In the silence of resonating memories,
Small fragments piece together new images.
Many people were dressed up as if it were mid-summer. Feeling awkward, I looked up and down at myself. Is it not spring? Is something wrong with my memory? I blamed global warming for altering my truth.
The scenery outside the airport looked familiar to me, but the air seemed fresher than what I had expected. I was home and it was a feeling instantly reassuring and comforting. Lost in her thoughts, my daughter was rather silent. She allowed me to be in my own world as she sat quietly by my side in the bus that took us to my hometown from the airport. The landscape outside appeared unfamiliar to Aditi. Looking through the window I saw an endless chain of mountains: hills every where - east or west, north or south; like a screen unfolding for me. I knew in that moment how much I had been missing them. I suddenly remembered my days of trekking. Now, only as memory, it came back like a magical dream, those days spent in these reclusive mountains; exploring the wilderness and letting time stand still within my consciousness.
After four hours on the highway we finally reached home. I spotted my mother among the people waiting for us at the bus stop. She looked much the same; calm and collected and infused with an energy and wisdom I always associate with her. My nephew, the little boy, had grown up. It was a moment of joy to see them all again, and the five years of separation melted away quickly.
The road near our house had become wider and many new buildings had sprung up in the neighbourhood. An apartment building stood in the old paddy field. Changes all around, yet it looked so familiar. My home remained almost the same, with the front gate still waiting to be installed. This unattended opening somehow proclaims an entry for everyone, and my father appears to have no desire to ever build this gate. It reminds me of Kim Kiduck film ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring’. This film has a Buddhist temple in the centre of a lake with a wooden gate without walls, and the monks and visitors entered only through the gate.
The then and the now will always dictate my assimilation with my homeland. The idealised memory, and who I become with time away from its borders, all resonate to formulate new perceptions to the way I re-enter my past. My home: I still call it my home : now looked old and shrunken with the roof so low as if it had suddenly dropped down; and yet it was these very rooms that were the entire world that held our lives so effortlessly. Where my sister and me haggled endlessly, sharing and squabbling and growing in the very room that now looked cramped and tiny and constricting to me.
I slipped back into a rhythm of my surroundings and did nothing for all of the next week. It was nice to spend time reading books or just watching television. Evenings were spent retracing the old roads and pathways. Where has “grandma” - the fine pine tree gone? She was right here like a guardian as far as one could remember. She has disappeared; where is she? Slowly, I recalled the location where she stood. Her truncated roots now lie under thick asphalt. Memories often overwhelm you. But changes have their own charm. It frees one from shackles. It also shatters many dreams.
Friends brought back memories. They too had changed. Kokji came over for a cup of tea. She had been ill for sometime and looked weak due to chemotherapy. There is another old friend of mine. We used to fight every day. He came by and filled me with news about all our old friends and classmates. He warned me about the onset of recession. I didn’t understand much about it at that time. I admire his wisdom now.
Programmes on television were all so different, making the change around me more apparent. My TV teenage idol is no more the same and I felt oddly betrayed. Whether because his idealised image no longer holds true today or whether I was confronting my own dislocate with what had once inspired me; I really do not know. I watched a moving documentary on sex slaves of the Second World War. Many teenage girls and women were forced to become sex workers to serve the Japanese army during the war. It was a tragic and heart wrenching incident that could not be resolved even after so many years.
I have been examining this issue for many years out of my own need to comprehend a psychology that collectively allows for such situations to ever exist. Today the silence of shame and humiliation is thankfully over and people are much more aware of this horror of history. The aged victims have been demanding a public apology from the Japanese government and are refusing to accept material compensation which has no meaning in this stage of their lives. With a little more than two hundred victims still alive in the official records they soon will be forgotten forever, as old age takes them away from this earth. I can’t describe to you the feelings I had when I saw the photograph of the temporary construction where this inhumanity took place. I just closed my eyes and felt consumed by the deepest sorrow. Many women could not go back to their families even after the war ended. They have been living away from their homeland since then. A number of them, severely suffering from guilt became mentally unstable. Nothing can ever make amends for their loss and I mourn their trampled lives with all my heart.
Five weeks passed so quickly. I sat on the flight back to India full of mixed feelings. In contrast, Aditi looked quite content.