This is better than going home. This is what taking a vacation means. I laugh, and remember begging Father and Mother for a vacation in the United States. If I see another spark of blonde hair, I am going to crawl into those large jute bags that family in fiery red and yellow clothes just carried into the second-class coach. Ugh, no, the hill girl who just walked by doesn’t count. The yellow reeds on her head aren’t even hair. If I had to escape the impulse of copying the West – well, God knows where I’d go then.
I wonder if I in fact was better off in the United States. A brawny man watched me as I carried out my work every morning, I had lasagna for lunch, and New York would surprise me every hour with a new glimmer of creativity. No, going back to that apartment was nothing short of the feeling of the lasagna crawling back up. I needed a vacation from home, and then, I needed a vacation from vacation. No, it does not mean, I needed home. Or, perhaps it did. Among the hundreds of acquaintances who serenaded their alleged love for North Bengal, not one mentioned this little straggling settlement named Tung – an irregular township whose name sounds like the hum of a pair of prongs, or if I were to go by Grandfather’s definition, the sound that my seventeen-year-old cousin’s guitar makes in the name of music. The woman with a piece of old cloth around her soaked hair, leaning against her balcony one level below hill road, staring at the train trumpeting around the body of the mountain calls Tung her home.
I’m starving. The least I could have had was some tea. Tea gardens, tea gardens. What if I was the manager of a huge, renowned tea estate, and to whoever visited me, I fed coffee?
Father and Mother once wanted to take me to Ghum, when I was eight years old. They could not manage so on the summer and winter holidays, and insisted, we go on Puja break. I would miss a few days of school, but that would be all right, wouldn’t it? Somehow, we never ended up here. I don’t even remember what I was doing on that Puja break. My only friend in my neighbourhood had moved away, and I was too reticent to go to the pandal alone. They saw me again, at the pandal, when I was seventeen. My friend had returned two years ago, and she called me Madhura, because she could not remember the nickname she used for me, screaming from her balcony into mine.
This is where I get off. I am hungry, and am envisioning the freshly baked cakes at Glenary’s, and some hot sausages to complement the saccharine. Darjeeling, again. Fifth time – or, sixth? Backpack, check. It’s cold. Oh, shoot, I’ve worn the jacket that has one missing button. I should have flown straight to Kolkata, and brought my family up for a weekend at North Bengal. Camera, check. I was miserable in the United States. The path outside the station is unusually stony. I realize I am standing still. Which way, now?