“Sahab, apka chhutta” (Sir, your change), said the taxi driver when Alok came out of the reverie. With moist eyes, he replied to him, “Keep it” and moved towards the same old neighborhood. Nothing was changed, the same cracked roads, the same unplastered brick walls of the houses, the same way of drying clothes outside the balcony and crossroads. Few ladies sitting outside their houses knitting sweaters and gossiping, basking under the winter sun. Latest bollywood numbers playing on the radios and kids dancing on it.
There were mostly new faces, a few old ones whom he could barely recognize. Kids were playing on the roads outside their houses carefree, as he used to play with his friends and siblings. Those unstructured games, fighting and screaming, holding hands together and jumping. Playing with the stray dogs, hitting the glass window of neighbour with the cricket ball and running by the fear of getting caught.
Everything was the same except one. It was HE. He was no longer the same innocent boy who used to love his family. A nostalgia hit him hard and filled his heart with endless memories of his childhood and teenage years. The prominent smell of rajma transported him 20 years back when he ran away with his rich girlfriend, one fateful night, to start afresh in a new country, away from the miseries of life.
It was the first time, in the last 20 years, he returned to this place, the place which he used to call HOME, once. The glitters of the new fascinating life made him forget everything he had left behind, 2 younger sisters and old parents. All these years, he was busy making money and exploring the world and never tried to contact his family, except for a few obligatory phone calls which gradually stopped too. His wife, 3 kids and father-in-law was his new world. He set up a business in Dubai in partnership with his father-in-law who funded him. As he aided him in starting up a business, he was indebted to him from head to toe and lived like a robot acting on his instructions.
He was doing well in his business but was lonely. He had no one to talk to. His wife was always busy in parties and had her own life. She doesn’t like Alok to interfere in her personal matters. His kids were studying in boarding school as his wife doesn’t want to take their responsibility too. Father-in-law was always bossy. He felt incomplete. He wanted someone to lend an ear to his rants. He missed his family. His mom who would understand his emotions even before he could say anything, his father who would always advise him and showed him the right path, his sisters who were his stressbusters and secret keepers, with whom he could share anything and everything. Then why, he left them? Why he chose a luxurious life over them? Why he stopped calling them? Is this the life he wanted to live? Alone, grieving?
It was his 45th birthday and he was sitting alone in his office with these thoughts and memories. Nobody remembered his day. With closed eyes, he visualised how his family used to celebrate his birthday, with limited resources and how happy they were together. There was less money but happiness was in abundance.
He could not stop himself that day and took the first available flight to India. He bought a few dresses and perfumes for his sisters and shawls for his parents. His heart skipped a beat with every step he took towards his long lost nest, flooded with the thoughts of how his family would react on his sudden arrival. He had a constant fear of being rejected by his parents now. His legs were shaking and tears were flowing like a river.
On reaching home, with trembling hands, he knocked the door. As his father opened the door, he could not believe his eyes and stood still to see his son for whom he was waiting for all his heart for ages. Alok touched his feet and immediately hugged him tight. That magical hug vanished and healed all the pain and sorrow. Alok reached out to his mother who was sitting on a wheelchair in a pool of tears. Alok showed them the pictures of their grandchildren in his phone and his parents happiness knew no bounds. All of them cried and cried hugging together. Both his sisters were now happily married and parents were empty nesters. As he opened the fridge to get water for himself, he saw a cake inside on which it was written “Happy Birthday Alok”.
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