Homecoming in Autumn

It was a gloomy autumn in 2022, which was imbued with the scents of October in its maze of hues and colours. I returned to my own country to share the coldness of my Himalayan family and join their banquet of Khand-e-Sheen (a mixture of snow, sugar and milk). I returned home to break the icicles and all the stuff.

You know, I continuously had the burden on my heart of some hidden pain. It was a lousy feeling as if I was not really returning to my homeland but running away from it. There was a sort of dilemma, which is in itself a paradox. Okay! I don’t want to annoy you. Listen, where I want to start telling is the day I left the plains. It was such a sentimental, heart-rending day; even I don’t want to recall it in my mind.

Anyway, it was Wednesday and I was in utter darkness until I reached the gate of my country. I had lain down on the back seat of Innova in deep slumber with grief, loss and memory of a terrible departure. The hotel-boys of my country roused me from sleep in the morning with a hawker’s voice: ‘wala baaya noune chaai, maakai soutech chaai, panni mulkich chaai.’ This unique way of asking for a cup of tea and that too from my own country was so soothing and balmy to a lost being like me, that I couldn’t stop myself but breathing a sigh of relief.

Mountains, my friend, mountains, surrounded me. There was no difference between the leaves atop the tree and the cordial faces of my country. But, you know, the threads of some tragic yarn left incomplete somewhere, were dangling there, in the corner of my heart. And I lulled the pangs of my heart to relish the beauty of fall that was utterly reflected in the mirror of my soul.

I sensed that a man has the capacity to converse lucidly without having betel in his mouth. Hahhaah! Isn’t that funny? But I really sensed that although the hotelier is showing cordiality to excel in his business; but it is much better than the wild eyes which suspiciously searched the pockets of my heart and mind in another country. I loved the humble business of these mountain dwellers. My eyes gave them compliments and praises. What else can a boy like me do, who has recently left his higher secondary school?

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I was lost in this thought and suddenly, I heard someone calling my name, ‘Hooo Faaxil.. Hooo Faaxil’. I was shell-shocked to see someone stammering my name. I saw in the hotel a tall boy with spiky hair, a thick beard, and a protruding nose, seated on a wooden bench. It was Muzze, a school friend. I didn’t call him by his name because I was not sure whether he is Muzzamil or Muzaffar; in school we used to call him ‘Muzze Fouff’.

I asked him, ‘Haai Booi’, what are you doing here and he solemnly pointed to the truck standing by the side of the road. In our school days, he used to boast: “Mai che maalis barabar baah trucke” (my father is having twelve trucks, surely). He was always lying like the hell. He didn’t qualify matric exam but I feel sorry for him for being always the victim of corporeal punishment by our phony teachers for no reason. I insisted to pay for his tea but he pointed to his driver who had already paid the money. I just wanted to alleviate his sense of inferiority because he was no more now that lying guy. And I never do measure people on this fucking scale. To me, he is much better than any well-academic phony guy.

Doing my B.Sc Honors (Mathematics) in another country doesn’t qualify me to underestimate a truck-conductor, who once was my school batchmate. If I am an expert in finding Ps and Qs of some equations, he is equally expert in managing Ys and Zs of his tough job.

Anyway, the Innova carrying me through the rice fields made me like being in a dream and having an impossible vision. I saw old men wearing Pheran (traditional Kashmiri cloak) like those of the hefty trees with yellow leaves dangling from their dry boughs that are about to fall. I saw women carrying tea and Lavas (typical Kashmiri bread) to the fields of harvest. I saw little children soaked in the utter dream-light of autumn. To me, autumn is something more precious than any life or breath. My heart shouted deep in the corridors of my Keatsian heart that had been silenced for long: O! Autumn! Thou hast thy music too!

I longed that if all the eyes would be blind for a moment, I could kiss each and every object of my country: autumn, friends. Autumn danced around me like a sombre but alluring and beautiful lass with dark gloomy eyes and yellow cheeks, with dull pimples and dimples; with gentle winds bringing musky scents from her long tresses of hair. And all I wanted to do was to embrace her with my naked soul. Everyone was looking at me with wonder. I was laughing like a mad lover in such a country marred with anxiety and depression.

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It has become the norm for denizens to expect a stressed face from a young boy like me. But I was not unlike George Bailey in the movie, ‘It is a Wonderful Life’. It was like I got the second and only chance to breathe with the people who are blithe and great; who have suffered and bled for eons.

When I reached home, I blurted out, ‘mummy’ while just entering the gate. My mother sprinted out with a loud thud of the door to give me a tight hug and it was now like autumn in heaven. Everything changed utterly. A terrible beauty was born within and without. My father shook hands with me. It was not unlike Jibrael welcoming you to the palace of heaven. My younger siblings gathered around me like peas in a pod. I wished to eat them with kisses.

Going on with the ticks of the clock, I met people of too many tastes. But sour or bitter tastes didn’t bother my taste buds. Occasionally, I feel the visions of autumn and it fetches with it the winds of peace and serenity for my desolate heart. It really soothes the inner pain for time being. I would never have appreciated the precious and free gifts of nature in my country, if I would not have gone through this transition in life. It let me perceive the feeling of home and the pain of parting with my loved ones.

Home is what your friend, Fazil missed when he was away from it; what your friend, Fazil felt when he returned to it and indeed what your friend, Fazil failed to express in words.

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Syed Ishfaq Altaf
Syed Ishfaq Altaf
Syed Ishfaq Altaf is a Kashmir-based writer and poet. He can be contacted at sishfaq157@gmail.com

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