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Happily homesick in Africa

Happily homesick in Africa

Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retd)

The world may be a small place now but home is still home. Ask a fauji and you will get that wry smile associated with the longing for your kith and kin. And even if your near ones are with you, but you are abroad, home is still where India is.

The day was July 20, 2006, and we were halfway through our year-long deployment to Sudan as part of the Indian Air Force’s helicopter contingent in the UN mission there. We had carried hundreds of CDs of Hindi movies, and as part of mass entertainment a film would be screened every Thursday evening in our makeshift open-air theatre that we called ‘Nile Cineplex’. There was one rule on the choice of film — to keep the morale up in that distant wilderness, it compulsorily had to be a feel-good movie, as the last thing we wanted was to go to sleep in our tents in a sombre mood. That July evening, it was the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Swades.

We, 196 Indians, in that pitch-black night — a shade of black that only those who have been to the interiors of Africa would know — saw the hero pining for his two loves — a young damsel in the interiors of India where electricity was erratic, and for his motherland whose poverty he had seen in the thatched hut of a poor villager who did not feed his children that night but gave food to him, the hero, who had come to collect rent for his land. It sure was emotional for us who were thousands of kilometres away from our loved ones, and from our homeland, whose duty we had come to perform. I, at least, went back to my tent with a lump in my throat. Was it a wrong choice of film, considering our unwritten rule?

It sure was not. I reminisced about my year-long courses in France and the US two decades earlier where I was alone in the initial few months. And when my wife and our two beautiful daughters joined me, it was pure bliss which lasted for some time before all four of us started missing home — India! Was Sudan deployment different? Well, I had 195 fellow countrymen as my family there and we spoke the same language and got good desi food. But we missed home — our India, and our feelings were not too different that night from Shah Rukh Khan’s as he thought of his two loves while the song went —‘Yeh jo des hai tera, swades hai tera’; the love of India beckoned us as no other love can. Oh boy! Were we sick — happily homesick!

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