Petrichor — a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather. Hmm!!! That smell is nostalgia for many of us, I believe. Or atleast it certainly takes me down the memory lane. Of a childhood, very well-spent, in a small yet sentimental ancestral house. Memories of water laden streets after that first heavy rain. Making paper boats out of newspapers, and sailing them in the muddy waters. The hot and crisp potato fritters made by my mother. Melting the bottoms of candles to stick them onto lids of steel tins, after a power cut. My quite old tomcat napping at the threshold of the door. Hmm! every thing makes me yearn for my country.
My grandfather always annoyed me, asking me the same question repeatedly — “Do you remember Sir Walter Scott’s poem, Patriotism?” — Breathes there the man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said ‘This is my own, my native land’. I pulled on from there and completed the stanza. And he would inhale snuff from his snuff box, and reminiscence about old days. The snuff box is still preserved beside his thick nerdy glasses. It is he who has perished. I do miss his annoying habits sometimes. I now think of the many people who have dead souls, that never pine for or never favor their own country.
Every one of these beautiful memories of mine are linked to what was and will always remain ‘homeland’. Here in London is what is my marital home, but London can never be homeland. It is a foreign land. And even if it does accept me as its citizen, I will be a British Indian, never a Britisher. Many years from now InshaAllah if I live to reminiscence about my London days, then every memory will identify with my hubby — of the very happy days spent with my dear husband and a few good friends I made here. Perhaps as one grows older, the urge to return to roots gets firmer and nothing soothes the soul as the sight of homeland.
I very well know that India can never be what England is. Indians cannot forgo their desi accent. Yay! even Abdul Kalam spoke in a heavy Tamil accent. Indians can never stop staring at anything awe-inspiring. They can never be as civilized as to satisfy themselves with a smile, where a hard laugh is demanded. India can never have British winters. India can never have spick and span streets, like those of Britain. India might never have that fast a railway service as the tubes of London.
But then! Can Britain give me a taste of the succulent mangoes in the hot summers?. Can the kids of England sail paper boats in rain water as our Indian kids do?. Can one see portable vending carts selling vegetables in the streets of London?. Can one hear the sounds of azaan straight from half a dozen mosques, here in London?. The laughter and gaiety the Eid day brings, London can never gift me that. I can never identify the British countryside with the magical world of Malgudi, I read about in my childhood. Eating ice apples on a hot May day with my grandpa is what only India can give me.
Britain may be: richer, powerful, magnificent and stupendous. But India shall always remain the country that made me what I am today. Being a Muslim in India is a bit worrisome, but that is a completely different story. Putting politics at bay, India has a soft-spot in my heart. I shall never feel ashamed of being her citizen. On the other hand, Britain is really great, I love the comforts and luxuries it has given me. I love the cosy British homes with all the contemporary conveniences. But balancing love and liking is all what life is about. Forgetting that part of life which was one’s foundation after reaching the top, is like deceiving the self, into believing in something that never was. Immigrating to a more prospering country, and forgetting where roots lie is a sign of hypocrisy.
This love and yearning for the roots and homeland grow deeper,as years go by, or perhaps when you never get a chance to return back to where you came from. Maybe that was what made Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor, deported to Rangoon by the British pen down his final verses as
Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar, dafn ke liye,
Do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku-e-yaar mein…
(How unlucky is Zafar, he could not even obtain
two yards of land for his burial,
In the beloved land…)