BENGALURU: After an 8-hour flight from Detroit to Amsterdam and wandering aimlessly through the corridors of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, I boarded the next 8-hour flight to New Delhi. I landed in New Delhi hours before the first blush of dawn, napped fitfully on the rock-hard benches at the terminal and finally embarked on the last leg of the journey, a 1.5 hour flight to Bhopal – post all this, it wasn’t surprising that I was mere inches away from collapsing in a pitiful heap of cramped muscles and sore bones.
But the moment I stepped out of the airport at Bhopal, it was as if the familiar smells, sounds and sights of this much-loved city breathed new life into my travel-weary self.
Soon enough my jet-lagged eyes popped wide open in excitement as Papa meandered through the narrow by-lanes burgeoning with life and past the quiescent big lake over which a translucent curtain of mist hung low, adding to the acute sense of nostalgia that was slowly setting in.
The moribund yet charming pink arches of Gauhar Mahal and the quaint minarets of Tajul Masjid seemed to break into wide smiles as they welcomed me back. Even the stern looking Raja Bhoj carved in stone looked pretty pleased to see me. What accentuated the hilarity of the situation was me grinning foolishly back at all of them. This is what happens when one has an imagination that gallops faster than wild horses.
For the first few days everything felt surreal. It was as if I had stepped out of a Skype session with my parents, right into their living room. The transition from miniature 2-dimensional images on my computer screen to real flesh and blood 3D versions left me momentarily dazed and I constantly felt the need to reach out and touch everything and everyone around to make sure that this was not a dream.
Even the city pretended to unfold slowly and dramatically in front of me, making me believe that I was seeing it anew.
Small-town India peeked cheekily from around every nook and corner — a posse of students crowding a tin shanty, from within the charcoal walls of which a delectable breakfast of poha-jalebi materialized on square pieces of newspaper and old men in monkey-caps and thick wool sweaters, emitting bursts of loud belly-laughs in the park early in the morning.
The sounds filtered in seamlessly through meshed windows – the loud whistle of a train in the vicinity, the strains of Hindi movie songs on someone’s radio, the cacophony of competitive honking on the roads and the constant hum of life as it goes by.
Picture this – I am sitting cross-legged in the living room, with a blanket of golden sunlight warming my legs and the sound of Ashoka trees rustling merrily in a mild winter breeze. From the corner of my eye I can see Ma shuffling from one room to another, carrying out her ritualistic morning chores. Papa is lounging on a chair with a cup of tea.
He has his nose buried in today’s newspaper. On my left, my brother, Pranay is lying supine on the couch, his eyes glued to the television set on which an India-Australia cricket match is on. This is my very own paradise. None of the harshness associated with life as a grown-up touches me here.
With me are those who love me unconditionally, a bookcase that groans under the weight of books from all around the world and crisp mooli/methi/gobhi parathas that turn golden brown in Ma’s kitchen.
I can speak in Hindi all day long without having to see even a hint of incomprehension on the faces of those whom I am speaking to. If this isn’t pure joy, then what is?
Preeti Sharma blogs at www.preetisharma84.blogspot.com