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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Homecoming

The train curved its way over the rivers and rivulets - flowing full and fast. The intermittent drizzle would occasionally be interrupted by the sun trying to find its way out of the monsoon clouds. A few 'Elephant Zone. Drive Cautiously' signboards went past as the train hooted its way through the dense forest. I half hoped for the elephants to stop the train. Of course, I would then have cursed myself for not having brought my camera. Nothing of that sort, however, happened. The train moved on steadily with its rhythmic clik-clak.

From New Jalpaiguri to Alipurduar Junction, the train ride was at once nostalgic and full of anticipation. It was twelve years ago, when as a fifteen year old kid, I had last been there to spend my vacation with my grandparents, uncles, and cousin brothers and sisters. This time, though, there were fewer people to meet and I had just about two days.

It's unbelievable how our conceptions of space and time change as we grow up. The time it took to cover the distance from the station to my dadi's house had seemed like an eternity when I was a kid. So much so that even a couple of days ago, I had argued with my father that it would take me at least 30 minutes. 5 minutes is what it took me this time. The rickshaw puller who helped me cover the last stretch, told me how the city had changed over the past decade. He showed me the new buildings that had come up long with the old ones - some of which had stayed the way I hazily remembered them and others which had become bigger and more 'modern'. But to me nothing really seemed different. The huge field was still there. The rain, the dense vegetation, the dampness, the one storied houses with tin roofs, the little shacks on stilts which sold everything from bread and biscuits to soaps and brushes, the drains full of water, the people on bicycles, the absense of anything which my dictionary defines as 'modern' - Alipurduar, to me, had stayed pretty much where I had left it in 1997.

I found my dadi waiting for me in front of the gate. I got down, gave the rickshaw puller the Bhutanese 5 Ngultrum note (Owing to the close proximity to the Bhutan border, (less than 50 kms) the Bhutanese currency is used alongside the Indian Rupee in these parts) that the chaiwallah had given me in New Jalpaiguri, touched my dadi's feet, hugged her and went inside.

As a small child, I never realized the charm of the journey to Alipurduar. Reaching home was the most important thing. My heart and my mind hadn't grown up enough to consciously take in and enjoy the little things that made up the week long stay. It's only now that I can separate out the parts and feel a sense of joy mingled with loss. It's only now that I realize that maybe I should have made a little more effort to visit this place more often during my days spent shaping my life and myself in Delhi and Bangalore. The next two days were spent with my grandmother and then my uncle and his family. There was a lot of catching up. More importantly, there was a lot of knowing each other. I have never been very close to my relatives. My parents and my friends have pretty much made up my world. But for what it's worth, it was nice to be there. It was a pleasant feeling - although a bit surprising to me - to know that connecting, bonding with your closest relatives - be it your 85 year old grandmother or your 50 something uncle or your 14 year old brother, isn't all that tough even after the long gap.

4 comments:

Julie said...

You are such a talented writer. Your descriptions of events always give me images of a dream-like haze, and the fact that they are set in a world so different from my own only heightens that feeling.

Looking forward to meeting you in just a few weeks!

Blue Sky said...

Hello Sir. I started my schooling at a place near Alipurduar called Hasimara. It is a very small town made prominent by the Air Force Station over there. A very wet place, some of my earliest memories are of lush greenery and a flood which hit the place once. The closest railway station was in Alipurduar. Being very close to Bhutan border, I remember making many excursions to a small place called Phuentsholing just across the border. I have found very few people having any connections with Alipurduar. It's a pleasant change to hear that some others have been there and are aware of it when most others just gape at you when told about a place near 'West Bengal-Bhutan' border!

Atish said...

Julie: Thanks so much for the comment. I wish there were more readers of your kind :P
Blue Sky: I know Hasimara pretty well. In fact I remember the sound of fighter planes during my visits to Alipurduar. And what a lovely name - hasimara :)

and of course I've been to Phuentsholing. many times in fact. got the Bhutanese 3D stamps (if you know what they are) and the beautiful stamps that the postal dep sold. you brought back many memories :) thanks for visiting.

usha said...

Hi Atish,
Seldom our feelings translate in words, people who have this art should keep posting....unknowingly u help others in rediscovering values.
It is the same place and people, but our perceptions towards them changes with time. I am glad u still upheld values and respect for elders.
May God bless you