Pahaadi, by the sea

I return to the mountains, the pines and the entwined rhododendrons, the crisp mountain air and the rain-washed vales, and I breathe. I’ve come home...

The road is a gently winding dirt track. On one side, wild daisies like tiny stars on a never-ending firmament of lush, moist moss. And on the other, sheer drop, dark even at high noon. And rising from those depths, unending Deodars that though plunged in darkness silently kiss the sky and embrace the light. And, somewhere between those chandelier-esque branches with their pendulous cones that shyly peek out from behind the overhanging mist — the higher Himalayas. Snow-capped and glistening. Beckoning. Ah the mountains!

The view from the writer’s home in Mussoorie. Pic/Nupur Mahajan
The view from the writer’s home in Mussoorie. Pic/Nupur Mahajan

And, that joy of returning...

Returning to unconditional love. To parents and siblings and cousins and nephews and mamas and masis. No, here we don’t "Uncle” them all. Uncle is the, now elderly, gentleman of the corner shop, once sprightly, who’d chased us all the way home even as we raided his mango orchard. Returning to that amused smile of his, which reveals a glint of suspicion even now when, Jimmy Choo-ed, one asks for Digestive Biscuits. He yet sees the mango-smeared tomboy dangling from the tree but obliges with that almost smile....

Ah returning! To familiar roads and lanes and hidden nooks uncovered in those sunlit years that passing by now; reveal themselves and that gleeful laughter of yore. And you don’t need to be a Pahaadi in Mumbai to revel in the joys of returning. Returning is a bespoke emotion that you can harvest at whim. Rather uncelebrated albeit fulfilling...

And yet some of us have nowhere to return. Men especially. Returning is almost sexist, like crying, a woman’s prerogative. Even as women draw from it unabashedly — returning to Jesse, the manicurist; to Vijaybhau, the florist; Nikita, the secretary and then the team — men seem to have nowhere to return. Yes, the Old Boys Association is a return of sorts but how often? And how often do you let go and just be...

I haven’t met a man who longs to go home. And not surprisingly, for though unsaid, it is almost unmanly for a man to want to return home! Home, as in, parental home where he too, like his wife, might want to return minus his ‘now family’. Or then home — a warm place where he can just be. But even on the golf course it’s the networking not the ball you follow. And returning home is forsaking the comfort of The Imperial, New Delhi, and journeying to Noida to meet the parents. Well, never mind that they are long asleep but even as you retire do you actually sleep in “your room” and “your bed”? Revisit your boyhood dreams? And are you the man you so fervently wanted to be?

To return is to belong. And belonging is not gender biased. Nor unilateral... You can be committed to ‘here and now’ but belong to every place that you’ve been to and to everyone who has touched you. You can be professional but not impersonal. You can be onwards to greater heights and not be dismissive of humbler beginnings. What if it is stealing mangoes from another’s orchard! Why is moving on cutting ties? The apple does sometimes fall far from the tree but does that thorn the tree make?

Returning stems from investing… Leaving behind a part of you, unworried about misbalancing your sense of being. Unworried about not adding but depleting. Returning happens to givers and givers alone for they unabashedly give to each of those they touch. Leave behind a piece of them, which those left behind draw from and in time one returns to them and that bit of oneself. Returning, thus, is always warm. Welcoming…

I’m never going back. To go back would be to lose the magic of returning. To lose that reassurance — that jackpot that patiently awaits — that no matter what you can always return. It’s a card you can draw at whim. Battle-weary, succeeded or defeated, moving on or staying put, realising your dream or then, realising that holding on to the dream is your journey — returning accepts you.

Remarkably, you don’t really need to go anywhere to return. Returning is not the pot of gold at the end of a journey of geographies. It is, in fact, a journey back to you. Return within — untangle, unclench, unruffle — and thereon you’ll never go anywhere. Only return to love.

Nupur Mahajan is a sum of many parts. Ideas are her business even as her creative streak sees her straddle television, advertising, publishing, radio and brands. Reach her at nupurmahajan@icloud.com

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