Homecoming- What it feels like coming back to the small town you grew up in
As the plane flew over the small city that used to be my home for 18 long years, I wondered how I had managed to survive for so long without developing a debilitating mental disease. The oppressively small city, the humid climate, the short sighted people who could only dream of things like getting married, shooting out a couple of kids, starting a family and moving back into their parents’ homes. It was enough to make anyone feel confined and lash out. Maybe that’s why I turned out to be the rebel that I am with yet-to-be-inked-in-tattoo-ideas aplenty.
I watched as the plane glided over grassy hills and winding rivers. I could scarcely see any buildings or roads. For all my complaints, I couldn’t help but agree that it was a beautiful place. In a world fast being taken over by tall, grey concrete structures, Guwahati (my hometown) still managed to retain its greenery. Life was simple in the city. It was perfect for a short vacation from my chaotic life. Though, anything more than a few weeks would be too mentally taxing to be considered a vacation.
My brother had managed to save up some leave days from his busy life as a med-student and had decided to come home for the weekend. Since my parents, my brother and I hadn’t been together at home for over 3 years, I decided to take a break too and grace my family with a visit. Family is important after all, so they say.
I landed at the small airport, quite optimistically called Guwahati International Airport. The only international flight out of the airport was to the neighboring country of Bhutan, which was only a couple hundred kilometers away. The people of Guwahati were quite proud of that international flight. It gave them a sense of being involved with the global while still being comfortably immersed in the local. “Guwahati is a big city. We even have an International Airport”, they liked saying. I would always struggle to hide my contemptuous laugh whenever I heard someone say that.
My dad had come to pick me up from the airport. He looked the same as ever. Tall, broad-shouldered and with a salt and pepper beard that was the envy of pre-pubescent teens everywhere. Even though we shared the same genes, I could never grow a beard like him. I asked him if he could see the ghost of a beard growing on my chin. He laughed and asked, “What beard? You mean those tiny wisps of hair erupting on your chin?” I sighed and let it go.
We drove through narrow crowded streets where the people were busy going about their meaningless pointless existence. I saw a school bus carrying young children still at an impressionable age and I wanted to cry out to them- Run! Run as far away as you can from this place! The world has much more to offer! Run and don’t look back! The children looked back at me with inquisitive bright eyes. I settled for giving them a small wave instead. They’ll have to learn the hard truths of life for themselves.
Driving through the dense smoke and dust, we finally pulled up at the gate of our house. As I stepped out of the car and went inside, I saw my assorted family waiting to greet me. Welcomes and goodbyes were always an awkward experience for me. I was never good at small talk. What were you supposed to answer when they invariably asked you how you were? Will you start with a roaring tirade of all the shit that has befallen you and the small instances of fleeting happiness in-between or would you just smile politely, lie and say that you were doing great?
After quite a few hugs and kisses, I finally managed to extricate myself from the mess of hugging arms and kissing lips and quietly slip away upstairs to my room. My mom was waiting for me. She looked tired and weathered. Age has a rather cruel and impartial judgement. Good or bad, rich or poor, no one is spared its effects.
“Are you hungry” she asked. “I’ve made your favorite!”
Everytime I would come home, she’d laboriously busy herself in the kitchen to prepare every meal with a little more love and a lot more meat than I was normally used to, living alone. She knew I was an unrepentant carnivore and would always fuss over making the perfect carnivorous meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “You come home after so long and you barely have a proper meal when you’re on your own. This is the only chance I get to provide you with proper nutrition”, she would say. True to her words, she would always ensure that I had a healthy balanced diet with fruits, vegetables and lean-meat. Sometimes I think mothers exist solely to feed their children. When I’m away from home, every phone call would involve her asking what I had for lunch or dinner.
My brother was luxuriously laid up on the bed in front of the TV. He lifted his head exerting the least amount of energy possible and asked “What’s up asshole?” We had a very different yet still typical sibling relationship- A lot of insults, a lot of name calling, healthy levels of competition and very rare displays of affection. He is so allergic to any display of affection that he won’t even hug me! I sometimes put my arm around him while posing for pictures just to annoy him. Annoying him was one of the small pleasures of life.
Just when you settle in comfortably for a couple of days the barrage of relatives inviting you over for dinner starts. They like to feed you, these people. The conversations at these dinners somehow manages to steer in the direction of my future. They expect me to come back home after I’m done with my education. Why would they think otherwise? For them it was unimaginable living outside of Guwahati.
“I saw an Ad in the newspaper today that they’re accepting applications at the local gas refinery.”, someone says. They tell me that some jobs in the government sector were also hiring young graduates. “The pay is good” they said, “you should apply.” I smile and nod and say that I will definitely apply. My inner voice goes- “Not in a million fucking years! Ha ha!” I look at my brother with a knowing look. He nods back at me with an imperceptible nod. We were both laughing at the concept. Only a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions would ever cause me to move back home.
In the little time I had, I went out to meet my buddies. The friends who stayed back are surprisingly content with the life they have built for themselves here. I urge them to go out and explore the world. They say they would never fit in outside of Guwahati. “Ah who me? I like it here. My life is here. I can’t possibly survive away from home.” I realize how far apart we have grown. While I was off chasing after dreams of money power fame, they somehow managed to find happiness and contentment in the small things of life. In a way I envy them. Ignorance really is bliss.
Drinking beer with the buddies who did leave Guwahati, I share the same frustrations of feeling confined. They join in with their protests. They feel the same as me. The world outside has much to offer, if you’re only brave enough to step outside and look. My best pal, who I grew up with, is similarly frustrated with the slow pace of life in Guwahati. Even though we grew up together, he somehow managed to do everything better than me. He has an obscenely high paying job, while I struggle to make ends meet. We both have a love for reading and are working on our respective novels. While he has written over 184 thousand words, I’ve managed to just finish up the first chapter. Life is real funny sometimes.
Its the last Saturday before I had to leave. We went out for dinner. At an old restaurant where the entertainment was a band singing out of tune to music playing at a level that makes you want to scratch out your ears. The people were decked up in their good sets of clothes which they broke out only for wedding parties and Saturday night dinners at posh hotels. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. My parents had to stop by about 6 tables to exchange pleasantries before reaching our table. All the while I lingered at the back of my parents smiling politely, desperately trying to hide the boredom on my face.
I look at the people around me all giddishly content. How could they do it? Waking up day after day, going to their monotonous dead-end jobs, coming home to the same set of people, eating, sleeping and then repeating the cycle all over again? They seem content with the constancy of their lives. Most people abhor change, whereas I absolutely crave for it. Change is what I live for. Yet they all seem so happy. I can’t help but wonder if I am doing something wrong?