You may find it very strange that I am one loner who cannot take loneliness thrust upon him. I always like to choose my loneliness not vice versa. So earlier today as dusk chased light into the land of our western brothers, I felt a profound solitude, with no verifiable source or traceable genesis, grip my being and engulf me in fear that I would perhaps end up overwhelmed by my seclusion. I was fidgeting and walking from one room to another in my empty house and not much thereafter I gave in to the temptation of riding into the monsoon winds. It had been a long time that I had touched my bike and it too was perhaps craving to be driven by its master. As I stepped out to dust it I was petrified to look up and find dark nimbus clouds converging like soldiers stealthily but surely surrounding enemy land, readying to unleash themselves upon unsuspecting souls. For a moment I confronted self doubt and faced second thoughts about going ahead with my scheme. And in the moment that followed, a part of me, a long sleeping part, a more confident part, rose to tower above the doubtful me, and dictated ‘To hell with rain, I have to take the trip, I must’, I thought to myself and began dusting my bike with somewhat pepped up zeal. I normally do not take time in dressing up, unless the dresses themselves are someone’s choice rather than mine. I slipped into my khakis, put on a white ethnic shirt, and wore my dark brown leather sandals, all in five minutes and after locking the house, I kick started my bike and with one last look up at the clouds, now right above my head, I turned the accelerator and sped away.
It is one thing to read and see someone enjoying, and it is entirely another to know the pleasure yourself. When the first gust of the steady wind from the Mahanadi broke on my face I felt life return to my soul. I did not know how dead I was till I lived in that moment. It is not said without reason that nothing can revive a writhing soul like mother nature. As the gentle breeze filled my lungs, I felt my worries and anxieties drain away, as if a natural consequence of things. I pass through that place every day when I drive to office, but the whole idea of the landscape and the trees and the water under the bridge, everything, changed in that moment, when I looked at them closely then. I found them real, full of life, with minds of their own. From behind the panes of a speeding car, one sees nothing except a dead form of living things. I had missed such marvelous designs of my ambience by travelling within closed windows. I stay in the suburbs, so it took me a fifteen minute ride, through a Saturday evening traffic to reach the town’s heart. Little did I know that a string of memories were ready to fill my heart. Little did I know that the city where I had grown up in, the city where I now lived pursuing my job, was in wait with a bouquet of moving memories.
As I entered its thronged lanes, the velocity of my vehicle was forced to drastic reduction by the debilitating traffic, and there I found my first memory. I recalled my father presaging me by saying that I would never truly learn driving as long as I don't drive in the thick traffic of our city during the peak hour of the day. What I saw from thereon opened a window of a long shut space within me. As I was guided through, softly held by the tip of my index finger.
My school fell on the way. Looking at my school building, I recalled my sheer struggle for a decade after which I managed to complete my schooling; those years on year of disenchantment with the syllabus; those disappointing report card digits and remarks, the vulnerability of a teenager who keeps shut even when he does not like being bossed around, the suppression of desires as a matter of habit, the perpetual inability to express sincere affections for the only girl I kept fancying about, even after a long wait of four years, the playgrounds, the teachers, their shimmering faces, faces of schoolmates who I barely talked with throughout school, circled about my eyes till they wanted. When the string of pinches was over, I was visited by the most lovely recollections of those times. The warmth and camaraderie of friends who stood by me no matter what. The playground area where we offered countless prayers in chorus and heard zillion sermons from beloved teachers. I noticed the nearby medical college, whose best memories remain etched in the form of heart numbing glimpses of truly 'beautiful' doctors. In the age of raging hormones it could be a very difficult place to spend nearly eight hours of your day, since every other lady I saw coming out of the nearby hostel appeared worthy of my heart. The tragedy was that most of them looked at me as if I was their sister’s son and for the rest I could simply never summon the courage. I saw the roads, the traffic islands, joints, the cinema halls where I had grown up at. I missed my friends instantly. Friends who had gone far in pursuit of life leaving only nostalgia in my care. It was the city where I learnt to ride my grandfather's bicycle and my father's scooter.
It's where I have been bestowed with unconditional love of friends and deep hatred of many alike. I have been in stupid, regretful fist fights and have been hounded by armed hooligans. I've had the fortunate company of friends who did not budge anywhere without me and others who got up and walked away at the very mention of my name. I have been adored & respected, looked down upon, betrayed and back stabbed in the days I spent in this city. I bagged my maiden professional engagement and earned my first salary here. I've been called 'worthless' by my college professors and I have been remarked "EXCELLENT - AAA" upon drafting my first ever petition for a Court Case. In this city I wrote my first love letter, my first prize winning essay and my worst answer papers ever. In one of its oldest galleries I overcame my fear of oratory and I had even dared to enrol myself in a dance contest, where I for unfathomable reasons ended up being in top three. I learnt to smoke and gulped my first mug of beer here. I ran to the Mahanadi flanking my house to talk to its brimming surface when I felt lonely. I experienced my maiden kiss and the agonizing sweet cluelessness of adolescent romance in its serene winters. I could not help but feel gratitude for the land of my birth staying where I recently found my soulmate. It is where my long search for true love finally ended a few months back.
Drifting to the house where I was born and brought up, I found time had eroded much of its familiar identity. In our backyard I met the trees and the overgrown grass surrounding the house and a rainbow of memories filled me with glorious images of my life's long departed days. So many afternoons of my childhood, I'd spent under the shade of those twin trees. Now they did not look like just trees anymore. It appeared as if they had a soul like us and were looking at me through tears, fraught with age, as if to say that I abandoned them in their last days. I moved my hands reassuringly over their weary trunks to convey how truly I wanted in that moment, to give up everything and play a game of hide and seek under their shades, like I used to decades ago. The saplings that my father had made me plant then, had grown into handsome young trunks decorated with enviable branches and lush leaves. I felt content with what they looked like. Finally as tired birds returned to their abodes on their higher parts, I felt glad that my trees are not lonely after all. On my way back through the clustered lanes of our colony I saw the ancient temple of our neighbourhood, from where divine echo of the priest's conch shell calls used to wake me up early every morning, its purity demystifying the anxieties of the bygone night and where God's deity alone knew my deepest yearnings all throughout my adolescence.
I returned in fulfilling company of pleasant reminiscence. I was brimming with a heady blend of nostalgia and joy. I longed for my childhood and more particularly for being a child in my city of birth. I was carrying the scent of my birthplace. As strange it may sound, I could not get away from that mesmerizing fragrance of the spent days of my life. Flashes of the present and the past mingled in the lanes, the buildings, the faces and the structures that I had seen. I realized why it is said that a man never gets over the love for his hometown. It is perhaps because it is the land where he is born and becomes the person that he is to be for the rest of his life.