Going Home to Tara…

BY ADITI CHOWDHURY

“Tara! Home….I’ll go home….After all, tomorrow is another day.”

These last anguished words spoken by Scarlett O’ hara in Margaret Mitchell’s seminal novel “Gone With The Wind” evoke in us poignant associations of attachments that people forge with a childhood home. Of it being a kind of a heaven-haven, a sanctuary to turn to in times of distress- and even, perhaps, happiness.

When Scarlett finally accepts the bitter truth that Rhett is lost to her forever, the only place she can think of seeking refuge is Tara, the beautiful homestead she grew up in and loved so passionately.

Recently, these memorable lines have been resonating in my mind as I have been mulling over a lot about my own childhood home in Jorhat. And about the unfettered days I spent there.

For all of us who have left behind our places of birth to find nesting places elsewhere, the gracious houses we grew up in now seem to be a kind of a repository of invaluable fragments of family history, of anecdotes and activities. They are the places to go back to for weddings and anniversaries, festivals and funerals; the meeting grounds for reuniting with cousins from all over the world. In fact, for re-living a phase of life irrevocably lost, but much cherished. These houses where we spent the most impressionable years of our lives remain one of the few constants in the flux that is life.

Our spacious old house in Jorhat had been such a place for me. It was a secure sanctum, with our large integrated family, which I thought could never be breached. I got married and swapped houses. But ‘home’ meant that rambling house with its extensive grounds, the backdrop of so many felt experiences.

Being a wife, a daughter-in-law, a mother and a working woman entailed vigorous multi-tasking. And my visits to Jorhat got curtailed to about twice a year. It was not that my ties with home and family became tenuous. But the focus had definitely shifted. Also, when one is young and life is hectic, it is difficult to keep count of life’s blessings. So much is taken for granted! I, too, foolishly presumed that the gentle flow of life would continue uninterrupted.

My father’s sudden death ruptured my placid universe. It made me realise how mercurial life can be. For sometime we all were desolate. But time is a compassionate healer. And the grief gradually passed, as it always does.

We picked up the rhythm of life once again. No doubt, my visits were now tinged with sadness. And I never stopped missing my father. But the family regrouped and the house continued to be warm and welcoming.

Henceforth, I went more frequently to Jorhat to spend time with my mother. These vacations meant endless get-togethers, picnics and movie shows, filled with fun and laughter. My daughter made a habit of visiting the neighbours and asking for luchis for breakfast. She even wheedled some of them to buy her books and chocolates! Such was the bonhomie and bonding in those days.  The entire neighbourhood rejoiced when a son or a daughter came home.

It was in the early millennial years that my mother’s failing health prompted us to make the difficult decision of shifting her permanently to my brother’s residence in Guwahati. My uncle and his family also moved to their newly built residence. And the beautiful, old house we all loved so much had to be rented out to strangers. Because there was no one to live in it!

Thereafter, whenever we visited Jorhat, we began to stay in our uncle’s place. All of a sudden, the happy, carefree days spent in the sprawling house with its echoing rooms seemed light years away. They became further entries in our mindscapes, to be tucked away in the growing catalogue of memories.

It has been more than a decade and a half since these changes took place. I have been lucky enough to be able to create a decent home of my own, which perhaps, is a pastiche of my mother’s artistic sensibility that was so obviously visible in our old house. This year, particularly, I have often been pulled to the past by a surge of potent memories. Lucid images of those happy times flash through my mind at unguarded moments. The lavish Bihu breakfasts near the meji; fun-filled evenings with cousins, playing Dumb Charades, Lexicon, and Dark Room; quiet conversations with my father; arguments with my strong-willed mother; endless chatter in the big kitchen; playing badminton under floodlights in winter; evenings when my best friend from childhood would sing for hours on request;—this list can go on and on. Even after so many years, I miss those moments intensely. And most of all, I miss the endearing ambience of the house itself.

Then, my maudlin meanderings come to an abrupt halt as I see the haunted eyes of a child in Aleppo, or read about the plight of  homeless children across the world, in Manila, Bangkok or Kolkata; about tender young girls exploited by ruthless traffickers in my own home state. Tragically, it is the children who endure the worst in any kind of conflict—political, religious or familial. A line from Khaled Hosseini’s” The Kite Runner” streaks across my mind- “There are a lot of children in Afghanisthan, but little childhood.” The same holds true everywhere when young innocents are made pawns in the games of power. And I realise that we, who have enjoyed idyllic childhoods and stable homes, are truly empowered and blessed. I send up a silent prayer of thanksgiving, a paean of praise to God for gifting me with a charmed childhood and an unforgettable treasure trove of precious memories.

Aditi Chowdhury retired as Associate Professor, Department of English, Handique Girl’s College, Guwahati.