The bus slowly snaked across the border and reached the check post. Fazila, clutching Rhizwan’s photograph to her chest, sat there with unstoppable tears streaming down her eyes. She and Rhizwan, after sixty odd years, had reached their home land, India, the land where they were born and brought up. Ezan, sitting next to her, gently kept wiping off her tears. Fazila felt drowned in the floodgate of emotions that threatened to overpower her, completely.
After the formalities at the check post, the bus started moving. It went past many small towns, villages with paddy fields, coconut trees, and ponds with women washing clothes, utensils etc. It all seemed so familiar to Fazila. How often, during her vacations, Fazila would visit such villages with her father, on his official trips. The picture of her father and herself, sitting in the jeep flashed in front of her. He loved singing Baul songs and oh how beautifully he sang! Fazila would be transported to a different world, where she too would join his singing. She didn’t quite feel the few hours that flew by before the bus halted at its destination. People started alighting the bus and soon only Fazila and Ezan remained inside. Ezan gently pulled Fazila up and they both stepped off the bus too. Fazila’s legs were trembling. They probably, had forgotten the feel of the soil of their home land. Ezan slowly, led Fazila towards the counter, when two boys came and greeted them saying, “Adaab, Fazila khala. Adaab bhai jaan.” Fazila hugged them in a tight embrace. They were her younger sister, Fatima’s sons; Sikander and Samrat.
Did she really hear it? Thought Fazila as she turned to see Fatima standing there with open arms. The two sisters hugged each other as conjoined twins. The tears were streaming down , unrestricted, from all five pairs of eyes. Ezan slowly tried to pull Fazila away but it seemed as if the two sisters could not be separated any more. In some time, they gathered control over themselves and holding hands, walked to the car waiting for them. Every one set out for home.
Fazila was soaking in all that she saw around, on her way home. But did she really know this place? Was this the city that she lived in some sixty years back? So much had changed. This was a completely new landscape. The buildings, roads, shops nothing matched the landscape of this city that was in her mind, for all these years. Suddenly her face lit up and she cried out, “Stop! Stop!” The brakes screeched and the car stopped. Fazila pointed out to the sweet shop at the corner of the road. The board read ‘Petuk,’ meaning the greedy one; Fazila got lost in the vivid picture of a little girl reaching out to the counter asking for some jalebis. Taking the packet, she paid the money and ran home with springs in her legs. There her Dadu, sat on an armchair, where Fazila would sit right next to him, gorging on those hot jalebis.
“Shall we go home Aapa?” Fatima softly touched her arm.
“Yes,”said Fazila, as she sank back on the seat. She seemed to be jumping in and out of different eras.
The car stopped in front of a double storeyed house. They had reached home. Fazila looked out of the window. The whole neighborhood looked alien to her. The single houses with gardens and small gates had been replaced by multistoreyed buildings. Fazila’s wandering eyes stopped at the big mango tree. It was still there, standing majestically with its strong branches spreading out, as if offering shelter to one and all. How many times had Fazila climbed that tree to play hide and seek with her friends, numerous times to pluck mangoes and so many times to just nestle among one of its branches and read story books.
Everyone welcomed Fazila with warmth and affection, much beyond her expectation. The children surrounded her all the time, asking for stories when ever they could get her alone. They wanted to hear stories of the time Fazila stayed in that home. They found it very intriguing to know that Fazila lived in that house, some sixty years back. Fazila too, enjoyed reliving her childhood. There were pictures of her parents, siblings her cousins, uncles and aunts. She burst out laughing at a picture of herself, dressed as King Ashoka. She vividly remembered the school annual day when she was King Ashoka the great; she was awarded the best actor prize for that too. Then there she was, playing Holi with her gang of friends; she could remember each of them. What great time they would have celebrating festivals. She kept on talking about all that and also the pranks that they played and most of the time, got away with them. She had endless stories to tell to her audience, that was always, all ears.Time seemed to fly and it was about a month that Fazila had come to India.
Suddenly, one day, Fazila got a call from her son from Dhaka, giving her the news of her grand daughter being born. Fazila had the sudden urge of seeing her grand daughter. They had named her Fariha. Arrangements were made and Fazila’s visit came to end. She was to leave with Ezan, the next morning. Fatima’s seven year old grand son, Hasan, had taken a great fancy to Fazila and would be with her all the time. He was fast asleep, next to Fazila clutching on to her saree. She looked at him fondly. She had been showered with so much love and warmth by everyone around, these past days, that she felt completely at home. At the same time she was thinking of her children and grandchildren out there in Dhaka. Dhaka, her home for the past sixty years, the land that had given her shelter, opportunities to work and shape a life of her own, where her children lived now, what should she call it? The place where she was born, this country was her home land yet the land that gave her the support to live, respectfully, was it any less? Given a choice, would she choose to live here now? She kept tossing and turning on her bed. She remembered all that she had done these past days in Calcutta. She had visited her school, but it was absolutely unrecognizable. She visited The Presidency College too, where she had met Rhizwan. There was a sea of change every where. She went to all the places that she used to be fond of and slowly all her past memories that she had been holding on to, were taking on different colours. She couldn’t get a wink of sleep the whole night.
Next morning, after a loving farewell, Fazila with Ezan, set out for Dhaka. Fazila was at peace now. Her children were waiting for her there. She felt a flood of warmth rushing through her, leaving her dazed. She realized that home is where the heart is. She felt at home in both the places and this was a beautiful feeling. Fariha, the angel, was waiting for her, thought she, as she rested back on her seat.