I shivered delicately in the chilly mall, ignoring the few people flitting about their business as well as my friend’s excited chatter. I smiled at her and nodded at appropriate intervals and kept moving as gently as possible. A couple days ago, the cheerful gossip would have been a welcome distraction from my hectic schedule.
Not today though.
Today I yearned for a warm bowl of Maggi and my little brother’s drama in a small, cosy flat in Tollygunge. I craved for the light breeze of Ahiritola ghat with its host of interesting crowd and the most delicious tea in Kolkata. In other words, I simply did not want to be here. Yet, when my friend had asked where we could meet, I had replied, “Near the college. Elgin.”
It had been a parade of familiar faces and boisterous hellos ever since I stepped out of the metro. A festival of animated buzz escorted me throughout the way, as usual. A half-hearted smile ghosted on to my face as fond memories replayed in my head like a black-and-white movie.
I still remember the first time I set foot on this lane, more than three years ago. The fancy cars and the ‘stylish’ kids fascinated the nineteen year old me. Questions had flooded my mind then as I nervously fidgeted with everything within reach and became nervous about being nervous in the first place.
“Would I fit in? How will I survive in this place all by myself? I wonder if this busy street has a quiet spot somewhere...”
As it turned out, I was seldom left all by myself, and I rarely, if ever, went looking for that quiet spot. Elgin Road had welcomed me with open arms and embraced me to its warm, voluptuous bosom. Knick and Knack, the Xerox and print out shop, the noodles shop on the footpath, the sugarcane juice joint- they were like the dog-eared pages of a favourite book. I would never tire of revisiting those pages of my early youth.
Quite a lot had changed in the past three years- the pancakes shop next to the college had been shut down and the dal pakodi stall had shifted further down the road; new shops had been set up to add to the already extensive list of markers for memory. Yet, somehow Elgin seemed unchanged.
It’s true what they say- no matter how many times you redecorate your home, move the furniture around, throw away old ones and bring in new ones- home always feels the same. Home is where the heart is. When and how did this quaint and eclectic street turn into home for me?