Aboard a ro-ro ferry on the mighty Mekong river, the young man thought of Manvar, a small rivulet 4,800 kms away, seeing a small boy swimming in it decades ago. Stupid, no?
No. Be they in Bombay or Beijing, small town kids never go anywhere alone. Wherever they go, they go with their homes lost behind in their villages, Kasbahs or small towns. You can see that in their eyes- that sudden wetness that gives them away with all their longings and belongings. They might be proud of their journeys or disappointed with themselves, they would suddenly look away, seeking refuge in the same lost villages they grew up in. No matter what exiled them- be it hunger, war or career, their lost homes are the cross they carry alone.
Be it distress migration for the poor ones or chasing dreams for the more fortunate, the small town kids are destined for exile. Just like that young man aboard that Ro Ro Ferry in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
They know that despite all the speeches by the great leaders promising them the moon, they don’t get even proper roads that can connect Delhi with their villages. They know that they are the past of the country, running behind the metros by decades. They know that bridges don’t connect the past with the future, they only make fortunes for those promising these bridges!
They know that they would have to go, leaving all the memories behind and chase their dreams in places that could be anything, but would never become home.
The small boy from Babhnan knew this. He knew that every passing year is another year close to exile, that began at 12, just 12 when he was sent to a boarding school in nearby Gorakhpur. Home was no longer home, it was just a holiday. Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, Summer Vacations. His own agricultural fields were no longer his playfields where he would steal tractor rides. The “Middle School” Cricket ground in Babhnan that seemed like the biggest possible in the world had suddenly changed to a joke, a tiny joke on that, on the name of a cricket ground.
Slowly, the small town kids’ school bags would start getting heavier and their ‘holiday visits’ fewer. Gorakhpur for secondaries would change to Allahabad for grads, Allahabad to JNU for Research, Delhi to Hong Kong for work. With every dislocation changing friends, acquaintances, neighbors, everything.
Ironically, exile was never the saddest part of the story. It was the small boy from Babhnan not knowing that this a one way road- a point of no real returns. That those who fail and return would looked upon for their lives. That those who ‘succeed’ would have hardly any time for returning- for taking that stroll on the railway station that once defined their lives: that set them on the path of chasing their dreams as far as those trains could go. The same one from which this small boy from Babhnan started dreaming of traveling the world and telling the tales.
His friends listened to him with rapt attention about the places they had never travelled to. The places this small boy hadn’t either, the places whose details he pieced together with the: names of the trains and where they go with information he got from his parents, their colleagues, newspapers, name it.
So success or failure, these kids would be sort of jinxed, of not returning. Mahesh would better become Mat and work as a cyber collie, Lalita as Linda, is she was fortunate enough in a patriarchal society to be allowed to chase her dreams, they would dread to return.
And when they would for the occasional visits- nothing would be the same. The most promising kid in their class would have become a grocer they would have nothing much to talk about. The best batsman in their team would be selling medicines. And they both would be uncomfortable with the small boy from Babhnan’s success, the small boy with loss. Of the home. Forever.
Only mercy? He would be taking Babhnan to places, making that nondescript mofussil town, a mere blur on the map of the country known around, even if in his own smaller circles.