When memory runs its fingers through the dog-eared pages of the past, it can be disruptive. Time loses its meaning temporarily. The moment grows richer and heavier. You wonder if the memory was yours to keep as compensation for having lost a valuable moment. You question if the moment was valuable at all.
I remember the blue crayon that fell out of my pocket when I was in first grade. I remember my absolute surprise at discovering that if I kept at it, the crayon would vanish into my art. I drew an elephant before the crayon was lost but I never coloured it in because I never found the right shade of blue again. What I had lost was the bluest of all blues in the world. I remember waking up in the mornings with my index finger and thumb curled around an empty space. A tormented but determined artist, I managed to get myself another box and spent hours juxtaposing the blues in the palette manically to get the right shade, smiling with my teeth at the counterfeit shades I would create.
Some memories are revisited the same way that a lost limb is remembered. A sudden pang. An unexplainable tingling. An itchiness in an organ that we are no longer in possession of. I’m standing at a bus stop in London and it is drizzling lightly. But my mind is elsewhere. I am on my grandfather’s porch in Lahore at the end of a rainy afternoon in June. Eight-year-old me is completely drenched in rain and mesmerised watching earthworms writhing in synchrony at the end of the spectacle. A soft breeze is blowing and I am wondering if I can skip homework and stay here with the earthworms all evening. We would have mangoes soon then in a month or two. The juiciest, the ripest of them all. A reward for having put up patiently with the weather. I bought a mango once here in London during the winter; a toothy smile plastered on my face again as I ate it. It was zesty, bitter even. A sorry excuse for a mango.
It is as if a circuit of sorts runs through the environment and around you, and connects you to home when you live away. Your homesickness flows like a current, the ache glows like the redhot filament of a light bulb. Any element can prove to be a trigger. I am triggered by rememberance of the vivid drama of the shifting seasons back home. An unhurried progression. A movement like slow, cascading honey: The rain was seldom a drizzle. The days would not shift wildly from sunny to dark and moody. There seemed to be an underlying intentionality in the weather systems. In a city where sorrys and thank yous are offered generously when you cross paths with nearly anyone, you come to muse about intentionality in different ways.
I have often walked through the rain here not knowing that it has been raining until I have run into someone with an umbrella or a coat. When it rains here, it rains in passing. It rains without rhyme or reason. I do not want to dance in the rain. I do not want chai and pakoras. Those are things for another time, another place.
At some point during this disruptive walk down memory lane, my bus must have arrived, people must have boarded it and it must have left. I feel a little silly for not noticing. London is nodding off at eight in the evening. Having missed my bus, I am free to walk at my own pace whilst engaging in the aesthetic of the city. My gaze shifts from its dystopian commercial skyscrapers, closed for business now but where the lights have been left on, to what is sprawled on its streets — an abandoned blanket still folded in the shape of a pair of legs crouching, a lonely black glove, a broken umbrella spread out like an injured bird.
I remember reading somewhere that homesickness comes not from a clear, glaring absence but rather from the presence of people and places of the past paying you a visit and keeping you company for a while. I am instantly reminded of a day when my friend and I threw names of all the good eatries in Lahore we missed back and forth at each other. One of us would say a name and be lost in happy thoughts for a while, and the other would respond with another name and so on. For some reason, this little game of “I was here…” was exciting. Walking down Russell Square with the same friend one warm afternoon, I remember pausing and saying, “Yaar, doesn’t this feel like a dopeher (afternoon) in Lahore?” We spent the rest of our walk braying to varying degrees about how spicy food was not spicy enough and good weather was not good enough here.
Homesickness cuts both ways. Thinking of Lahore and its eccentricities warms up my heart just as much as it fuels my longing. I worry sometimes because over the years, weightier things have fallen out of my pockets. And there are many Lahores to keep track of — the Lahore that I left behind, the Lahore of my imagination, and the Lahore that is. I wonder if I can do it all.