The slow burn of small towns

Our hometowns are different with each passing year, but they are the same, year after year.

 |  2-minute read |   17-12-2018
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Small towns never change. We grow up and leave, in search of better futures. Better jobs, better opportunities, better education, better lives. Some of the people we grow up with stay back, the custodians of these little hometowns of ours. Every visit back home, and it happens once a year if I’m lucky, is different. Yet, it’s all the same.

Every small town has its own sun set.Every small town has its own sun set. (Photo: Author)

The faces in the marketplaces are not the same. The greys in my parents’ hair is a lot more. The eyesights are weak; the knees, weaker. Climbing up two flights of stairs is an impossible task. The wrinkles are deeper. The smiles are more wistful. The sighs are longer. Age. Mortality. And the inevitable scent of death lingers all around.

The last time I visited home was three weeks ago. There was a family function. My parents had moved to a new home and I was there to help them with the housework. There was a ‘grihapravesh’ ceremony with more than half the town on the guest list. Spending seventy years in a small town leaves you knowing everyone! All of them had the same look of surprise on seeing me: ‘You're all grown up now! We saw you this little!’ 

That’s a stock statement of surprise at every family gathering. This was a family function at my place after 17 years. The last time we had a ‘grihapravesh’ was in 2001.

Accompanying the look of incredulity on their part was the realisation on mine. These people, the uncles and aunts that we never thought would grow old, are old. They are out of breath, weak, old. 

And it is a realisation that cuts deeper than a knife. 

One of them, a ‘pishi’ who was my first music teacher, died today. She had a fall in the bathroom. A stroke. I met her three weeks ago, at the puja.

There are stories and lives reflected there.Reflections. (Photo: Author)

Every time I go back home, there is a list of people that have disappeared. They have died. The shops in the town are older. Some of the signboards are painted anew; others have letters missing and the colour fading off. Some of the familiar faces are gone. Some younger faces have replaced them. Elsewhere, the faces are older; continuing, trudging along, till they too need to leave.

The town is the same. It swallows the ones that have left. But it doesn’t let visitors feel the difference.

Also read: Why Kashmir needs its cinema halls back

Writer

Ananya Bhattacharya Ananya Bhattacharya @ananya116

Blast-Ended Skrewt. ~ Associate Editor, India Today

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