Long time back I was introduced to a professor and I had the privilege to listen to him about life as a refugee and memories of his motherland. This is his story:
Professor D came from a humble background and lived in a joint family in a remote village. He studied in the local school and was a good student. When it was time to go to the university, he got full scholarship to study in one of the top Ivy League University in the US. After finishing his PhD there, he was offered several jobs, however he decided to go back to his country, thinking of doing something in his motherland. Once in a while, universities in the US invited him as visiting professor for which he travelled and gave lectures there. During these trips too the job offers regularly poured in, including, from his alma mater, but he always came back to his country. He did not desire lot and led a simple life, sharing his knowledge amongst the young and willing. Life was going on smoothly.
Then suddenly one fine morning, the government of his country issued an order barring all people from wearing anything else but the “ethnic” clothes. The professor’s great grandfather had come from a different country, on invitation from the then monarch of the present country. It had been three generations since these people came there, that too on invitation and over a span of few years they were provided with valid citizenship and passport with which they travelled to study, for business purposes, to go for vacations, etc. When the people first came to settle down on invitation of the government they had already left everything behind and had come with full knowledge that from thereon, this would be their country, their home, their motherland. Even if the the people who came to settle down had some nostalgic feeling for the land they came from, by the second generation this country had become their country, their home they had ever known and everyone their compatriots. They knew they were different because of their naturally different features, their food, their clothing and festivals, but they never thought that this was not their country. They carried on with the few festivals and celebrations they knew, because they did not know any other. They also celebrated the local festivals along with their countrymen and country women. In addition, before they were granted citizenships they were not told not to celebrate “their” festivals and not to wear what they had been wearing for generations, these restrictions came much later.
To wear the clothes of the country was not a problem for most of the people, especially the youngsters and it was not a problem for Professor D either. But for his grandmother who was 87 years old, who had never had any kind of formal education, who had never ventured out of her village, who had never worn any other kind of other clothes than what her mother and grandmother wore, it was but of course difficult for her to understand. She did not know what the fuss was all about and questioned everyone what was wrong in wearing the clothes her mother and grandmother wore for ages? No one was able to give an answer that convinced her, but in the end she gave in and wore what she was forced to wear. Professor D further told me that every morning after she changed into the new kind of garb, she used to hesitate to go in front of the family. When finally she did go, she used to giggle shyly and glance at each of the children and grandchildren, as if seeking their approval. Still, life went on.
After few years, suddenly within a span of few nights many of the professor’s friends along with their family vanished from the country…from the country of their birth…from their homes. He started to enquire and found out that they had suddenly packed and taken as much as they could carry, leaving everything else behind. Some drove in the night, some took the bus and some hitched rides from random people after paying hefty amount. One fine day, with just the clothes on his body, the professor too fled his country. He refused to tell me how he managed to sneak out, but he did.
Now he is a refugee…a man without a country…a man without a home…a man who left behind every memory connected to his childhood and connected to his loved ones. The last few statements he made while narrating this part of his life will stay with me always and it will remind me to be humble with what I have. Sitting on a chair across me he looked into my eyes but did not say a word for few seconds. Then after inhaling and finally exhaling a long breath, with trembling lips he said, “You do not know how lucky you are…you have two countries you can call home. What I am going to say may sound very frivolous to you or you may not even understand but anyway I will say it, just try to understand it – you can flip through your old albums and put a face to your father and mother who are no more. Look at me, with the passing of all these years, the faces of my parents now appear blurry in my memory and at times I am not even able to recall how they looked. I do not have a country leave alone a home.” Saying that he quickly looked away before the brimming eyes spilled over.
Yes, I will never know how it feels to be without a country, to never get to see the place where I learnt to ride a bicycle, where my dad held my hand and took me to school, where my mom stood with a stick under a tree threatening to whack me as soon as I descended, where she gathered me in her arms and cuddled me when I hurt my knees, where we cousins quarrelled and laughed like crazy for no reason, where we shared secrets which are still our secrets, where I sang at the top of my cacophony voice, where….