My hair was set loose to move with the wind. I was sitting in the bus with my head out of the window. It had been six years since I had visited my hometown. The rivers were calling me to immerse myself into their clear and sweet waters. The cool breeze was tantalizing. The AccuWeather app on my phone was showing me the current temperature to be twenty eight degree Celsius. After all I was away from the never ending winters of the North India. But the humidity was punishing me. I was perspiring too much as if someone had opened the shutters of a dam and gallons of water were flooding the villages.
People at the bus were staring at me. I was looking different from all other normal girls in that whole bus. No salwar suit or dupatta. No oil in the hair. No gajra . No gold earrings and bangles. And on top of all that, I was almost like a half person out of the bus hanging out of the window. I was wearing a normal red and blue checked shirt with a pair of jeans. And I had a pink coloured trolley bag with me. The four days of travel all the way from Jammu to Trivandrum was like feeling like Alexander who had won the toughest battle of all times. My parents had really tested my patience this time. Otherwise I would have jumped into some river while travelling through the Konkan side of India through Goa. Travel had made my face look like a rotten potato. My face was swollen and the kajal in my eyes had decided to take a tour. I was looking like a panda.
Suddenly a thought struck me. I thanked God that my brain was alive at that moment. I took my laptop out of my bag. The wallpaper of Khal Drogo from the desktop was deleted immediately and all the movies expect the anime section was selected and permanently shifted to the unreachable trash box. I checked my drives again. I was safe now.
Safely travelling to home.
My relatives were so conservative. I still remember all those days when I used to visit my Aunt's home and all my cousins would tell me to wear a dupatta over the extra large and extra loose salwar suit which would practically look like a gown sweeping the floor. Wearing tight clothes which includes leggings and churidhar was a crime. Having long hair was even more important. Amma always used to say,
" Ignore people or start blending in."
I preferred the first option. I ignored them. Respecting the culture and traditions was necessary but for a person like me who had always lived in a very open environment, it was very difficult to blend in.
The bus stopped near some government school. My mother had told me get into an auto and reach home. I asked her on the phone.
" How much will they charge me by the way?"
" A hundred bucks."
"What? A hundred? Isn't that too much?"
" Don't bargain with the auto driver. Just get in and come home."
I was a miser. All those four days in the train, I had saved my money by controlling my desire for vada paav and cutlets and what not. I would have never given an auto driver a hundred bucks. But I was too tired to bargain also.
I got in an auto and reached home and paid the lucky auto driver a hundred bucks. My wallet was feeling the pain of getting bankrupt while I was paying him. And that wicked smile on his face seemed as if he was saying,
"You are helpless! At least you could have had the vada paav. It was only for twenty rupees."
I got in my house. Amma was standing right there with a big smile flaunting her well shaped teeth. I was arguing with my Amma.
"Why can't we bargain?"
" Girls can't bargain here. The auto driver would not have beared that. Now calm down and come to the dining table soon. Go and clean yourself."
Nothing mattered. I was at home. The mess food at my hostel had killed my tongue. My tongue had become a piece of dead flesh.
The kadhai paneer, aaloo shimla mirch, rajma and the mixed vegetables had killed me already. I was feeling very hungry and tired. So, I had reached home and one of the tensions of having food got reduced.
When I had got admitted to the college, many of my friends and relatives said,
"So, you will get to bathe in pure water from the hills."
And now the sarcasm in their voices was still evident on my head, which would be soon looking like a clean white skull in few days. Everyone was suffering from severe hairfall.
And now I had clean water at home to bathe in. I was blessed to be at home.
I sat on the dining table. Dad had gone out for work. Amma was busy moving utensils from here to there.The clanking noise was irritating but somehow soothing for my ears. It felt home. The aroma of the fish gravy was reaching my nostrils. Amma came out of the kitchen and asked me,
" What will you eat? I will cook for you. "
" Anything will be fine. Anything. Just feed me."
I was like a malnourished starving stray dog looking for something to eat from a huge pile of garbage.
My schoolfriends always used to send pictures of golgappas and momos which gave me foodgasm every now and then. The phone on the table was vibrating. Somebody had texted me on Hike. It was Neel.
-Reached home? Or still travelling?
– Reached. At home now. So text me less.
Amma was standing at the kitchen door. She was rolling the dough between her palms for making chapatis. I could feel her anger and was waiting for her to speak, actually yell.
" And you text all day long. You don't give me time. Talk to me. Tell me about your friends, studies and all that you do there. I must be a hundred percent sure that you must be sleeping like a sloth there. I don't know how you must be getting up for giving exams…."
I couldn't stop controlling my laughter. That was home. One had to be a good, obedient child at home always helping out parents and doing work at the correct time and sleep less. It was tough. I switched off my mobile.
Amma served me with fish gravy and rotis. I was blabbering about random things with her. My taste buds came out of their dormant state and I felt alive. Even the taste of water felt like the food of immortality. The starved dog was fed with a feast.
Two weeks had gone past like a day. All the days were passing away like a shooting star. And soon time stood still. I was getting bored like anything at home.
Amma called me downstairs.
" Come and sweep the floor here and get rice powder from the mill. Then clean the shelves near the washroom. Too many cobwebs are there."
All the kingly treatment had vanished. I was now another servant at home. Two weeks were too short to make me realize that I was not a VIP. I was laughing.
I religiously did all the work as ordered by my mother and was panting at the end of the day like a donkey. Everything was going on smoothly till the moment I was asked to go and bathe. It felt like I was committing a big crime. Who knew that my friends and I had competitions of not bathing for weeks? I was too lazy to go into the bathroom, fill a bucket full of water and bathe. But that was home. Nothing could be done. I bathed and felt sick.
It was my birthday that day. I was feeling miserable while switching off my phone that night too. I wanted all those good for nothing friends to wish me. I felt so bad. I must say, the birthday wishes between the twelve o' clock midnight and the early morning were always so special. The constant escaping from evil friends and other hostelmates who would run after me with their hands full of cake and cream to apply on my hair and face was too much of fun. The birthday card and the endless dance party and the surprises had always been too good. That was hostel. And this was home. Celebrating birthdays in the desi style which included the prayer session at the temple followed by a simple vanilla cake cut at home with my family. The best cake I had tasted ever was the Chocolate troufle cake at hostel. The Chocolate melted in my mouth for hours. It was like tasting chocolate till infinity.
But home was always simple and that is what I always liked about it. There was no drama or spontaneity unlike hostel life which was adventurous all the time.
I was missing the overcooked chowmein of the mess which was looked like porridge and were called noodles. I knew it well that I had lost my senses.
Hostel was freedom. Home was a feeling.