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Morning Walks and Adopted Homelands

Priyanka takes some of the last morning walks in Oman, and writes


Muscat, Oman.

31st December, 2019.


The year and decade are both ending and so is my association with Oman, where I grew up and which I have called my adopted home for decades. My parents are finally bidding adieu to the place and by extension, so am I.

 

I arrived in Muscat yesterday afternoon, having flown down from the city I presently live in, Bangalore. The smiling Omani man at immigration checked my Australian passport and OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) document, stamped my tourist visa, and welcomed me to Oman, hoping that I enjoy my stay here. In his eyes, I was one of the many tourists who had been arriving all day. How to tell him that  lies in the space between those two documents? How could I tell him that I was coming home to bid it farewell? 



When I stepped out for my first morning walk today, I looked up to see a spray of sunlit bougainvillea performing its daily sky dance. My mother planted this bougainvillea soon after we moved into this house: I was a child then, an adult now. The bougainvillea too has grown immeasurably over the decades, its twisted branches and deep magenta blooms having become a part of the house itself. There are so many things in Oman to say goodbye to: this bougainvillea is one of them. 


Omanis used to store their precious possessions in a metal studded chest called mandoos. During my morning walks, I am going to be filling an imaginary mandoos with the most precious possessions of them all: my Oman memories, the mundane and magnificent. The smell of winter mornings, for example. Many years ago, for my first professional journalism assignment, I interviewed a German artist, Antje Manser on her first visit to Muscat.

 

We sat inside a courtyard of a former Omani townhouse turned art gallery in old Muscat, bathed in sunshine and surrounded by fuchsia bougainvillea. She told me about how she fell in love with Oman at first sight. “I especially love the smell of winter mornings here,” I recall her saying. It was the first time I had thought to pay attention to the smell of a morning. Antje is no more but I still remember her each time I inhale a lungful of sweet, pure Omani winter air.


7th January, 2020.

 

I am home but the truth is that everything I see and encounter reminds me of my other homes.

 

 

 

On today's morning walk, I spotted a tree that I last saw in Bangalore's Cubbon Park: it's known as Indian corktree in English and akash mallige (sky jasmine) in Tamil. And here it was in Oman, reaching blue skywards from a profusion of coral sun-drenched bougainvillea. During yesterday's morning walk, I paid a visit to what I fondly call the yoga tree, thanks to its contorted branches performing asanas of sorts.

 

I saw a cousin of this tree few months ago at Agara Lake in Bangalore on a rainy evening. When the skies suddenly ripped open, we sought shelter beneath it for we had forgotten to bring our umbrellas. I couldn't help think then of the poetic irony: a desert tree, offering us shelter from rain. I wondered if it thought of its desert relatives, their roots carving pathways deep into the soil below to reach water. And yet here it was, living out its unique, unusual destiny, offering protection from water. But it has made its home here in Bangalore as I have made mine. 


14th January, 2020.


My walk today took me to a stony hill, one of the many that dot the landscape around me. Last time I was here, I discovered fossils of ancient sea creatures and plants amid the stones. It reminded me of all my childhood rock collecting expeditions, the realisation that deserts are rich gardens too. 


As I watched the hill gently arc against the clear blue sky, I realised how grateful I am beyond words that this minimal landscape, an university campus built on a rocky, hilly, wadi bed was my childhood playground. It taught me to be forever curious about and in awe of the gifts lying hidden in the natural worlds around me.


I climbed up to the lone acacia tree at its summit, surveying beige cuboids of houses merging into the surrounding dun land. As a child, I used to hear ghost stories regarding this hill. But the only ghosts I could sense now were those of my former childhood selves and companions whom I used to play with here.


I left the ghosts to be and walked back to my present. I paused at a neem-tree dappled wall, wondering about a black cat I startled sunbathing on top of this very wall last year. The tree is still there as is the sunlight. But where is the cat? I stow the memory away in the mandoos anyway.


Last day in Oman - 23rd January, 2020.


It was a cool, cloudless, blue morning for my final morning walk. I walked endlessly on what were literally memory lanes. But there were so many memories that I hardly knew what to do with them. They were like the fallen bougainvillea carpeting the ground: thick, fuchsia, beautiful. A yellowing peepul leaf suddenly fluttered down from a tree, a reminder of a home waiting for me across the sea.

 

I placed it upon a fallen bougainvillea flower country, seeing my two homes seemingly merge together. I afterward tucked the yellow peepul leaf inside a book as a reminder of these two homes. My memory mandoos was full. I did not need to say goodbye to home: I was taking it with me while simultaneously leaving behind a piece of myself here forever. 

 

Main artwork produced by South Asian Today's designer, Charanja Thavendran, @tararaemerd

Photos are supplied by the author

About the author

Priyanka Sacheti is a writer and poet based in Bangalore, India. She has previously lived in United Kingdom, and United States. She has been published in numerous publications with a special focus on art, gender, diaspora, and identity. Her literary work has appeared in The Brown Orient, Barren, Berfrois, The Lunchticket, and Jaggery Lit as well as various anthologies. She's currently working on a poetry collection. She explores the intersection of her writing and photography at Instagram: @anatlasofallthatisee. She tweets @priyankasacheti

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