This is a new land. Here sameness takes me home.
Here smiles crease faces; there I walk along the alleys meeting familiar sights. I feel cosily warm, even in the middle of Hanoi humidity. Here, the eyes stretch out to meet the rivers called roads. There I bump into the hand-pushed-cart – I come to senses and see the xe-om driver looking at me with questioning eyes.
There is a buzz in the belly as I cross the streets for the first few weeks. At such times, I find myself sitting on a temporary-seat propped up on the throbbing engine of a bus in Kolkata. Conical hats walk out from the realms of stories as fields glide by from the train leaving Kolkata. From up above the city, Kolkata has a lot of green pastures. I breathe deeply as I stand in front of Ho Ba Mau; the leaves whisper calm in the middle of cacophony.
Familiar it is here. Homesick I am.
Chattering houses wrap up the gas chamber of silence at a three-storeyed empty house in Đong Đa. With footsteps lost in the ngõ of Le Duan, I trek back to the thoughts lost in the labyrinth of time. My soul aches as I find myself here, in the now.
Familiarity of this city brings memories of my hometown crashing down upon me. It is as if, I have been here in another lifetime; or, there in yet another. I cannot say which the present is. I shove the sameness aside and try to settle my round figure as squarely as possible into the pattern of regularity. I try to make the differences the hallmarks of my expatriation. I tell myself- they have a fit body, while my potbelly makes my Việt maid think I am pregnant. The pattern of distinction ends abruptly here.
I try to think of how the flower and fruit vendors abound in Hanoi, pursuing the customers to buy something. I remember the bargaining act that makes buying so much interactive in my hometown. I try to think of the unabashed Việt loud chatter and the cracking laughter in restaurants. I remember all the time spent in neighbourhood shattering laughter at the same old jokes in roadside stalls in Kolkata. I try to remember the hassle of jumping in and off a bus in Hanoi; I remember the familiar smile of the bus conductor on my regular route to college in Kolkata.
It seems as if I have travelled across the subcontinent only to reach my home. It is uncanny, but it is true – Hanoi is my hometown now.
By Susmita Paul