Two years and two months ago, I moved into our new home, back to my hometown. The town that (peers like to say) time has left behind. So what if it's one of the nation's five most populous metros? Even Kolkata's first citizen, old man Oitijhyo, seems to be hanging his head in the face of the new tempera of 'trendiness' (circa 1970s/80s) that urban planners, out-of-town architects, and the demons of new-found commerce and enterprise want to sugarcoat this crumble with.
But it was home — where my life was waiting, silently and patiently, for me to return from my sabbatical in the sunny capital (where everything seemed possible, and stopped at the seeming).
Exactly a year later, I left work. For good. It was a wrench. It was the workplace that had enabled my homecoming. It was even close to home — just an hour's walk past the fields and jungle, along the canals and slums and sheer stretches of nowhere lining the ecological treasure that is the East Calcutta Wetlands. Coming home at rush hour, I had no buses to board — just 15 minutes by auto-rickshaw and shank's mare past the 70-odd water buffaloes and cows. Typically, one of my 11 co-passengers on that puny vehicle would nudge an especially obdurate calf off the path with his knee. (I've taken my turn as cowherdess too.) I lost six sets of shoes to that (non-)road, and developed new respect for horseshoes and hooves in the monsoonal mess.
But the work had gotten old, fast, as so much does in this hot, humid pressure-cooker of a city that makes short work of tough skins, deadbeat dreams, and indeed all the claims on the package. More crucially, perhaps I had gotten old — too old for the hamster wheel of hope that things could change, or that I could change. I enjoy networking as much as I love cobwebs. I prefer woolgathering to news-gathering. I understand science better than I do sensational. And I am too old not to care that I was going nowhere. So I wanted to go home...
...and to stay home. I missed my old friends, those argumentative twins Variety and Simplicity. I wanted a room of my own again, and my own computer in my own corner of it. I wanted time; I wanted to stop punching the cuckoo clock. I wanted to mean what I wrote, and to write what I meant. I wanted to stop pretending at (a)politics. I wanted permission to care more about Beowulf than bylines. I wanted face time with a few friends, not just Facebook time.
Exactly a year ago, then, I was grateful to be home alone and to be out of work.
Yes, I felt lucky that day. Although my mother needed a new hip. My father needed a new attitude. My partner needed a new contract. We all needed new insurance. And, emphatically, I needed a new income to cover all of them above.
What I did NOT need was to be elsewhere as my mother learnt to walk again. I did NOT need to fit my father's doctor's appointments into the slots between other people's schedules. I no longer needed to earn more just so that I could afford to keep on earning. And I no longer needed to ask permission to go listen to the bulbuls babbling in the bottlebrush on a weekday afternoon.
But yes, I was also newly and utterly broke. For the third time in a decade, I had to learn to start afresh. And this time, I meant it to be a lesson for life -- one I could actually live with at the end of each day, even if accidents intervened, as surely as they do.
Which meant I needed to learn to live cheaper and live better.