I have always avoided going back to old places. By old places I mean places I have had a connection with in the past but have nothing in common with now. This holds true not only for towns and cities but also for schools, colleges, places of work, even neighbourhoods. Life however has a way of giving you things that you do not like and experiences that you run away from. That’s the way it makes you strong I guess.
In the recent years my life has been making me strong too, by taking me to all places I had been running away from. It has taken me to my first place of work and the second (I have worked only at two places); it has taken me back to schools I have studied in and cities I lived in. And continues to take me to the only city I can called home.
I left Lucknow exactly fifteen years ago on the same evening when I wrote my last exam. My parents had already left a year before and the only family that remained there — my uncle and grandparents — left the year after. And so even though I kept telling people I belonged to Lucknow, for twelve years I hardly set a foot in the city.
Some years ago when my father decided to go back, I was naturally very apprehensive. In these twelve years we had lived only in the metros — Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Calcutta — and had gotten used to the luxuries of life. I wasn’t sure if they will be able to adjust to the life of a small town with almost no connection, friends or family left there. But more than anything it was the fear of going back to a place where I had spent the best time of my life, only to realize that everything had changed.
And just like I had thought, everything had indeed changed.
It took me a long time to get used to the place. Every time I went back, I looked for the home I had left behind. I looked for my room with a shelf full of journals, letters, cards & books; for my music system in the corner, and my single bed with two Dunlop mattresses. I also looked for the house that I had done up by saving my non-existent allowance with pots & pans, baskets & terracotta, and many, many Ganeshas. I looked for the cane swing in the lobby and gold rimmed clock on the wall.
But I found none of it.
What I found instead was an unknown house that had been unloved and uncared for. The house whose pristine marble floors had turned brown, whose robust teak wood had crumbled; a house that had more pests than people, more loneliness than joy. A house which was not even a faint shadow of the beautiful home of my growing up years. It was like my worst nightmare had come true. And so even though my parents lived there, I avoided going home; whenever I did, I spent most of the time outside, running away from the uncomfortable truth.
All this changed last year, when I was forced to spend two whole weeks cooped up at home with my mother in the hospital struggling to live.
In the two uncomfortable weeks I realised two things: one – there is nothing worse your parent’s house without your parents; two – even though you may have severed ties with it, your home remains your home. Those two weeks also showed me how hard my ageing parents had been working to keep up the house. They had slowly yet steadily transformed the ghost house into home again: the leaking taps had been fixed, the teak had been re-polished; the musty walls had been painted into our favourite shade of white, the dead lawn was alive, the gold rimmed clock was replaced with a brown frame. The books were back in the shelves, the soul back into the house.
And although it was not what I had left behind, the estranged house had started to feel like home again.