23 February, 2015

Musings on homecomings

 I have not yet decided when to go home this year.

 Which makes me think of what life is going to be like - a sense of acceptance of  gradually being a stranger in one's own city. Hometowns, like much of life, moves on. The roads where one played on bandh days, the maidans of mud-splattered soccer, the schools where one walked in and grew out of, the cafes where you loved and lost, the books you read and re-read.
 All those places are not vacant, waiting vainly for the return of some prodigal son. There are, and always will be, the next batch of loud voices and bright eyes, those same old phrases on young lips, the songs and the sunshine. Same as before.

 By the steps of the same narrow bylane, a group with a guitar, a bandana and a Guevara T-shirt. Nothing's changed, not even the rhyming nicknames even.

 And I will see my nephews and nieces in discordant step sizes. It seems that only yesterday I was getting them to say "bye", and now they are fiddling with iPads, joining cricket coaching, reading Potter and whatnot. With the polite smiles at this stranger that suddenly blusters into their familiar lives, one they have to call "uncle/kaku/mamu", one they have to be extra-nice to because of ... just because he comes so very seldom.

 And the ones I will not see again. Last year took way too many. Some of course pushing 80, not entirely unexpected. Some far less, hard blows and unexpected. Four times, four lives that had, in ways large or small, shaped me into what I am. The voice over the telephone made steely with the effort of not betraying a single tremor. The facts. The hour, the day, the nursing home.The contrition. The vast distances palpable. The finality.

It is of course very natural. This sense of observing the lives back home in these discrete steps. Both the ones that are growing up and the ones that have passed away. It just makes you grow up, if the anvil of life hadn't hammered the child out of you by now. It makes one think of chicken stew made just so by aged but imperiously self-sufficient hands, of gestures of generosity so great and all-encompassing as to defy utterance, of lives and times that can flicker out with a sense of finality that is deafening.

It makes you wonder, I suppose, on many things in the grey light of a half-dawn, or the soft limned shadows of a snow-crusted evening. Of what life is, what it should be and where it is headed.

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