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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


As a child, I could never quite define where home was. I was born in Jammu, purely due to circumstances. My Nanaji was posted there at that time and the Army Hospital there and the rest of the family embraced me warmly. I've re-visited the place several times since. When Dad was posted in Rajouri, when my Aunt was there and then when my Uncle was there. While I enjoyed all my Jammu holidays, it never quite felt like home.

Often life on the train seemed like home. At other times, two years in Binaguri, Shillong, Cuttack, Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Ferozepur, Deolali, Mhow, Meerut or wherever Dad's job took him gave us the temporary feel of home.

I've often wondered what makes cities click, why some stay in your being longer than others. Is it the so-called soul of the city, is it family, friends or the way the city is?

When I was in college and in University, I never imagined I'd ever long for a city or even get myself to say - I miss Chandigarh. After all there was a sense of permanence to this home.....

For as long as I can remember, this was the place we headed back to for our holidays. In the middle of summer, we'd pack our bags, home-baked cakes, canteen cookies, gifts for Nani and get ready to impose our impish selves on Naniji.

At that time we thought she was beyond strict and she was. Walking on her front lawn was strictly barred. You could do that in the back lawn, though skipping and running was out of bounds too. We could play with friends as long we kept our selves out of the house. That was something we loved. Soon we'd devised a game of hide and seek and the best place to hide was her double hegdes neatly divided by the wall in between. There were all of three and exit points in the hedge, so you needed nifty feet before the catcher counted 20. Then you crawled to a part of the hedge where you imagined you were undetectable - not for long though. Once that was over, it was Scrabble time in the verandah with lemon juice to quench our thirst. Fizzy drinks of all manner were strictly banned. The focus was on being and staying healthy and what better to do that than a home brewed glass of nimbu paani.

Holidays are one thing, staying with your grandmum when you are in your rebellious teens quite another. College forced me to do that. With a strict ban on friends in place, I discovered a parallel world in books and planned several gracious exits at various points. Entry into the hostel, a job in Delhi, everything began and ended briefly. Somehow my feet brought me back to the only home I'd known.

After moving to Ahmedabad, the holiday cycle kicked in yet again. Moving to Singapore, when the air of finality of being away from home sunk in, made the longing to see the family stronger. It's always been a homecoming like no other. Tears the day you arrive, tears the day you leave.

Each year I've been able to don my sun glasses and forget those tears as I've made the way back to the airport. Not this time.

As my kids played with wild abandon on the lawn she had protected all her life, as mangoes from the trees nurtured all her life were given away, as the nimbu from her trees was turned into pickle to be carried beyond the comfort of her home, I knew there was a part of Naniji that wanted to shout. I'd spot that look in her eye, the mild spark of anger as she lifted her arm. Beyond that she couldn't do anything. A broken hip, a head injury has taken away a part of her life. What she is left with are fragments of Chak 147, Zila Mint-gimerry (Montgomery which is now in Pakistan), the gaddas, paani and the year of her escape.

Each day I'd try to remind her of my existence and she'd simply give me her listless look. I spent the better part of my holiday trying to tell myself that there is a part of her that still knows me. I wanted her to shout at my kids, the way she had with us. I wanted her to feel whole again, to be able to lift her feet off the very floor she had created.

It happened on the last day. As I bent to give her all my love, she held my hand and refused to let go. Then she cried, the tears of her lifetime. My name didn't come back, but that of her mother's did. I know deep down she was mouthing the words, she had said over the years - Jaldien Aayien - be back home soon. As the clock ticked, the car waited, the children got increasingly restless, Masi reminded me I had a flight to catch. I took my time, donned my shades, let the tears flow and prayed for another homecoming.

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