It was the same time last year. A cool breeze of air surrounded us. I could see the morning dew on the window panes when I woke up. I brushed my room curtains aside to look closely and noticed a bit of commotion in our neighbor’s house. I wore my sweatshirt and came outside with my cup of Chai. 

To my usual place. Under the Neem tree.

I love the sight of the Neem tree strategically positioned at the one corner of our house like an umbrella atop. The leaves sprout again and the tree is sparsely green. It is picturesque as always, the brown trunks visible enough from the leaves surrounding them. It is like a painting drawn on a canvas when seen from a distance. 

My cup of Chai + The lap of Neem Tree + Me = A Perfect morning

I love this season – slightly cold invoking a need for warmth. It is welcoming in its own way. It already feels festive. Diwali was just around the corner. 

Well, I moved towards the wall standing against the neem tree, adjoining our neighbor’s compound. 

“Namaste Uncle”, I said in a loud voice to get his attention. 

“Looks like you have gotten to paint the house this Diwali.”, 

“Hahahahah. Nothing like that.” he quipped. “Actually the kids are coming home ahead of Diwali.” “So, I thought of redoing it a bit.”

“Oh, that is amazing Uncle. And the colour looks bright” I said. Just like your mood, I thought. 

I could feel their happiness. It was as if our house was getting painted, the bushes were being trimmed. Uncle had picked the choicest collection of flowers for their garden which I could see from my rooftop. I am not sure though if Aunty has the courage and strength to prepare pickle this time. 

Yes, she has not been keeping well for quite some time. All we have heard is they have been drifting between Jammu and Mumbai often. Not sure what has gotten to her.

Last few years have been miserable that way. As if happiness had forgotten the way to their beautifully done home.

There were times when there was always some khapkhaana (read happy noise) coming in from that house. I must be in class 10th when their elder son got married and in Class 12th when the younger one got married. Their daughter had got married even before the two sons and I do not have any memory of that.

It used to be peak hours of my studying when the DJ went all out in full volume “Dhol Jageeron Da…”, “ Tunak Tun-Tun, Tunak Tun-Tun”, and I would imagine dance moves while listening to those songs. I loved their familial bond and I have always loved their subtle exuberance about the bond they shared with each other amongst the family.

The family got bigger and bigger. There were more family dinners, and get-togethers. All 3 siblings along with their better-halves would join Uncle-Aunty in the weekly Sunday brunches or dinners. But then one fine day when I came back from my college for a summer break, I got to know that both the sons have moved to outside India. 

The house that was shimmering with love, laughter and aroma of good food was left empty, lonely and scentless with aging parents still maneuvering their beautifully done home. In the hope that kids would visit them once a year if not forever.

But weeks, months and years passed and neither the sons nor their partners ever got back to home ever. And in between the lady of the house picked up ailments beyond recovery. She grew thin and much leaner than before. When I first saw her after a long hiatus, I could barely recognise her. The pain had taken over her body completely. The sadness from the aloofness had pierced her eyes and souls maybe. She could hardly laugh anymore with anyone. Maybe she does with her kids – over the phone – hoping and wanting them to come back. 

The garden remained unkempt, the bushes grew beyond their natural length, the walls of the house eroded with the rains and withering weather year after year. The couple has tried to keep the foundation strong though. Uncle takes care of the household chores, even cooks all the meals and gives his fullest to take care of aunty – in the smallest ways possible. 

It is strange that couples who often spend early years of their marriage battling out their differences wish to spend a lifetime of togetherness in their aging years. But it is too late then, isn’t it?

Well that day, I saw Aunty smiling again coming out of her kitchen drying veggies on the pavement. Aah! The pickle would see another season this year. I beamed with happiness. How beautiful and powerful the emotion is that the homecoming of children infuses so much strength, courage and happiness inside the heart and soul of parents. So much so that their bodies feel young and their eyes happier. 

My heart felt elated watching the commotion from this side of the wall. The house was spewing freshness. The garden was prim and proper, again. The aisle of flowers (guldodi, gutta, dailia lined up alternatively) made the sides look so beautiful and welcoming. The chandelier in their lobby, which I could see from the vantage point – with their lobby curtains aside – was lit up again in full.

The stranded house was once again an abode full of love, laughter and happiness.

Meanwhile, I hear Uncle and aunty laughing out loud sharing a joke about the kids maybe. I am not sure if these kids or Uncle-Aunty would ever get to read this but if they ever – they should know, that in their happiness and sadness, in their good times or bad times – I have felt how they have felt very much along with them from this side of the wall.

But that day I was happy to see my neighbors happy once again!

It must be just another hashtag #homecoming to return home this Diwali, but for parents it is like reliving your entire childhood in those few days of you being with them. It is creating beautiful memories for the next 350 days when you will not be there. It is blowing life into the balloons of theirs and keeping it afloat till the house is full of life again.

To you and your families, A very happy Diwali. 

P.S. If you are heading home this Diwali, try to visit Chhat of your home. It misses you too.

P.S.S. I ahve gone through a similar turbulence of emotions and here’s the story of my GharWaapsi and it’s been 2 years to that.