‘Mitti Ki Khushboo’ – How Can We Forget The Fragrance Of Home Even When In A Foreign Land?

Posted: July 20, 2019
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Saumya Srivastava writes a heartfelt ode to the power of family ties, and how her little one learnt from her parents to be connected to those we love.

I came to Melbourne in October of 2018. Even though that month marks the onset of spring in Australia, Shahzeel (my husband) and I were greeted by frigid temperatures. The only warmth that was endowed upon us was from my cousin and his wife who opened their home and hearts for us.

Everything and anything that we needed at that hour was in place – the food, the bedding – it was only us who weren’t in place. We were trying to find a home away from home.

The first night in Melbourne was particularly hard on us. I remember how we laid low on our bed and kept staring at the plantation shutters located on the top left of the room. The night sky with all its glory, painted us blue while sleep ditched us. We had just found rest after 20 hours of continuous travel, dodging the unsettling feel of leaving home.

Goodbyes are always hard, especially when you cross an entire ocean. We had left many relationships back in India. Somehow homesickness knew our address. It found us and closeted within our chest that night.

On the very first day that I came to the Aussie land, my cousin introduced me to his friends here. I have to give it to the man; he tried very hard for us to breathe familiarity and settle down. Unfortunately, acclimatization is not instantaneous and so was the case with me.

In one of those days, he took us to his friend’s place for dinner. It was a great gathering – good Thai food, better company, and some laughter. I was surrounded but alone. In an attempt to find comfort I saw this elderly lady seated in a corner with the warm aura surrounding her. With dupatta on her, she was just the perfect sight for my craving for home. In seconds I occupied the seat next to her and spent my time conversing with her. She was the mother of our host that evening.

Our topic revolved around the heart, we call India. Then she said something that summarized our conversation, “Everything is here. Everything.” She paused, “But this is not home. ”

I fought my tears as she continued, “I am just counting days to be back to where I belong.”

She was flying to her home in Haryana in another 10 days.

“I too am waiting for my return but unlike you, I don’t have days to count.” , I murmured.

She placed her hand on my shoulder with a faint smile and a reassuring nod.

When you are homesick, every ounce of human contact matters. Sounds as basic as the sound of music, someone practicing dribbles in the backyard, children playing in the school lawn in early hours, all make you feel alive. Houses here are huge and silence is a ‘virtue’. Sound crossing the house walls to find my eardrums is not a common occurrence.

But then you don’t know what finds you where. I was still making this house into a home in November last year when I met someone’s piano notes making their way to my bedroom. It happened a day and then another, then another. Soon I realised that my left door neighbour practises on his piano every day at 8 AM. I still don’t know who he is, but I love to talk to his music. It’s a connection we built on no words. Something as simple as that provided me solace in those initial days. It made me feel at home away from home.

The unsettling feel is lighter now but it was a herculean task when we arrived. It’s not that this is the first time when I am staying away from India but something in me has changed. Both Shahzeel and I are family-oriented people and the feeling has intensified since Mysha came along.

I married Shahzeel in 2009 and within no time I realised how often he calls his father.

“Four times. You call your father four times in a day you know.” I confronted him one fine day.

“Yes. It’s not unnatural if that is what you are hinting at.” He said in his usual calm voice.

“But how much do you talk? I mean man to man, what exactly do you talk about?” my inquisitive mind needed more.

“What did you eat for breakfast? What did you have for lunch? Basically, I check for four meals of the day. If I can’t serve him food by physically being with him, then at least I should ask. Honestly, how much time does it take?”

True. It doesn’t take time. His calls are not lengthy but carry depth. I will be honest, I found it little awkward at the beginning, but now, there is no other way.

His calls are not limited to his immediate family but extend to his extended family too. He is graced with five phuphis (Aunts) and on Sundays, he sits in a corner with a cup of piping hot tea making calls to the Pandavas. I have no idea what he is more addicted to, the tea or the conversations. As I said, the calls will be short but intense. It is his way of being in touch with his clan, making them realise that he is just away in miles not hearts.

I sense this feel of belongingness much more when we visit Shahzeel’s home back in Kanpur. The man will not sleep until his father sleeps. Every night post-dinner, as a ritual, Shahzeel will massage Abba’s head or press his feet till the elderly man dozes off. The image of Abba’s skinny legs resting on his bolster pillow while Shahzeel working on those tired feet and calves is engraved in my head.

Well, to think about it, there is no other way Shahzeel would have been. Very early in my marriage, he recited a hadith (teaching from Islam) dictating the status of parents in one’s life. It was about a young boy and his mother. Late one night, the mother requested for a glass of water. The boy hurriedly fetched one but before he could make his way, sleep found his mother. At the break of dawn, the next day, when the woman opened her eyes, she found her son – standing right there, next to her, with that glass of water.

“And that is the designation that Allah has awarded to parents. You can never repay them.” He concluded with utmost conviction.

That’s what he reads, imbibes and preaches. He is rooted and is extremely traditional when it comes to family values.

I am a family-centric person but I am not Shahzeel. To be honest, there are very few Shahzeels in this world.

“How often do you talk to your mother?” someone asked me recently.

“Every single day,” pat came my reply. I mean the call could last from two minutes to 20 minutes, from focused conversation to random blabber but the call has to be made. There is no other way to it.

Papa is the background listener who will hardly be on the receiver but sure is updated about everything. And if ever I don’t make that call, it doesn’t matter how late it is, Mummy will call with, “Hello. Papa was wondering why we did not receive your call today.”

That’s Papa. The man has always been this way.

Mysha is not an exception to the rule. Because her parents make that call every day, she too is involved with people back home. My four and a half-year-old video calls her Dadihaal and Nanihaal, rozaana (daily).

Mysha has balanced the journey of Namastey to assalamualaikum with such repose.

We, her parents, had to transition and tailor to the change as it wasn’t elementary for us but for her it was innate. The little one has made her peace with both the worlds and so far, she is acing it.

She was two when she picked up the lehza (tone) and alfaaz (words) and started her gibberish. Her conversation with her grandparents used to be as sweet as the dialect.

“Assalamualaikum Dada.” she used to shout her lungs out.

“Wa-alaykumu-a-s-salam poti sahiba (grand daughter). Khairiyat se hai aap (How are you)?” an equally excited grandfather would exclaim from the other end.

“Allah ko sugar Dada. Aap khairiyat se hai?” (Read: Allah ka shukar) (With the grace of Allah. Are you fine?)

I wish I had the exact measurement as to how much calories my daughter has provided the Almighty over the years, but yes, Allah ka shukar, all is well, all is good.

We are still in the process of making a home here, but I know no matter what we do, home is where our heart is, not where the head hits the pillow. The heart is where family is – the parents, the grandparents, the chachas, the phuphis, the masis, the taus, the kakas, a whole village of people.

Mysha once confided in me that she wants to construct an apartment building where all her relatives can live together. It is a beautiful thought, if only it was realistic. The good thing is she is dreaming, as no matter how tiny or huge a dream is, you dare only if you dream.

Shahzeel shared a simple dream with me during our graduation college.

“I wish I have a scooter like my Abba someday. And then you, me, our kids can just venture on the road ahead leaving a tiny puff filled trail behind us. That’s all.”

In April 2016, we visited Shahzeel’s younger brother in Aligarh. Shahzeel and I, along with kids, opted for a motorbike ride to take a tour of Aligarh Muslim University. Aaraaf (Mysha’s four-year-old cousin then) was placed on the petrol tank while Mysha (two-year-old then) was squished between her parents, waving to each passer-by.  With the wind in our hair and a smile on our lips, Shahzeel and my eyes met in the motorcycle’s side mirror. At that moment we knew that his small dream was catching up with our reality.

There are so many dreams we share. A lot of them have materialized; some of them are on their way, but most are still to be made. Coming to this country was part of our dream. We have chased it and achieved it, but we have not forgotten the road back home, to our people, our parents, ourselves.

Image source: shutterstock

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