One is almost, always overcome by a strange feeling of nostalgia, when one revisits the place of his/her childhood after a long period has elapsed. Having spent my mid-late teens and my enter youth in Mumbai, I realised that a trip back, to my first home Muscat — the land of sun and sand — was long overdue. I have been in Mumbai for over 10 years now, and my love for this fast-moving and always-on-its-toes city has only grown with each year; though, I must confess, that sometimes when I feel saturated and overburdened by the metro’s pace, this love takes an unpredictable nosedive.
This is when I am reminded of the fond memories of my childhood: the stillness of the clear-blue, pristine seas and the sand castles that my brothers and I built across it, on the shore; the times spent ruminating on the swing and slipping down the slides, or whirling round the merry-go-round in the garden; the annual picnics to a farm-house some distance away from the city; my weekly routine of playing the music organ in the church choir; the bi-weekly visits to the super-markets with me riding my youngest brother Steven who was carefully placed on the seat of the shopping cart, across the narrow alleys of market as he dirtied his hands with cheese balls; playing cricket, catching-cook, hide and seek, and badminton in the foyer of our residential building; the daily monotony of going to school, which then I hated, but now sorely miss. I had come to spend all these moments in Muscat, and as insignificant as these activities may now sound, it continued to stay with me.
Of course, one would contend that this is nothing close to what Mumbai had to offer; with all the hypermarkets, multiplexes, designer stores, picnic spots up the hills of Lonavla and Khandala, smart and economical shopping alongside Fashion Street, Colaba Causeway and, Linking Road and Hill Road in Bandra, and not to forget the lip-smacking street food. Mumbai is also where I found a footing, got those wings to fly, heard my calling, followed my dreams, and earned my first byline. The city honed me, and I owe it everything that I possibly am.
But some memories are like magnets, they draw you in, and sometimes the best way to evade them is by entering the whirlpool and becoming part of it. When I got my new passport, the first city on my mind was Muscat; when I quit my job, the first place I thought I should visit was (let us not bother guessing) again Muscat.
So, here I am, back to square one…where it all began, and where I first took those small little steps. Tomorrow, it will be a week since I came here. I must admit that I haven’t travelled much for want of a car, except visiting supermarkets, the market area in Ruwi, and catching a glimpse of the three old homes that we rented over a span of 16 years, when we lived here. But nostalgia has already seeped in. For instance, I managed to grab a bite of the yummiest shawarma I have possibly ever eaten at one of mine and Saby’s (younger brother) favourite joints in Ruwi. Surprisingly, it cost only 250 baiza, just 50 baiza more since we last left in 2003; I was shocked because in Mumbai, the price of a shawarma (not even close to the authentic one) jumped from Rs 70 in 2008 to almost Rs 150 recently. But I am not talking inflation here.
Getting back to my story, I remember how Saby and I would play our own secret games to convince dad to buy us a shawarma every time we went past the joint. It was not like dad refused to buy, but mom always threw a fit, because then, we wouldn’t eat food at home. So we would take turns at crying and telling our parents how hungry we were, as soon as we were in good distance from the shawarma joint. So the first time, it would be me, the next time Saby, and when Steven grew a little older, we drew him in our small, stupid plan too. Games we little children play.
Moving on, I also happened to meet the barber, a Bangladeshi national, who used to cut my hair when I was a child. Yes, I did not go to a women’s parlour till I was seven, because mom preferred my hair short; I don’t think I wore my hair down as a child; I embarrassingly strutted around in what was popularly known as the “boy-cut” hair. This barber I remember particularly well, because I would break into tears every time he brought out his scissors. He would try to placate me with Sun-Top, the most popular fruit drink here. I am glad it is still around; my fondest memory of the drink is collecting stickers of the Sun-Top bear (the mascot then) that came along with it. When I met him this time, he recognised me immediately and could not hold back a smile, on the mention of the Sun-Top episode.
No, I do not intend to regale or rather, bore you, with more such anecdotes. I don’t intend to break into a spiel on Muscat either. These moments I hold dear, and I just consider myself lucky to have gotten the opportunity to relive them again. I am going to stop now, hold back other thoughts that are currently running through my head.
But mind if I may mention that my father, who stayed back here after we left Muscat for Mumbai, suddenly seems to be re-living the old times too. Every time he introduces me to one of his young colleagues or friends, he says, “Jane, meet this uncle/aunty.” Ask them their age, they might be younger than me.
I told him, “Dad I am grown up you know, I don’t need to be calling people as old as me uncle or aunty.”
His response, “Oh! Yes, sorry…I don’t know why, but for some reason, I imagine only the young Jane here.”
It does not end there, yesterday when he entered a sweet and dry fruits shop, he bought me so many chocolates. I guess he has forgotten I am 26. But, I think, I like it that way.