When mom left her home in Calcutta to come to Bombay after marriage in the 1980s, she had clear notions of what was home and what was not.
Calcutta, with its bustling lanes, crumbling structures exuding old world beauty, general bonhomie and laidback vibes denoted the familiar and comfortable for her. Bombay, with its chaos, in-your-face attitude and muticultural ethos was alien to her and she hated it for the longest time.
All talk at home revolved around a mythical ‘home’ where all things are perfect: the fruits were bigger, children were healthier, people were kinder and schools were better, unlike the city we lived in. Mom stored sachets of her home and life in Calcutta through magazine cuttings, books, sarees, bangles and idols.
Many years later when we revisited Calcutta, now Kolkata, mom couldn’t recognise most of the erstwhile places; the Calcutta of her youth long gone, replaced to a large extent by a city that had all the trappings of Bombay, now Mumbai, and none of the people she was attached to. Her sister, my aunt, had recently passed away making mom painfully aware of mortality (though she never talked about it much) and her beloved people had either passed on or left for other shores. The Calcutta of her memories was now restricted to the confines of her mind and existed nowhere.
A family feud left her broken hearted and the visit to sign the legal papers was the last time she visited. She never mentioned going back after that.
Mumbai had finally become home, and she had made peace with the complicated, imperfect souls (me and dad) who hovered around her. Earlier she threatened to abandon us and head ‘home’ where she was confident her siblings would look after her. Now, that confidence had dissolved.
And in the end, as dad often rues, we were the ones who ended up tending for her and none of our relatives helped or turned up for the funeral; one of her last statements to dad before things began unravelling being “Everyone is selfish. No one cares”.
In the aftermath of her departure, dad recalls a dream where he saw mom who said seemed happy and her usual kiddish self; she said that she had been travelling a lot. Perhaps she was searching for home and perhaps she has found it somewhere along the way.