I had written this scrap of thought during my first visit to my hometown 5 months after I had joined a reputed media house in April 2011 (in another city). It remains very close to my heart. Now, that I am back…. I find an unintended oblique sentimentality attached to it. Funny, how things shape up in your life!
I am walking out of the airport. It’s been 5 months – almost. Only it feels like years.
As I come out into the hot and humid city, it seems to have added a few more scars to its ravaged body. The huge AC Volvo standing near the broken pavement is a mismatch. A plethora of montages pass me by. From within the vapoured glass panes the green bypass suddenly melts into a dusty city with constructions, torn plastic shades over roadside tea stalls, sweaty emaciated rickshaw pullers snoozing on the rickety vehicles.
A while later I disembark to be greeted by the foul stench of the fish market and muddy roads. There are certain smells unique to every city – when you are there they probably assault your olfactory senses. But when you return, these very odours give you a sense of belonging. As I glided through the narrow lanes in an auto the smell of oily egg roles being fried, clogged drains, dog poo hit my nose by turns. Instead of wrinkling up my nose in disgust I feel a strange desire to take in more.
I finally enter the ‘elite’ area. The roads are still narrow but minus the clutter. This time the smell of freshly fried kachoris and hot gulab jamuns round the corner of my house greet me.
I hop on an insanely crowded bus a few days later sandwiched between smelly office goers. I hardly ever boarded such overcrowded buses, but on this day it is reason all the more. On my way back I cover the distance walking, taking in the aroma of a thousand smells – vendors selling incense sticks, the distinct smell of Sari shops every time the glass door to the showrooms open, kiosks selling paan covered with foil kept on ice slabs.
When I turn onto the quiet stretch I encounter a few nondescript and familiar sights. A group of men playing cards after a hard day’s work on the pavement, young people gathered near that phuchka wallah savouring the tamarind water filled crunchies, school children running ahead of their mothers laden with heavy bags and that house with the vintage cars just before I take the right turn.
Pot bellied fathers accompanying young girls in modest frocks, malls infested with women in Levi’s and red nail paint, scores of vagabonds right beside multi-storeyed buildings, innumerable roadside (bhaater) hotels opposite posh restaurants, a colourful cafeteria next to a dingy ‘Chowmin’ stall strike me with their incoherence on stretches I once used to frequent.
Again they fade into a past…a past I may never reclaim. Now I cannot recall if I ever thought of these small details as redundant. This alien city makes me feel otherwise.