Homecoming

It is 9 degrees C in Patna right now. I have forgotten what wintery mornings feel like here. Can’t blame my memory. It has been 20 years since I left home. Twenty years since Baba and I dropped Ma to school, on our way to the train station. And Ma couldn’t turn around to say bye, because it was all too hard. Kids leaving the nest can never be easy, no matter how big a brat the said child has been. Ever since, my presence in Patna has been guest-like. Luxuriating in the presence of top notch food and zero chores for those measly 10 days a year.

And then, 2020 happened. A year of no precedence. A year where we worried collectively about our loved ones. All. The. Time. Fingers crossed, hoping and praying that people we love make it out of this year unscathed. Atleast, physically. But the thing is, sometimes our most fervent wishes land nowhere. 2020 was the year when we all faced our own mortality, like a constant. Many of us lived to tell our stories and then, some of us didn’t. Chotokaku didn’t. Our favorite parent from our childhood. The parent who we could blindly lean on, for an extra ice-cream, when Ma Baba would put their foot down. The parent who attended dada’s parent teacher meetings. And ran with us to teach us how to cycle. For whom, no wish of ours was too small. No tantrum worth an earful. I was raised with military style discipline, thanks to a teacher as a parent. And Chotokaku was that silver lining for my 6 pm punishments. Always cajoling Ma to take it easy. I could write reams and yet, it would never be enough. Ma’s best friend, Baba’s son and our favorite parent. For the second time in my life, I had assumed there would be enough time. Yet, there wasn’t. Life happened in the blink of an eye on a regular November morning. And swept my family with it, in a whirlwind of grief.

For the first time in twenty years, I booked a one way ticket to home. I had been living light in 2020. Just two bags and an Airbnb that I would book every month, in a new neighborhood. Landed in Patna with those two bags, with an intent to leave in a few months. And for the first time, the heart said stay. Stay, because you have been away too long. Stay, because twenty years is too much. Stay, because you will never know how much time you have. And stay, because you can.

So, here I am. My third month in Patna. Woke up at 8 am and fixed my bed. I have discovered Blue Tokai coffee and thanks to a generous gift, I am still sipping on excellent coffee every morning. My morning ritual hasn’t changed much, I guess. Barring the long, free walks, that Patna does not offer. Grief is weaving its way through our day to day lives, showing up in our routines and celebrations, where Chotokaku’s absence is acutely felt. Yet, there is a semblance of normalcy that we are all holding on to. We are learning to laugh again, on poor jokes. We are arguing on mundane things again. I am insisting on getting chores at home (who knew it would come to this!) and parents are insisting on treating me like royalty. Food has again become the language of love. What they can’t say, they feed me. 🙂

I am reading voraciously. There is a solace in others’ stories that I find peaceful. Ma has finally allowed me in the kitchen (which I often call a minefield) and I am pleasantly surprising them with my cooking. We are planning travel and I can see Ma Baba finally looking ahead with the hope of good times. I constantly miss S and the babies. So, we have a ‘Kooby and Maasi story time‘ every Sunday morning. There is a dump truck named Floofy, a fire truck named Django and a sports car named Dash (which Kooby insists is a Lamborghini). There was a time when S and I used to travel without restraint. Now, all my stories are about Floofy, Django and Dash’s adventures in these places. His wide eyed attention to my stories is my weekly prize. Maybe I will be able to give these kids the kind of love that Chotokaku gave to me. Maybe this is what the wise ones call the cycle of life.

Long back, I had read this book named ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ by Jerry Pinto. It was a book about mental health and loss, which had struck a chord. The book ends with the family losing their mother (Em). The author wrote a couple of things towards the end of the book, that have always stayed with me.

And now the world expanded as people left the flat. As we opened the door together, I discovered departures make the world smaller, slighter, less significant.

The city continued on its way. Boys tried to sell me drumsticks, girls played hopscotch, the Bihari badly worker carried his gathri of ironed clothes to the homes from which they had come, and the buses honked at suicidal cyclists. At one level this was vaguely confusing. Surely, something should acknowledge how much things had changed? At another level, it was oddly comforting.

I miss you, Kaku.

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