Often, while entering Siuri, to avoid the Bakreshwar jam, our bus takes a left turn to go through a village. At close to 7 in the evening, with the lights inside the bus on, and the windows, layered with packed dust, shut, there is not much one can see and admire.
My strongest images related to the village include a Durga temple, made of red bricks, with an idol whose forehead is smeared with the brightest shade of vermilion. The narrow roads are lined with little huts, some made of bamboo, some made of bricks. How do they survive the cold? And the rain? I wonder. However, what caught me by surprise the first time I entered the village and rode along the bumpy rocky roads, was that I got a familiar smell that instantly reminded me of my Dida'r bari on a Sunday evening. It took me quite a few such sudden left turns to realise why.
Sundays during my years of growing up would always mean going over to Dida'r bari. For the first few years of my life, it would mean Didi and me playing around with Babai and Tubai, while Boro Mamu rolled cigarettes, and my two Mamis cooked something nice for us in the kitchen. I remember Chhoto Mamu on a reclining chair, sitting and talking in his serious voice, in his spotted brown loongi. As a child who was hardly six, I remember spending more of my time rolling on the floor with my cousins than siting down with Dida-Dadu. Sometime soon, the six of them left for Mumbai. The newly renovated ground floor was sold off, and Dida-Dadu shifted to the top floor. Since then, Sundays would mean quiet evenings having mishti while Dida watched TV and mum kept up a steady stream of conversation with her. Dadu would loiter around, procrastinating touching food till he finished his evening aarti. Baba would insist on sitting cross legged on the floor, and sip like an addict on a hot cup of tea, and simultaneously bite on a shingara and smoke a Filter Wills. Didi would always either be sitting quietly, or helping around in the kitchen to serve the food.
And then that smell would creep in, everytime, while we walked back on the street leading away from Dida'r bari, to hail a cab back home. I would turn back to wave back at Dadu, who till date hasn't forgotten to add "Bari pouchhe jaanio." Right then, that odour of melancholy would set in. The despair of having to get back to the grind of Monday, of having to get back to the routine of sleeping next to my mother and sister during the afternoon after school, the terror of not understanding mathematics and feeling like I don't belong, would gnaw at my insides.
The roads of the village manages to set off similar feelings on the Sundays when I come back. The stifling routine of waking up at 4, working straight through 9 hours, and then coming back home too tired to even read a book, staying shut in my room, making calls to folks back home, afraid to go out and realise once again that the town has nothing to offer, followed by needing to finish off dinner by 8 to sleep off by 9, so that one can wake up with a clear enough head for a tough day ahead, where we teachers can't afford to slack on alertness, suffocates me, irrespective of the fact that I can safely say that I enjoy my work enough for those 8 hours to be the best part of my day.
The bus moves on, perhaps with the message that that's how life is. You can't have everything. You can't choose to hide and yet be seen. You can't choose to love and not get hurt. You can't choose to maintain space and yet cling on. You can't choose to have everything, even things that you don't need. And before I know it, I am back inside my little house, keeping my morning glass of hot lemon water half-ready, and unpacking packets of oats and biscuits and other tidbits. And it is time to have dinner and sleep.