On a dusty afternoon of 2009, muffled cries and sobs lingered in the air, signalling the end of another tenure...
I looked on as my mother bid farewell to all the friends she had made during the past 4 years, lamenting her departure and reminiscing the camaraderie that had blossomed among them.
Call it an occupational hazard or a perk, being a family member of Paramilitary personnel meant one thing: TRANSFERS.
This cyclic ordeal required us to pack up our lives, memories and belongings into overstuffed suitcases and march off to yet another state. Don't be misled when defence brats nonchalantly brag about how many schools they have attended and the number of states they have resided in, all of them have broken down in tears each time a posting beckoned.
The idea of permanence and stability seem alien to us, everything falls under the ambit of replacement: friends, schools, homes. It is similar to living the life of a nomad, only difference is we don't get to choose our next destination.
I have lost count of the numerous people I met along the way, a few have kept in touch while many only occupy vague memories.
There are no "best friends since childhood", no concept of home; loss and abandonment become a permanent fixture of life.
Social calendars are filled with farewell parties, some departures bring a sense of relief while others leave one with pain and longing.
Promises of keeping in touch are made with utmost sincerity and conviction but are seldom kept. Deep friendships are nipped in the bud, romances remain unfulfilled and people who had become akin to the family are separated.
One fears intimacy and a deep void of attachment sets in, lest we become heartbroken again. All relations are tailored to become transitory, a temporary source of solace before the next order of transfer.
For the time being, the people around you become family, the pillar of your strength. A mutual yet unspoken sense of solidarity prevails in a distant land among vastly different people who would not have crossed paths otherwise.
In a hotpot of diverse cultures and backgrounds, I grew up relishing the dosas of Iyer aunty and stealing strawberries from Miss Lyngdoh's garden, not to omit the punishment later when we were caught in the act. The camp becomes our own mini version of the world, a sanctum sanctorum.
Vacations didn't mean trips to a tourist spot but a long journey home.
A yearly and often long overdue visit to our ancestral villages to meet our "real" family. What would follow was a short and sometimes awkward stay with relatives, both close and distant who dazzled us with their hospitality.
All four of us always put on holiday weight, gorging on local delicacies that couldn't be replicated in the camp. These memories became etched in the inner recesses of my brain, one that I would reach for each time I was overcome with agonising nostalgia.
Each time we left a place behind, the experiences and memories amassed were carefully stored, held closely, to be treasured and revisited time and again.
A surprising phenomenon of my otherwise average skills of recollection remains how one distinct memory of each place I resided in still remains fresh in my consciousness. This oddly clear facet of my past evokes great joy and gloom, in remembrance of a bygone time and a bygone place.
The 100 stepped stairway in the Dimapur Quarters
As a kid, I spent countless evenings frolicking about the stairs, falling and injuring myself many times in an attempt to count how many steps it actually had. I couldn't count to a hundred back then and left the task for another day until the day to leave finally arrived. I choose to believe it had 100 steps and probably some more.
The most heavenly momos on earth
Children would love to get rid of their books anyway, free themselves from the rigours of schoolwork. But what if one could exchange books for the most delicious plate of momos? A kind lady bartered momos near the Shillong staff quarters for old books that she would use as serving plates, an exclusive deal we had struck with her by virtue of being her most loyal customers. Her shop is no longer there but the flavour of those momos still lingers on my palate.
Of Lychees and Mangoes
It is rare that schools will give you anything other than punishments and never-ending homework. While I did endure my fair share of punishments, the summers I spent in Agartala evoke a vivid memory of receiving fruits that adorned the bountiful gardens of my school. An excited and cheerful bunch, we would line up without fail every day to collect our share of the fruits, refusing to trade it for anything else in the world.
We bowed out of the transfer game long ago, my father being the lone warrior who still travels to far off lands on his own, braving solitude and uncertainty.
A sense of home has been established now, a nest we have built to flock to no matter where we stay. Yet, no place feels like home. It is only spaces that I occupy with no tether to bind me to it. Despite years of training, it gets harder to leave for a new abode each time the situation demands it.
Perhaps no one can truly master the art of leaving, we only become accustomed to it, more adept at dealing with the pain and suffering of parting ways.
Leaving becomes a ritual, a way of life, an imminent departure that takes a toll each time it strikes.
A part of us gets left behind in all the places we lived in, an endless cycle of uprooting and restarting ensues. The ramifications are still heartfelt, only they refuse to be evident on the surface.
Each time I pack a suitcase, I do so with a heavy heart.