A Piece of Land

What happens when life binds us and weighs us down with mundane responsibilities? Do we put our little birds of joy in a cage? What if those birds open the cage themselves and carry us with them to fly again? Neena Majumdar shares a story of the joy of football and how a common man turns back in his race of life to see that joy chasing him when he least expects it to

It was 2 a.m. and he was making the last adjustments to the baggage for his flight next morning to India, his home country. He carefully weighed the suitcase. It was well within the allowed baggage range. He did not have much stuff of his own; only gifts for his mother, the two neighbourhood boys and his cousins. Relieved, he turned off the lamp and tried to sleep. But sleep was in a long-distance relationship with him. Outside his window on the 30th floor, street lights were patiently doing their job for an occasional car passing by the road. “The city never sleeps”, he thought, but so didn’t he in the last five years. Life brushed by so quickly that he could never

remember himself again. It was going to be a surprise visit to his home, so he started thinking how his mother will react to see him after so many years. Her smiling face was flashing in his mind and he was thinking if she still looks the same. He was surprised how he used to throw tantrums on her! Was she going to be as gentle and forgiving as before? But now he was not even sure if he will be still throwing tantrums. He wondered, “This is the first time I am visiting home since I left my country. It is going to be the most important journey of my life. I hope I can get our lost treasures back. I toiled all these years for it.”

The morning alarm screamed to wake him up. He shut the alarm in his usual way, opening one eye. Light from the window was piercing and his eyes were still burning with sleep. In the next couple of hours, he managed to reach the airport, pass the gruesome security line and find an empty seat near the flight gate. There was still an hour left for boarding. He found it really strange having nothing to do. The last time when he felt that was during his childhood.

The daytime scorching heat during school summer vacations did not let him go out and play his favourite game, football. He had to wait until the evening not because of the sun, but because of his mother who would not let him sunburn himself in the sheer love of football. The moment the sun’s wrath started mellowing down, he would ask, “Ma, can I go now?” By the time his mother would answer anything, he was in the field in front of his house, wearing his favourite blue jersey with about twenty other kids, all beaming with joy. The soiled football would roll and fly amongst tension and laughter, losses and victory. Life was not enough for this game. Mother kept calling for dinner, “Son, it’s dark now. Time for dinner!” But only the unfocused mind could pay attention. His never did. When kids would get thirsty and exhausted, they would return home. He was welcomed with a reprimand from his parents. The days were no less similar to each other.

By the time he was a tall and lanky adolescent boy his love for football turned into a passion. He knew what he wanted, even though to the world it seemed wrong. His room walls turned into the walls of a temple where football players were worshipped like Gods. And a certain Diego Maradona became ‘God of Gods’ for him. As theirs was a joint family, his uncles, aunts, mother and father used to get together in their large living room during the evening time for tea and snacks. With passing days, casual mundane talks were turning into loud discussions, audible from his football temple. He least cared about the intention and the topic of discussion. He did not belong to the happenings of the house beyond his room and the world beyond his football field. The only days he felt one with the family was during the festivals. Everyone in the house used to tease him, “He sleeps, drinks, breathes and eats football. So why don’t we just give him a jersey or a new ball on this festival?” So when other cousins used to get elated with a new dress or toy, he used to be on cloud nine even by a mere poster for his wall.

As he was immersed in the days of his past, the flight attendant started announcing about the next flight in a muffled electronic voice. It was time to board the flight. The aircraft seating seemed to take forever. The confident and stylish air hostesses were demonstrating everyone the guidelines for a safe flight. He buckled his seat belt and thought, “I waited so long for this. And now no one can stop me from getting the precious things we lost.” As the aircraft took off and started gliding in air, his mind started wandering again to the times he had left behind.

He faintly remembered that cruel evening in his old house, when the loud discussions amongst his uncles and parents suddenly started sounding like a dispute. He opened the door of his room slightly and saw his mother walking out of the living room with tears in her eyes. His dad looked pensive and all he could hear him say to his brothers was, “You cannot do that to our house! This house meant a lot to our father, and so it does to all of us.” For the first time he felt that things around him were not right.

In the next few years, his uncles’ family moved out of their ancestral house. The house was sold against their wishes to get a monetary share out of a structure built on the foundation of love and compassion. His family had to painfully move out to a busy city apartment. Till then he used to think that all things in his little world are permanent but they were not anymore. His football field was farther now, so were the mundane days and evenings filled with the joy of loved ones. His temple found a new abode. Soon life became more demanding for him. He passed out of college and was desperately looking for jobs. One of which landed him in the US. Five years of sitting in a cubicle in a corporate building, working on ‘issues’ and never looking back did pay him enough to move forward.

Amidst these thoughts, he fell asleep and did not perceive when his flight landed. It was a dusty evening outside the airport. Taxi drivers started hovering around him like bees on a newly blossomed flower, each one cajoling to use their services. The city seemed to have changed a little, as in, it was dirtier, and the crowd was more aggressive. Many new roads and buildings had emerged. The cab ride was ten times more expensive than what it used to be earlier. He paid the driver duly and soon reached the door of his old apartment. After three knocks,

his mother opened the door with a confused look. She had become a little plump and the lines of age had started traversing her lovely cheeks. It took her no time to realize that the moment was special as her child was standing in front of her after so many years. She hugged him dearly. He discovered that she was laughing and crying at the same time. During dinner, she said regretfully, “If I had known you are coming, I would have cooked all your favourite dishes, son!”  He replied, “But ma, if I had told you earlier of my visit, I would have missed that priceless expression of joy on your face!

He woke up the next morning with the chirping of birds and the hawkers’ calls. It was so different from getting woken up by that screeching alarm in silence. His mother was already in the kitchen preparing his favourite breakfast. The flavours of cooked food were titillating his nostrils. Hungrily, he gorged on the food after a refreshing cold shower. He wore a casual red check shirt and denim and was leaving the house when his mother interrupted, “Where are you going on this scorching day? Wait until the sun sets otherwise it will burn you.” He replied, “Ma, I need to get a few things straight. I will be back by lunch time.

He was walking with quick steps on the noisy old lanes of the city. In all these years, he worked incessantly for one goal. He wanted to buy back the sold ancestral property for that was the least he thought he could do for his parents. They could never fight for it as they were peace-loving people who believe in crushing themselves from the inside so that the outsiders remain undisturbed. But today he was in a position to get back the land where it belonged, where he was born and raised in love which imbibed in him the strength to fight back.

But suddenly a thought started killing him inside, “What if the land was bought by a multiplex?” The sight of a busy multiplex, where a handful of rich people buy expensive merchandise and the common people wander in envy, crossed his mind. He could not imagine something so concrete and hollow built on the land which fostered countless emotions and memories, howsoever big or small they were. Although barricades in the form of new construction had bordered the old roads, he was drawn to the path of his old home spontaneously. He walked up to the place where once his childhood home stood, prepared to expect the unexpected!

To his amazement, there was not a single tall structure to block the view of the clear blue sky. Instead there was a sprawling green field surrounded by trees and sweet sounds of little children playing football. He could see himself in that field, the little blue jerseyed boy who used to worship football in his untarnished times. A faint smile spread on his face and he thought, “By buying this land and building another pile of bricks I will snatch away more things than gain. This piece of land belongs to football and football itself will take care of it.” He turned back feeling light just like the leaf falling down the tree on the pavement, walked a few steps and kicked an imaginary football in the air.

About Neena Majumdar

A scientist by profession and an artist by passion, she loves to capture the emotions around football on and off the field through her photography and writing. She can be reached at nmajumdar37@gmail.com