelting the earth with a downpour of wet arrows, the grey sky connecting itself to the soggy earth through the vast umbilical cord of rain. Childhood was a time when jumping, with a large splash, upon puddles was the most adventurous things one could do, a time when the pair of Naughty Boy shoes seldom kept the lashing rain from moistening the pair of green school socks, when  innumerable flowers appeared, when walls would be cloaked in a mossy raiment, when the smell of wet umbrellas clung onto the moist air, when the sound of rain through the night lulled me into so peaceful a slumber, woollens, mothballs, purple scorpions, slippery steps, the veranda with musty smelling clothes, foggy hills, tungsten bulbs and their yellowish halo. While the rains push me down memory lane, I am not ignorant, however, to the petrichor of yearning rising over the parched surface of my heart. An earnest longing for a soul, whose presence and silence resonates with the drizzle outside, the steam swirling over a cup of tea, conversations, reminiscing about childhood, humming to a tune, breathing onto the window pane and drawing a face, creating memories, living memories. Nostalgia and longing! 

I walked across the rain soaked town the other day, lost in my conundrum of thoughts, present yet absent. The ‘pine trees dripped slow tears’, the Tudor style All Saints Cathedral stood peacefully in its historic glory surrounded by a wild grassy lawn and shapely pine bushes, flower beds, watching the fast moving world, seeking a soul to narrate the tales it has witnessed over the years; the washed tarmac of the narrow roads glistened, cars wheezed past spraying a jet of water on helpless pedestrians; the low walls of the State Central Library had been adorned in colourful graffiti. I walked slower, tugging my jacket closer, reading the witty messages, avoiding the low branches. Secretariat, its fading yellow walls, the clock that never shows the right time appeared over the Callistemon trees, a gathering traffic, men and women rushing home, dainty umbrellas and black, kwai (raw betel nut and betel leaves) kiosks at strategic corners, Police Bazaar and the overgrown ornamental garden around the fountain that was, wildly growing Hydrangea flowers, the cacophony of Police Bazaar, always crowded, roasted peanuts, noodles in large woks, orchids.

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Sleep evaded me the last night. Silence save the continuous drumming of the rain on the roof, the swishing of the branches of the plum tree, a sudden wind, muted thunder, the flash of purple white through the curtained windows, the sound of the world asleep, the earth awake. 4 am, I checked my phone. Another three days of being at home. Uncanny that, unlike other nights, I didn’t wake up thinking about the reason for my sleepless nights hitherto. I woke up to a message that Ayan had sent. Bliss and desire. Seeking Neverland, finding true bliss, ever changing, true bliss, mortal. The decision to remain entrapped between the two or to break free. A subtle peace rushed through my veins, the months of brooding, the days of questioning, the hours of wallowing in misery seemed to weaken. The change I sought, was this it? I closed my eyes and opened them again, emptied my pool of thoughts, the sound of rain receding and shattering, the wind, swaying trees, the warmth of my yellow blanket, as old as me, the patchy whitewash on the ceiling, the wooden framework, calendars with images of smiling Gods and Goddesses brandishing weapons and the grey daylight breaking upon the earth. The kitten rushed into the room and jumped upon my blanket, kneading it with her little paws, impatiently running about in circles, purring, playful and I woke up happier, shedding my morose thoughts, lighter, uncertain if this will last, uncertain if the flicker of positivity shall remain. Optimistic yet unsure. 

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