Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

Coming home

Navtej Sarna

JACK KEROUAC it was who once wrote that everybody should be going home in October. And he should know- that prophet of the beat generation who went in a mad rush, crossing and recrossing America in a benzedrine trail following the invisible blue haze which only inveterate travelers know.

For that is what the most restless and footloose of travelers dream about- a moment’s peace at home when the shoes are off and the lights are dim. The moment of suspended motion before the restless urge comes creeping back and only more miles follow miles.

Its all an unconscious preparation for this moment.

The days of excitement, of smudged railway time tables and fickle flight schedules. The queues, the maps and the packing of that last bag. The bumps in the bus as it trundles on the blistering road. The ghostly runs through the endless night on tireless trains as you cramp yourself on the top bunk and wake up at deserted platforms to find the breeze fresh and vaguely familiar.

And all the other things that seem so far away. The time they lifted up the train wagons to change the wheels. The polite but firm voice of the man who woke you up night after night to check your passport as you swept across borders. And it wasn’t even the same man. And the time you caught the moon in your camera as it glinted over the river. And all those hours that you pressed your nose against the window glass, watching the wide vision of hills and fields and lakes and the enchanting detail of a peasant hunched over his heavy pack horse.

They all push you inexorably towards this moment. The faces… and the voices. Drifting back into your consciousness. People you shared a meal with in the anachronistic luxury of a dining car. The man you lent your magazine to. The burly wagon attendant who was a lovable bully. And the student coming home across the sea, talking of freedom and life.

It is all there somewhere, like the dust on your shoes and the cracks in the leather of your bags.

And the scraps of distant conversations as the boats passed you by under the bridge… the thrill of an idea as it grew with your journey rising above it like a huge balloon…the excitement of an argument in the still of the night. And the disbelief that so unreasonably accompanies any coincidence of thought with a stranger. It all left a mark. And you are better for it.

Suddenly it is only in your diaries and in the twilight corners of your mind. You look out of the window and the sun is glinting of the tip of the aeroplane’s wing as it banks. Far below in blocks of brown and green you see home and all it stands for. With a snap, it’s all over. And the traveling was better than the arriving. It always is.