Another weekend and you are all poised to enjoy every minute of it and this weekend thoughts column arrives. What do you do! Hit the 'Next' button/key because there's an important mail from your boss! (unless of course you are the boss) Well, all through the week you have worked hard enough and now you deserve to sit back, relax and enjoy a nice article; which of course brings me to the article.
It's the story of my life and yours. when I read it, I could have sworn to it, one sustitute my name in place of Subhankar's and it will be my story. I bet, once you read this, you'll feel the same way about it. Like Subhankar, I went home last december and enjoyed every minute of my trip. I still remember the time I came out of IG International Airport in Delhi. Oh boy! there's a lot of people out here, I thought. And in few days, it felt so natural and soon I was one of them. Riding the two wheeler Kinetic Honda was equivalent to performing stunts on the Bhubaneswar road initially; but it did not take me long to zig-zag out of any spot and be on my way. There was no fast-cars or multiple-lane one-way road; rather all roads looked like one-lane, multiple-way; but the fun of riding a two-wheeler on those roads is unsurpassable. I distinctly remember the day I landed in Atlanta after coming back. On my way back to home on I-285, I was missing a lot; it felt so empty; there was no scooter, rickshaw, bi- cycle, bullock-cart, pedestrian, cow, bull, dog or goat on the road; only fast moving cars and a deadly silence.I felt like I've entered a lifeless world of metals and machines. What seemed to be noise at first; I was missing the same noise that had become music to my ears!
Behind all these feelings, there is one little magic word - "HOME". There is nothing great than one's home; there is no feeling greater than one's homecoming. Reminds me of the last scene in one of Steven Spielberg's all-time great movie "ET" - "Home, Sweet Home!".
By the way, if I wanted to write my own feeling, I would write my own article (which, of course, I would, provided "sATHie mahan ghia podA heba...") why steal the limelight from Subhankar! Oh! I keep mentioning this name "Subhankar" and I know you are smart. You've already guessed it. He is the author of this week's article. Well, you would be right! But what you cannot guess is what a nice article he has written for WT! See for yourself.
Surjit Sahoo February 23, 1996
Name : Age : 23 years Place of Birth : Sambalpur, Orissa Place of Residence : Paradip Port, Orissa Education : Kendriya Vidyalaya, Paradip Port Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (B.Tech, 1994. Major: Industrial Engineering) Presently : Doctoral student of Finance, Yale School of Management, Yale University. Email: email@example.com WWW: http://pantheon.cis.yale.edu/~nayak/index.html
After an ominous start (the first blizzard of the season delaying my flight by eight hours), but uneventful journey, I made the much anticipated touchdown in my country, with butterflies in my stomach -- I was, at last, coming home. Four distinct changes hit me straight away when I landed in Bombay -- the temperature (in the sixties), the chaos (I had forgotten how it can be), the crowd (though it was past midnight) and the noise. After all this time, the din and the bustle felt quite strange, but it was the first sign of homecoming -- a feeling of belonging. But the first realization of the fact that I was not in the US set in, when, after going through the immigration formalities, I gave the security officer my best smile and a polite "thank you" and he looked up and stared at me as though I had said the unutterable. Anyway, I was going to get home soon, though it came forty hours later after delayed domestic flights, haggling with porters and being fleeced by the cab driver.
I had never realized that I had missed home so much until I reached home and met my family members. For all the physical exhaustion and pecuniary burden (and wasted time off graduate studies!), the homecoming was worth many times all the problems faced. Everything at home was the same, but everything felt so different -- the sense of enjoyment was immense and the fulfillment complete.
Initially, it was so strange to adjust in a world (though I had been away from it for just about two years) where the telephone is not an omnipotent device, where you do not discuss about the weather five times a day, where the craze is not "football" (the American variety, the one played with hand) but dear old cricket, where you do not just pick up packed foods in the supermarket and eat after heating in the microwave, where you still have the privilege of someone attending you whenever you go to shop anywhere (although you might wonder whether that person ever smiles in his life), where the left-side traffic first confuses you to no end and when you come to terms with it, the rules of the road scare you to death, where if you prepare to give the right of way to someone on the road then you are assured to be stuck in the traffic forever, where it is a sin to call someone even slightly elder to you by the first name ... But there are things back home which constitute the dreams in this land of opportunity; the pleasure of being relieved of cooking your own food (I am still a bachelor!) and being fed with delicious food cooked by your mother, the lavish attention you get from everyone, even those whom you do not know, the privilege of dropping by in anyone's house without first seeking an appointment over the phone, and lastly where you have ample opportunity to indulge in the elusive art of DOING NOTHING which I have perfected so well in my life, but which was going out of my grasp in the last two years.
But one aspect of the trip, that stood out as its best feature, was meeting all the people: family members, relatives, friends, acquaintances, and even others whom I did not know. Sometimes you feel that you are in the midst of a crowd, but paradoxically, you never get lost in that crowd, rather you stand out, you become distinct (not only me, but just about anyone). Maybe, that is because the Indian culture puts so much emphasis on the social values of existence, rather than the individual needs. We are usually something more than a simple collection of individuals when we come together as a group. I really enjoyed those hours of warmth, intimacy, and the feeling of oneness when I was amongst all these people, the people I knew. And to top it all, were those long hours spent with my old friends (there was no end of such friends), on meaningless talks and backslapping alternating with long serious discussions on just about anything -- philosophy, religion, sports, affairs, nostalgic trips and questions about life and existence. Ah, those were the days. In this light, sometimes I wonder that, when the western cultures implicitly emphasize individual independence, is it really independence they are talking about, or is it detachment?
And one day, I decided to take a trip down the memory lane -- to visit my school, my dear old school where I spent twelve lovely years of my life. I had never imagined that so many changes would have taken place within the four years since I had last been there. I felt lost; lost amongst the faces of new teachers and new students. Where were the old faces, the old memories? Where was I, where it felt like a second homecoming, but where I had to explain my identity? At last, I met my eighth grade class-teacher, the only person I knew who was still in the school. What a pleasure it was, talking about the past -- the old days, the old friends, the old teachers! But everything had changed -- the people, the classrooms, the laboratories, the library, and even the old cycle-shed had changed. I felt that I did not belong there, until I came to the school playground and memories came flooding in -- the cricket field where I had spent countless hours, the neem tree in one corner from which I had once fallen and fractured my arm, the row of shrubs where I used to hide the various bird-nests I used to collect, the small garden at one corner where we were forced to work against our will, the concrete platform where our cultural activities used to take place,... I stood by watching the small kids playing, lost in my reveries, until one of them came down and started talking to me, calling me "Uncle"! That was the last straw. Never before had I felt like an old man from a bygone era. The place I had dreamt of, were in my memories only, but those lovely memories...
And while I was there, I also did a fair amount of traveling to various places -- Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Sambalpur, Puri, Konark. I was surprised to note how I started seeing and feeling the same old things in completely new light. Many physical things and cultural values that I had taken for guaranteed in the past, conveyed their special significance this time around. One particular example was the Jagannath temple of Puri. Frankly, I am an atheist. So when I went to the temple one fine evening, I was pleasantly surprised when a sense of tranquillity overcame my mind. I am not suggesting that I underwent a conversion in my beliefs, but the feeling of calmness that I experienced was complete. I had never felt that way for a long time.
Like all good things in life, my trip soon came to an end. I had been told that the first time you leave home is never that painful; it is the second time around, when you really feel the pains of parting. I had known it, but I realized it only when I experienced it myself. A familiar force, a bond was restraining me. But the future I have chosen for myself beckons me; it is my destiny. I have to tread along the same path that I have created for my career. Now I am back in a place where I exist for myself, where life is like that of an automaton, where the fond memories form the source of sustenance --- Welcome back to the life of PIGS (Poor Indian Graduate Students)!
Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home;
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne'er met with elsewhere.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home! there's no place like home!
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