A few months ago I went to watch the film Piku with my friends (those of you who’ve watched it will know what I’m talking about, those of you who haven’t, I’m not giving anything away). One was an old friend, the others were all new friends at the time, the “I like hanging out with you and want to impress you with my coolness and wit” kind of friends. I don’t remember thinking or feeling anything during the film except immense irritation at Amitabh Bacchan (role well played). The film ended and we walked out and one of my new friends asked me what I thought…and I burst into floods of tears. The kind of ugly crying Oprah sometimes refers to, snot and tears everywhere, running to the bathroom to have strangers worry about me kind of crying. The old friend (and the only female friend) coming in to check on me, asking me if my dad is okay and when I spoke to him last and perhaps secretly wondering if I was on my period. I wasn’t on my period and my dad was and is fine, bless him.
I miss home. SO MUCH. Home means so many things now, it’s no longer four walls and a roof, a physical entity. To friends and colleagues here, it’s India, if they ask more questions I tell them it’s Calcutta. To those who are still curious, I explain while I spent most of my life so far there it’s not where I’m “from” whatever that means. September 2010 onwards this feeling of missing home was a constant, physical pain that wouldn’t go away, I just didn’t have a physical injury to show for it and I couldn’t articulate it. Where would I have started? 24 years of everything I had ever known, a very long and uncomfortable Air India flight away, all discarded by me for a life I thought I wanted. It’s gotten so much better over the years, and I happily consider London home, my other home, I don’t know, something along those lines now.
And then ever so often, something will remind me of what I’ve left behind perhaps for good. The quaint, old buildings of North Calcutta that I used to go past everyday on my way to college and back. Eating puchkas whenever I felt like it and not getting sick (totally different story now, oh my delicate NRI tummy). Spending days and nights at my friend’s house, where her father never tired of quizzing us about current events and would be appalled each time at our ignorance and yet never gave up. Loving the monsoons and running around the school garden getting soaked to the skin during lunchtime, I genuinely did not care if my socks were wet let alone my uniform. Waiting with bated breath for the inter-year school fest that we weren’t allowed to participate in until we were much older, but if we got lucky and leaned out of windows we could maybe spot a boy or two (it was an all girls’ school I went to, and yes it was slim pickings). Sitting in our balcony at home with my dad as he smoked and drank his tea (kalo cha, black tea) which is also when he is most chatty, man of few words otherwise. Family dinners at Mocambo, best restaurant in the world hands-down, highlight of my week. Hanging out at “the lakes” with my friend trying to learn how to smoke a cigarette feeling very, very cool and grown up until an old lady yelled at us saying even girls in America don’t smoke apparently. Going to New Market with my mother and always coming home with way more stuff than I anticipated I would be bought. The first and only time I ever went to Tangra; my sister and I were never allowed to go there because of so-called anti-social elements…perhaps a figment of my dad’s imagination? Nutrition classes in my final year at school where I was always assigned cleaning duties and fair enough, I set fire to a dish cloth during my practical exam and was most concerned about my teacher seeing it, not setting the whole school on fire. The feeling, the slight nip in the sultry Calcutta air when you know winter is coming, out with the monkey caps and shawls. Drives down the second Hoogly bridge, don’t remember doing too many of those but the times that we did were magical. Mamata Banerjee campaigning in our neighbourhood, and my four year old sister asking why that aunty was so angry? Durga Pujo every year, and my father huffing and puffing about the “bloody city going bonkers” and the traffic jams. The heat and humidity not really bothering me, in fact I remember defending it to someone from the Delhi of the dry heat “your dry heat makes me sick.” Trips to Forum the first mall in the city after school, sometimes without telling our parents, and running into my dad there one such time…and his classic comment later “I thought my God that girl looks like just Sona!” Uhhh yes dad because it was me! Going to Flury’s, old and new. Oxford Book Store, the stuff my dreams were made of. Park Street during Christmas, and my one and only time singing Christmas carols in our choir at college; no I don’t have a beautiful singing voice but I enjoyed it thoroughly anyway. Lying around in my sister’s room talking and laughing about nothing and everything, our mother feeling left out yet you can see the “proud mother” look on her face as she complains. Writing love letters to Leonardo DiCaprio and yes mum I know you read at least one of them, still haven’t forgiven you.
Calcutta reminds me of me, my childhood, everything I was and am now. Whenever I go back now it feels quite alien, things and people have moved on, I’ve moved on, and yet so very familiar at the same time. So yes Piku unwittingly elicited a pretty strong response from me, and now I’m happily counting the days down till I’m back where I came from. Reservations at Mocambo? Check.