Home Is Where The Heart Is.

Ainame had her head bowed with her eyes fixed on the brown carpeted floor as her boss ranted on about how her work was just adequate. How she was too rigid to experiment with her style of writing, that her work wasn’t creative enough, that each page oozed boredom. Keshan handed the five paged document back to the bright eyed woman with bags underneath them who dug her finger nails into her palms to prevent herself from breaking down in front of her boss.

“Why don’t you sit down with Manisha and ask for advice, she knows how to grab the reader’s attention and you need to learn that.” Keshan spoke resting his elbows on his desk, his eyes studying the way her fists clenched tighter at the mention of his partner’s name. 

“Look Ainame, when I first met you, you were full of life and I hired you to work for this magazine because you are good at what you do but as of now, you aren’t living up to my expectations and clearly not your own. I’d love it if you would change that.” Keshan added before Ainame could return to her desk. She gave a slight nod of her head and without uttering another word, walked out of his well-furnished office.

Ainame slumped down on her chair and flung her work into the bin without batting an eyelid. She laid her head back on the chair and stared up at the fluorescent tube that hung just above her head while her mind replayed the whole event again. She couldn’t comprehend why Keshan didn’t like her work when everyone else did. Ainame had worked twice as hard, pulled a couple of all-nighters reviewing and editing it, going to her colleagues for reviews which were all positive and finally summoning the courage to show the big guy who would give the green light.

Ainame bit down on her lower lip as the name of his partner floated into her head. Manisha, socialite and the office’s long legged glamazon, with dark curly hair and skin a beautiful shade of brown, the boss’s partner and not to mention the daughter of a prominent MLA. Ainame would never be vocal about the one fact that Manisha was the last person she would turn to for advice, especially when it came to her profession and the fact that Keshan suggested it, annoyed Ainame even more.

The magazine publicized itself as a thought provoking platform which was willing to talk about issues other magazines weren’t willing to. It was a mutual agreement among the rest of the employees that Manisha’s work as great as it was, was definitely not thought provoking, yet she still managed to get two to three articles printed in every issue. No one had the guts to protest against it because one, she was the boss’s girlfriend and two, the last person who did got fired after Keshan got a phone call from the higher ups about it. Nepotism sure had its perks.

“So how did it go Chinese?” Dev asked standing next to her desk holding a bottle of coke in his skinny hand.

Ainame rolled her eyes and looked at him. No matter how much she tried to run away from that name, it stuck. Now she accepted it and made a running gag out of it. What else could she do? Born Indian but looked nothing like one, a problem faced by every other North East Indian.

“He didn’t like it, said it oozed boredom and that I should seek advice from his beau.” Ainame replied flatly her eyes resting on her work that now stuck out from her bin. Dev’s dark eyes followed hers but said nothing. “I don’t get what he wants. I do write thought provoking things unless if he wants me to write about my past boyfriends and the lessons I’ve learnt from them, like his girl. Is that really all our demographic wants to read about? If so, then our future generations are fucked.”

Dev couldn’t help but smile at her comment as the fair lady with almond shaped eyes looked at him. “Maybe you just need a break from work, from all the stress surrounding you…from all the heartbreak.” Dev emphasized on the last word as his gaze fell on the platinum diamond ring that still sat on her left ring finger after three months of calling the engagement off.

“And go where exactly Dev?” Her stern brown eyes looked him dead in the eye which made a shiver run down his spine.

“It’s simple, back to the place where your passion was born. It might help getting in touch with the past you and bringing it back on paper.” Dev replied pushing back his thick rimmed specks that slid down his sharp nose.             

Ainame considered the option for a minute her fingers toying with the ring while her mind worked. She left home when she was eighteen and vowed never to return. Not that Meghalaya, the Abode of Clouds was a bad place or anything; in fact it was one of the most beautiful places in the country. Ainame left because she had dreams far too big for a small town girl to remain where she was. It had begun weighing her down making the whole town claustrophobic and at that time, getting out seemed like the best option.   

Ainame rubbed her forehead with her long slender fingers and eventually nodded in agreement. She couldn’t believe that after all these years she was finally returning to the place that had driven her out, to lick her wounds and recuperate.

*

Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya was the last place I always thought I’d go to recuperate. To be honest, city was a misnomer; it was more of a small town located in between the Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills where a confluence of people from all over India met and was home to the Khasi and Jaiñtia tribe. Shillong was a place where the summers were pleasant and the winters were mercilessly cold, where development was stagnant and was a haven to probably one of the most laid back people on the planet, which made it the perfect retirement place with its rolling green hills and frost covered grass. For ambitious people on the other hand, I hate to say this but it’s the last place one should settle in.

After eleven years of leaving the place, you’d think that there would be a major change. But that’s the thing, Shillong never does. I guess that’s one major reason why no matter how far we tribal people go, we always come back. It was our home and as the saying goes, home is where the heart is.

When I first stepped into my parents’ house, or should I say my younger sister’s house, because the tradition here was that the youngest daughter inherited the family fortune, a wave of nostalgia hit me. As I walked past every room, I could recall almost every memory I had of the place. The way I used to sit on a woven stool in front of the heater with a woollen shawl wrapped around me as I studied into the late hours of the night, the way my sister and I used to sit out on the grass enjoying the warm winter sun with a plate full of lemon slices with a pinch of salt and powered red chilli on the side, the way we converted our dining table into a ping pong table by aligning several books together to form a net which made our mother really angry. Shillong may be devoid of many things but we had this ability of finding happiness in small things, an ability I soon learnt, I had lost.

 My parents were surprised to see me when I showed up at their doorstep on a lazy Sunday afternoon and my sister, well getting tackled by a bear hug is sufficient enough for me to say that she missed me. We spent hours talking, catching up on the things we missed and eventually it was just me and my dad. His hair was turning white but other than that, there were no other physical signs that he was aging. As always, he was fit as a fiddle.

He took one look at the engagement ring that sat on my finger and got straight to the point. Unfortunately for him, I knew the answer but didn’t really know how to interpret it into words which was so ironic when my profession dealt with it. The thing is I’ve always been more open with my dad even though he was a little short tempered and I would often get yelled at, that didn’t stop me from confiding in him. I told him about my whole purpose of coming back home but now that I was, I didn’t know where to start. He just smiled at me while he held my hand in his reassuringly and told me to get ready for a trek the next day.

So here we were, a father daughter duo along with a local guide slipping and sliding on the outskirts of Shillong. He didn’t tell me where he was taking me except for the fact that I had to apply vapour rub all over my body to protect myself from leaches. And talking from experience here, it actually works. Now I always deemed myself to be a healthy person who didn’t require exercise but if there’s one thing this trek taught me, it was that I was living a lie. I was just as unhealthy as everyone else who didn’t bother taking care of themselves.

I panted for breath and wiped the sweat off my forehead as I trailed behind my dad trying to keep up with his pace which was an insult to my youth. A twenty nine year old vibrant young woman couldn’t keep up with a sixty year old man, now I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t sit well with anybody. We trekked up a small hill and across a crystal clear river which was eventually followed by a path through the steep sloped forest. The challenging part was, it didn’t have a clear path and we had to steady our legs and plant our feet firmly on rocks to prevent ourselves from falling to our deaths. As we descended down, I caught hold of one of the branches to steady myself and let out a yelp only to withdraw it immediately.

“Are you okay?” My dad turned to look at me as I stood in my place nursing my wounded hand.

“I’m fine.” I replied as I strained to look at the branch that I was holding on to just a few seconds ago. It had thick sharp thorns sticking out of it which made me mentally slap myself. How did I not see that? I followed my dad down the steep slope, this time more careful than before, avoiding the moss covered rocks and thorny branches and eventually after thirty minutes the path gave way to a bigger river with massive rocks all around.

“Please tell me we’re here.” I whined bending down to wash my wounded hand in the cold, clear waters of the river.

“Just a small hike up river and we’re there.” My dad chuckled repositioning the bag on his shoulders.  I rolled my eyes and struggled to my feet while all he could do was smile in amusement. “I thought you loved trekking. Weren’t you the adventurous kind?”

“I used to dad.” I added following closely behind him as we climbed up river using all the strength in my arms to haul myself up on the rocks. The ten minute hike honestly felt like forever and eventually it led to a sight I had been dying to see for years, a magnificent, waterfall cascading off the edge of a cliff like a veil. The currents were so strong I could feel the misty air around it pushing us back, splashing water at us and the deep green lagoon threatened to swallow us whole if we dared step into it.

I was so used to seeing tall buildings and skyscrapers that I was awestruck with what my eyes rested upon. No matter how great human creation may be, nature will always trump it. I slumped down on the rock and watched the waterfall and listened to its sound as my fingers toyed with my ring.

“Beautiful isn’t it.” My dad commented sitting down next to me unslinging his backpack from his shoulders.

I nodded my head once my eyes glued on nature’s beauty while my dad took out our packed lunches. Hands down, it was the best lunch I had in years. I mean where on earth would you find a place where you could sit and have lunch with a magnificent waterfall as the backdrop. We sat in silence as we ate and eventually I blurted out the words I was meaning to say the whole entire time.

“I always wanted to be the reason why he changed but the thing is he never did. One woman in his life was just not enough for him.” I blurted my eyes fixed on the waters ahead of me.

“So why did you keep the ring? I know you’re not like your sister where you get hooked to one thing only. You’ve always had the capability of moving on, and that was what defined you. No matter how bad the situation was, you always could.” My dad spoke putting one strong arm around my shoulders.

“I don’t know, I just thought he’d come back, that he’d realise that I was good for him. It happens in the movies why not in real life.”

“Honey, I hate to break it to you, but he isn’t coming back and reality as you know is nothing like the movies.”

 “Damn movies, they create this idea in our heads that love can change a person’s ways which is hardly ever true.”

“Maybe this happening means that you avoided an even bigger catastrophe somewhere in the near future.” My dad shrugged, giving my shoulders a tight squeeze.

“Or maybe he was just a branch with thorns and I held on to him anyway. I feel so stupid dad, how was I so blind? Why did I choose to ignore all the warning bells ringing in my head? I know for a fact that the old Ainame would have kicked his sorry ass years ago but living in the city, it changed me. I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

My dad hugged me tight as the tears came streaming down the side of my face. I felt all the pent up emotions that I had bottled inside me explode as my dad held me in his comforting arms. I cried for a few minutes while my dad patted my head and whispered words of comfort in my ears. And eventually when I stopped, he wiped away my tears and his deep chocolate coloured eyes looked into mine.

“I think I know something that can help.” He whispered taking off his shoes and his socks.

“I don’t think so dad. I tried diving into my work and getting lost in it only to turn it to shit.” I replied wiping away a stray tear.

“Just trust me alright.” He held out his hand for me. I let out a sigh and quickly took off my shoes and socks as well. I held his hand tight as we waded into the shallow waters of the river with our track pants rolled up to our shins.

“Stand here and face the fall.” He ordered holding on to me tight as I stepped onto a flat rock meters away from the cascading veil and stabled myself against the strong currents of the water. The moment I knew I was ready; I turned to face the fall only to be blinded by the strength of the water. Through squinted eyes I watched and listened to the rhythm of the water and when I was sure enough I held out my hands above my head and felt the strength of the water imbibe into me.

I didn’t want to be stuck, I wanted to flow, and in order for me to do that, I had to let go. I let out the most powerful scream I could ever muster and along with it I let out all the things that weighed heavily on my heart.

I glanced up towards the edge of the cliff and caught sight of the way my diamond ring sparkled in the sunlight. Without hesitation, I yanked off the engagement ring and with whatever strength left in me; I threw it into the cascading waterfall drowning all my feelings, doubts and most importantly, the memory of him forever.


The name of the waterfall in my featured image is called PhePhe Falls which is located in West Jaiñtia Hills and the person in the picture is me. The picture was taken by my cousin on our trek there.

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