I am back in my hometown for a little over a month now. Back after two years, and this is my longest stay here after a period of six years. If you take into account another half a dozen years that I spent in college right in this same country but more than sixteen hundred kilometers away, then that makes it a full twelve years I have been but an occasional visitor. In many ways, I feel like Urashima Taro (nowadays sometimes called the "reverse culture shock" phenomenon), the legendary character in Japanese mythology who was whisked away to the bottom of the sea by a turtle he had saved before from being bullied by young kids. Right at the bottom, after many happenings, he met the princess of the oceans, where he married her and stayed with her before being homesick and wanting to go back after many years had passed. As a parting gift, he was given a box and asked to open it only if he was in real trouble. Urashima Taro reached his “hometown” but found everything had changed. No one recognized him and he did not recognize anyone. He remembered the box and curiosity got the better of him. He opened it, was enveloped in white smoke, and suddenly found that he had lost his youth and become an old wrinkled man.
Well, I am not a high school kid any more as I was when I left to pursue a university education, and though hardly visible, I have four gray strands. The lady at the barber’s (QB House 10 minute cut) had politely asked if she could pluck them out, but I had manfully refused wanting to remain a natural (that I probably always am!).
When I came back two years ago, the moment I came out of the airport, a few young men who tried to help me with my luggage though I did not ask them to, kept badgering me for just one dollar. I politely told them that I did not have one as I did not come back from a country where dollars are used. Since they had “helped” me, I offered ten rupees but they insisted on one dollar. So they ended up getting none as I really did not have any. Sorry folks!
This time though, these one in a million dollar guys were not there. I got a pre-paid taxi and moved on. The heat drugged me into a stupor, as the cosmopolitan mosquitoes buzzed to keep me awake! I reached home the following day by bus that felt like an air-conditioned roller coaster on the new high speed expressway.
It is election time in India so most news items are about elections and the Indian Premier League T20 cricket (the latest and shortest version of cricket) underway in South Africa at this time with swashbuckling players from all over the world taking part as warm up to the world cup later. Soon they will be switching sides when they play for their national teams!
On the very local front, the population of the stray “street dogs” seems to have increased more than the population of people living here, so much so that they have their own groups and frequent territorial fights. Are they planning to contest the elections too inspired by Animal Farm and the news that the pigs are down with swine flu? They are noisier than sloganeering people who pass by at times. But though these dogs would not allow me to go for a jog in the morning, scaring me out of my wits with bare white fangs, they usually wake me up half an hour before I set the alarm (free morning call!). Uncanny? Yes. Keeping me on my toes? Certainly!
Then there is the self proclaimed universal poet Mr. Sarkar at the house opposite. He used to write good poetry and also be an orator in his heydays. Especially, when he chose to climb onto the rooftop of his house and put his vocal cords to vehement use, proclaiming to the world his many talents. Legend has it that he built his own house. So what if the walls are a bit clumsy to look at! Imagine one man building an entire house by himself and even having tenants living within those uneven walls! It seems he has been learning all the while as he has taken to being a blacksmith now. Not that I have seen a single customer come by his hardware shop in the past one month. Maybe the neighbors do not complain because they have gotten so used to the clangings and bangings that they can not sleep without them! (Pavlov should have tried another experiment!) Night and day, whenever he feels gay, you can hear him clanging away! And even when he stops, I can hear them in throbs, that keep banging inside my head, wishing I were dead! Ggrrr! Anyway, now where did I get that instinct?!! Does that make me a good language student? I leave it to you to judge that. At present I am trying to learn a bit of a foreign language and the volume of my walkman has reached its limit.
So here I am, as the hot sultry unforgiving summer continues, with teasing promises of rain occasionally, as the clouds fly away faster than they gather on some mornings (once in a blue sun), relaxing and enjoying homemade meals and not trying to dwell too much on honing my meditation skills or the old proverb that home is home though it will never be so homely.
It is three in the afternoon as I type this on my computer. Thank God there is no power cut yet! First of May being a holiday, probably there is no one to cut the power! The other day, my friend (Roshmi) told me in jest that Indian politicians are so powerful that all the power goes to them. Hence, we have shortage of power! Maybe they are recharging their batteries for the elections! Some argumentative Indians are sorting things out in loud voices in the neighborhood houses. The wind is hot outside (in India people call it the loo … Brits beware of Indian English with double meanings! Things have changed a lot since you guys left?!), the windows are closed and Mr. Sarkar is at work again!