Returning to ones roots
K S S Pillai
Bernard Heinrich, a German scientist and author, says that home is a place we long for most when we feel we have travelled too far, for too long. He returns every year to a beloved patch of woods in his native western Maine. It is the pull of nostalgia, he says. It is the same case, he says, with migrating birds that travel long distances to return to the exact spot of their nests for breeding.
Bernard’s words came to my mind when a guest, a retired professor from a medical college in South Africa, told me the other day that he had come back to his native place in Gujarat for good. His great grandfather had migrated to that distant continent more than a hundred years ago, but he and the members of his family used to visit his native place every year.
The practice was religiously continued by the succeeding generations, including the doctor. Though he had spent his entire life in South Africa, he had a sudden urge to return to his native place and took the first available flight after selling off all the property.
“I feel happy here,” he said. “Can’t speak pure Gujarati, but that’s not a problem. The villagers have received me and my family with open arms. Realistic as they are, they also take it in their stride when people regularly leave for other countries in search of greener pastures.”
The homing instinct has been only too evident since the outbreak of the current pandemic. Thousands of ‘migrant workers’ gathered on the streets, braving baton charges by the police, when their workplaces were closed and train services were discontinued, demanding that they should be sent home. The government was forced to accede to their demand and thousands of people went home by ‘Shramik’ trains. Indians in other countries, equally impatient to return home, were brought back by ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ flights.
Those who had no patience to wait for the trains trudged hundreds of kilometers, carrying their meager possessions on their heads and children on their hips. Sons carried emaciated parents on their back, girls in their teens pedalled cycle rikshaws with the whole family crammed inside. A child slept on a wheeled suitcase pulled by its mother. Pregnant women delivered babies on highways. Dozens of wearied men sleeping on railway tracks, their feet full of blisters, were killed under speeding trains, leaving their limbs and possessions scattered all around.
Some of those who returned home were, however, in for a shock when they got a hostile welcome as they were suspected to be carriers of the deadly virus. Even some non-resident Indians, who were given heroes’ welcome in the past, had to face a similar situation. While some state governments frame laws discouraging outsiders, and the local populace resent them for snatching their livelihood, the influx of immigrants continues unabated.
Like my guest, who finds peace tending to the kitchen garden behind his modest house, keeping his stethoscope and scalpel locked away, they also dream of going back one day to their places of origin and breathe their last there.
(The author is a retired professor of English. His articles have been published by The Kashmir Vision, The New Indian Express, The Deccan Herald, The Hans India, and elsewhere)