Familiar roads, the taste of a sweet flower juice, Durga Pujo concert rehearsals and then an old tune, I often wake up with this and similar other incoherent dreams, which kind of take me back to my roots, the place where I grew up. Last afternoon I revisited my childhood home while on a trip to Calcutta.
I was initially a tad hesitant to visit the place. The approaching winter afternoon sun seemed familiar and comforting. Wherever I looked everything reminded me of the years gone by. Suddenly the area where I grew up appeared somewhat shabby to my eyes that are more or less used to shinier locales lately. I saw those same red flowers whose juices my friends and myself used to suck, came across the tracks on which we raced, stepped on the grass where we played. While I was swept away by the turmoil of overpowering emotions, an old worn out voice caught me off guard. I turned back to see Joggeshwar, our housing sweeper who was standing right next to me. He appeared to me the same old guy whose calling bell for garbage used to wake us up every morning from sleep. During the winter months, I used to hate him all the more for disturbing our sleep under the warmth of soft quilt. I used to wonder how he was always fit and always ready, be it any season, with his famous aluminium garbage bucket on every door step. His voice had changed but physically he was mostly the same, gained a few kilos maybe. I have amazing memories of hiding in his snug room while playing hide-n-seek, stealing away his broom and hiding it elsewhere just for the sheer joy of being naughty.
He told me about the old residents in our housing, how new members have come in, about the members who are no more, how even living amidst it all, he actually has a fondness for the old world. He introduced me to Dharmendra, almost a toddler, during my growing up years and now the handsome young pressman of our housing. I have such beautiful memories of his grandpa, who had straight away migrated from Bihar to our housing complex to become the pressman. He was the first man who had ever spoken in Hindi to me. Before him I never knew anyone who spoke anything but Bengali.
There was a sense of nostalgia in everything. I was happy to revisit my old place, yet there was a tinge of sadness at the realisation of the passage of time. So many years have gone by, there are such numerous memories to cherish, and how my life has changed over the years.
I looked here and there, high above the sky, down below in the ground. The sky was clear that day. Memories of that March evening came to me. The sky was of an ashen colour and completely overcast with luminous clouds, which looked like monsters. Tuni’s hoarse voice calling aloud my name seemed to ring in my ears. Then we started running and running, braving the cold winds first and then the piercing rains which kept pouring incessantly from the heaven above. I still can feel our how we had panted that day, the sound of our laughter reverberates in my ears even today. We were going round and round, cocooned in our happy shell. I started feeling dizzy suddenly. I could smell those red flowers in the bushes, whose juice we used to suck while playing hide-n-seek. The flowers were still there. But sadly enough, my group, my friends, my Tuni and I were not there to suck its juices.
I met an old uncle, who used to live in a nearby building. He was keen to know about me and my family. I was keen to find out about my old para as much as possible from him. How was Pujo this year? Who performed on Shoshti? Who was the best dressed on Oshtomi? How was bhasan? Did you guys go to Ganga for it? What was the dinner menu on Kali Pujo? How is Mou di, Gopa Kakima, Tania’s Ma, Goutom Moitro Kaku? Does the mad lady at D2, throw water on children still now? My inquisitiveness took him by surprise. He was a tad irritated I felt. Bowed down by his own illnesses, family problems, the other issues that he faces, he failed to share my enthusiasm for the para that was as much his as mine. He was mostly unaware and disinterested in the questions that I asked with such intense passion. How could I have explained to him, how much I miss my old abode, the place that I have truly considered my HOME ever? It’s that same house where I came back to every night to the admonitions of my mother and the grumpiness of my father. These are the same walls that witnessed my childhood, adolescence and adulthood. My exuberance, my tears, my happiness, my failures, everything is being captured so well within the walls of my home. No matter how much I complained back then, no matter, how many ills I faced in those years, it was home for me nevertheless. My neighbours were a mixed bag, good and bad, but whatever they were, they were truly all mine.
Suddenly, for the first time in my Calcutta visit, I started feeling strangely alive. There were numerous sad as well as happy memories, but whatever those memories were, they were all mine.
I looked all across, at the skies, trees, people, buildings, birds, flowers, streets and lanes and by lanes and I felt if I could have just lied down on them never to wake up again.