For the first time in years, the city welcomes me. That tingle of intimidation that stings my skin every time I enter its precincts isn’t there. Instead, the air carries fresh, green scents. Trucks zip by our cab—the wide road an indulgent mother, the dust its errant offspring.
Mother is the face I dream of in sleep and wakefulness. She is the wand that produces a bed with fresh linen for sleeping for me and my husband after our more than twenty-four hours of air travel. After sleeping for barely a couple of hours, she wakes up to make breakfast for her son-in-law who has an early flight the next morning. She is the culinary goddess who dishes out chirer polao, muri ghonto, mutton curry, chingri-begun, shukto, kala chana—flavours of my childhood, meal after meal.
And after four years of my marriage, she’s still the best friend she was before.
The air gets warmer with each passing day. The horizon is ablaze with summer riot—fiery gulmohar and molten gold amaltas sling me into a heady swirl of nostalgia and now-ness. Blushing pink-white madhobilota doesn’t soften, only heightens the impact.
No matter where I live or how big my house is, home will always be this three-room single-story unit. It’s where Grandfather did his battery of morning exercises in the front yard; it’s where Grandma unburdened herself through writing. On hot summer days just like these, she lay on her stomach on the bare floor—her work desk—with sheets of foolscap strewn before her.
It’s where I discovered the rewards of walking as I climbed up to the terrace every morning to take in sun kisses and parakeet tweets. It’s where my toddler niece loves to join her grandma, my mother, for evening prayers, the blowing of the conch shell being her most coveted event.
I call her niece, but that says nothing at all. She is bubbling effervescence. She is deliciously cuddle-worthy; a relative calls her Butterscotch. She is a natural leader who blazes new trails in devising weird games. At age two, she’s the equal opportunity employer who recruits everyone she meets as staff. She is an expert sign linguist even as she tests the shapes of words on her tongue. She is a lover who relishes giving and giving more, not bothering to grab. She is the wise girl who calls everyone Mama, irrespective of gender, age or social standing. She looks at a photo of me and my husband and identifies us as Mama and Papa.
She is a torpedo and the Buddha in the same breath.
Friends blur the edges around spaces. They land up at my doorstep; we talk, revel in each other’s company, tease and get teased. One friend walks for miles in the scorching sun to bring me the gift of a book I had long been looking for. Another couple drives even more miles to spend an evening of love, banter and unabashed causerie. We take photos, but the camera doesn’t capture the synchronicity of our virtual friendship and our real-life bonding. Yet another friend, though absent, is resolutely present in our discussions.
Mornings are a tumultuously happy cacophony of birdcalls. I wake up to an incongruous symphony of pigeons, koels, crows, mynahs, parrots and sparrows. Not to shrill ambulance sirens ripping the curtain of quiet. A friend’s voice floats off the mountains in North Bengal, and suddenly, her name and face meld with the tone of her speech. My words, our laughter, drift over the phone lines, making us the childhood friends we’ve found in each other in our grown-up years. A school friend calls up, we chat after decades, the years in between failing to lessen the mirth we experience by sharing trivial details. Torpedo Buddha says “Mama” in her honey-citrus voice to show me the latest act she has picked up in her playschool.
Sounds I will myself to remember when the incoherence of an ambulance screeches at dawn.
Bhaswati Ghosh writes and translates fiction and non-fiction. Her writing has appeared in several literary journals, including Daily News and Analysis, Earthen Lamp, Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts, Stealing Time, Open Road Review, Humanities Underground, Global Graffiti, and The Four Quarters Magazine.