My first morning in the town where my parents now live looked like this.
This is an army town, once known for its quiet, rustic charm and healing hill station air. Sanatoriums still dot the town and weary Mumbai folk still come down on weekends for a quick getaway. These days it’s a lot busier, at times chaotic, the bazaar crowded with people and cars and dogs and goats and cows. Trucks rumble through its dusty streets at dawn and dogs howl all night. It’s still a small town though; with friendly locals who all know each other, but it’s not my small town. It’s not my homeland. I did not spend my childhood here and my parent’s home is not the one I grew up in.
I set up my laptop and settled down to write. The Australian scenes in my book became clearer as I watched a group of mynah birds pick their way through a dry stretch of grass. I couldn’t help myself. I counted – there were seven – one for sorrow, two for joy – and seven for a secret never to be told. A woman combed her hair slowly under the shade of an old gulmohar. Calls to prayer and a motorcycle starting up somewhere with a screech punctuated the first morning. At night a crescent moon appeared beside the gulmohar and sparrows fluttered when someone started drumming on a tabla. These sounds ought to have been familiar but thirty years away had rendered them strange.
I remember bringing my daughter here when she was five. A man appeared by the front door one morning, leading a pony and encouraging her to hop on while he led horse and child slowly past the houses. Later that day another man turned up with bolts of sparkling fabric on the back of his bicycle. He travelled down from Kashmir every year and wandered the small towns in Central and Western India with his wares – pashmina shawls, embroidered saris, jewelled shoes, brocaded bed sheets. He sat patiently while we made up our minds and promised to return the following year, asking me if I would be there.
There is continuity here, a feeling that things occur in cycles, that appears to have always been here. I slip into this life easily. The crowd parts to let me in and closes around me again. Shopkeepers remember me from a previous visit more than three years ago and ask how long I intend to stay. It appears not to matter that I’m a stranger here. They know I am someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s aunty. It’s enough.
Beautiful Rashida…what is the last photo of?
Kim, these are the Ajanta caves, dating back to 100 BC, carved out of rock by Buddhist monks and inside are the faded frescoes also dating back to that time. The caves were accidentally discovered in the 1930s – the forest had grown over them. These caves are close to the town where my family lives.
That’s amazing…I have heard of them somewhere. Such deep history.
I was struck by your comment about the Australian scenes becoming clearer… I find this, too. It’s as though distance brings clarity.
Thanks for sharing these beautiful meditations on your journey, Rashida.
Thanks Amanda 🙂
Just love this beautiful snapshot of small town life in India, Rashida! You’ve such an eye – and ear – for detail. Thank you for sharing. 🙂
Thanks Marlish 🙂 and thank you for sharing as well. I so appreciate it 🙂
Thanks Karen. 🙂
Beautiful writing, Rashida. There is an air of melancholy and wistfulness about it. I’m glad the crowd parted to let you in—a lovely phrase, too, by the way. Not many places do that these days! It sounds like a special town.
Thanks Louise. Yes, it’s a nice town and has been my family’s home for nearly 30 years, but it’s not my home, hence the wistfulness you detect.