The return trip was long. At one in the morning I bid Sajjad farewell, handed him the keys to my trusty bike – a thank you for everything – and hopped in the cab. The familiar ride to Mumbai was spent in deep thought, traversing from the silent silhouettes of the Pune hills to the ever bustling streets of Mumbai. With every passing landmark the end of a very special episode in my life drew closer.
Seventeen hours later I stood outside the Helsinki terminal, up for thirty-six, being lulled by the pale spring sunlight. A fresh Nordic breeze was swirling about. And there, next to me, were my parents and brothers – a long-awaited reunion. I couldn’t grasp it all.
We loaded my bags into the car and headed for my apartment.
Every home has its own scent. Most people don’t know what exact scent their home has, but stay away for long enough and you’ll notice it when you come back.
Newly chopped wood. That’s what my home smells like.
It looked mostly like I had left it. I set down my suitcase and rucksack on the living room floor and unloaded my goods: 45 kilos of scarfs, suits, Kurtas, shirts, shoes, trinkets, hookahs – and mementos.
One by one I placed the pieces on my shelf.
The Apophyllite crystal, dug from the hills of Pune.
The statue of meditating Buddha, ever mindful; a silent reminder of the barren and majestic landscapes of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Ganesha – a gift from the café I frequented; a thank you for all those scorching afternoons I sat on the terrace, sipping a cold hazelnut twist and marveling at the crazyness of it all.
And the jade dragon that, every time I’d invite it to, would take me back to those alluring streets of Hong Kong.
I gazed at the items for a moment, listening. They gazed back, in silence; memories that are mute for now, much too young. With time they would make themselves heard; those sounds need to travel before there is an echo.
I glanced around the apartment. The silence wasn’t just limited to the mementos, it was everywhere. And it was deafening. There wasn’t a single moment during the last seven months when I experienced silence like this. No more loud traffic, barking dogs or hums of rickety appliances. This, and much else, might take some getting used to.
And it did. To be honest, the first week was rough. There was the relief of being back home, of course – but there was also this constant feeling of something being a bit off. Everything was pretty much the same: Helsinki, my home, the office and the people. But I wasn’t – or at least I didn’t feel like it. I was trying to fall into the same slot I used to be in, but noticed that I don’t seem to fit anymore. The divide between here and there too broad, I felt like I was somewhere in-between. Stuck in transit, with no place where I’d truly belong. It’s a strange, unsettling feeling.
Reverse culture shock. They warned me about this, but I thought it would be a piece of cake. In many ways it’s worse than the actual one: when you’re abroad, you’re to some extent mentally prepared for things to be different. When you return you just expect to go back to how it was. But you can’t, it’s not that easy. It just doesn’t feel like it used to. That return flight may have landed two weeks ago, but I have yet to arrive.
Good news is that it’s temporary. Day by day, act by act, I gravitate back towards the life I used to live. This too shall pass, and with time I will, again, feel at home.
But now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to walk the dog.