I am in my hometown, Durgapur, on a break for a week. It is the month of monsoon, and what greeted me first was the all-encompassing greenery and the damp weather. Durgapur primarily has a tropical climate: hot, sweaty, sticky. For the most of Summers the city is brown, but with the advent of monsoons, the shrubs and bushes and the trees claim the land – it is no short of an invasion. The bright, rich green is unashamed in its exploitation, and claims every inch of the land it can touch. It has a raw quality to it which soothes the eye and makes me remember the years in which human beings lived in jungles.
Durgapur is where I grew up, went to school, played with friends. It is a well planned city, with mostly good, wide roads lined with trees. The neigborhoods are calm and silent. Traditionally, people used to work in the steel plant that Durgapur is famous for. Nowadays, kids study and move out of the city all the time, settling down in different parts of the country, and sometimes, even the world. Durgapur has a few good schools which lay the foundation for good careers. Today, while I was on my morning walk, I saw schoolkids in variety of uniforms, in buses, pool cars, on parents’ scooters and bikes, rushing towards school. One of the girls was behind her father on the scooter and she had a bunch of papers in her hand that she was studying; probably for a test at school. This took me back to my school days, when I used to climb onto the school bus, and find myself a seat next to the window and go over the copies one more time before we reached school. The world has changed a lot since I graduated from schools: I did not own a mobile phone until I went to college. But to see that still some things remained same – some kids to this day are as studious that I used to be – was weirdly satisfying. Note that now that I am grown up and have seen how professional life works, I realize that the number of hours put in studying is not always proportional to professional success and I would probably not encourage my kids to study while we were dropping them to school, but nonetheless, it is interesting to see that my hometown to this day remains similar to how I saw it growing up.
On my morning walks, I also walk beside the fair ground which hosts the Annual Rath Yatra to celebrate Lord Jagannath’s visit to his aunt’s house. In my childhood, this ground used to be a place of wonders: lots of snacks places, shops which sold cheap jewellery: necklaces and rings with shiny stones, toy shops which sold trains and cars and dolls and tiny houses. There was also a book fair, which was my favorite haunt. I used to wait for the entire year to buy one book at the book fair and read it many times in the coming months, over a bowl of muri and samosas. Today, when I walk through the narrow lanes of the fair ground, all I can see is the amount of dirt on the sides of the road and the crowd. It bothers me, even though as a child I looked forward to it. Today, I feel more at peace at home, enjoying the silence of the rooms I grew up in, sometimes going through the diaries I kept when I was younger.
Every time I come home now, I discover a piece of myself in those old notes in the diaries; I understand the things which drove me as a child, the things which made me happy. I miss the prayer ceremonies at school, where all the school kids stood in lines, as per their classes and in order of their heights, singing songs that glorified the country and the state and the mother tongue. I miss the ceremonies we used to host in the school where I played the role of an anchor, guiding the ceremony to a successful end. I miss standing on the stage to make a speech (even though it was something that made me immensely uncomfortable). I miss dressing up in sarees and bangles and wearing make-up and flowers in the hair for the occasional dance performance. These things are no longer there in my life – somewhere, I have lost the creative influence that surrounded my childhood likes clouds around a snow-capped mountain. I miss it and I crave it and I want to become part of something similar again.
In all my writing, I have realized, there is a craving for the past, of something that exists in my memory (sometimes in the vague, muddy manner that is characteristic of dreams). It feels strange that I have lived through my childhood and it is really over, for in my heart, I somehow never grew up.