I am at last headed for Bengal. North Bengal, where I was born. Where I spent my growing up years. In Delhi, the plane sits on the runway, delaying our departure for almost an hour. Who cares about the North East? Backward, dilapidated, a laggard in the economic growth seizing the whole country.
As the plane prepares to land in the little airport, green fields, trees, and silvery gray of a sinewy river come closer, dotted with quaint little houses. No concrete jungle here, or an expanse of urban waste, or slums. But for how long?
Signs of change are visible here as well. A new road leading out of the airport to the highway, more vehicles and people. And of course the ubiquitous cycle rickshaws. We pass by the University campus of my childhood, its surroundings unrecognizable in the mushrooming habitations on both sides of the highway.
The small town where my parents live, is no longer that small. Besides multiplying traffic and people, the city is experiencing the same retail and construction boom going on in other parts of urban India. The town I knew is lost, hidden behind a throbbing, pulsating city of neon signs, swanky malls, newer cars and two wheelers, and people dressed more dandily than before, sporting global brands and contemporary, cosmopolitan cuts. But artifacts of the old are still visible, still vibrantly available. The decadent rickshaw wallah, lean and well muscled, but somehow never fed well enough, his hollow cheeks belying fashionable jogging trousers. The overcrowded bazaar, where one has to practice the art of skillful dodging, of humans, rickshaws and two wheelers, and at the same time balance oneself carefully in motion while ensuring not to step on a mashed fruit or rotten vegetable or discarded sputum. Roads are still quite freely used as litter grounds as much as for transportation, a thing quite common in most Indian cities. Sweep sweep sweep your own yard, and off it goes into the streets. I don’t understand how difficult it can be to collect the rubbish and dispose it in community bins. Waste bins, of course, are a scarcity. One would first have to have these set up in much greater numbers.
But there are perks. The fresh taste of Bengal, in sweets, in repasts, not easily available anywhere else. Rosogolla, misthi doi, rasmalai, singara, kochuri, rolls, chops and cutlets with rich, flavorful fillings, the list goes on. The roadside sabji market with really fresh produce at prices one could only dream of in the developed world.
I am home at last. After four long years. Closer to five than four. Among people whose language runs in my blood, which spread through my veins to imperceptible yet solidly permanent corners of my being, and which has not diluted by disuse. Back with my parents, who make me feel like a child, its needs easily taken care of at the drop of a hat. Their affection knows no bounds of geography or economy. Back in a country that is maturing into a fast growing economy to take its bold, confident steps in the liberal, global stage from the fledging, tottering ones that had begun over a decade ago. A country with deep roots dating back thousands of years. And myriad, complex problems of the present dogging its every progressive move. A country which, after hundreds of years of rape and plunder, is bouncing back, reshuffling its garb to emerge into its new avatar, to provide a shelter of peace and prosperity for its umpteen citizens, but being mired in conflicting forces of separatism and disintegration, for selfish political motives or genuine concern in underdeveloped sections, regions which are, should be, as much a part of any economic benefit.
It is a tough, uphill journey. But one India must see through. To honor its past. To cherish the present. To spread the vibrant, upbeat mood among more and more of its denizens in the future. I am, will be, a part of it, no matter how distant, in miles, I am.