Tuesday, February 01, 2011
The train pulled into the Rajendra Nagar station in the wee hours of the morning. A little less than 10 years ago, when I’d left my hometown, impossibly inconsolable, the place barely qualified as a station. One knew of its existence only because one occasionally heard trains rumbling through during those many mandatory visits to Bua Dadi.10 years and 4 visits later, I found myself using the station for the first time. The sojourn was as transitory as it could get- Phuphaji arrived in no time to pick me up and we started on the way back to good old Kadam Kuan.
It’s not as if this was my first visit back. Barely 3 months after moving to the NCR, we’d returned home. Home to the rumbling old house, the familiar muhalla, the old friends. Uncles, Aunts and cousins had turned up too and we made it a New Year’s to remember. 2003 March was another great trip. A visit back to school- the priceless reactions of the teachers on seeing that I had finally crossed the 5 feet mark and how. There was some cricket at Congress Maidan as well. 2005 June was the turning point in so many ways. Patna was now bereft of all of the Don Bosco gang. Arjun-Aneesh had moved to Delhi as well. Moni-Priya and Harshit Bhaiya-Abhinav were the only remnants of what had once been. And with my world having been rent apart only some months before, Jamal Road no longer held the same allure, the magic or the love. That was also perhaps why the lines of home were blurring so fast. I remember being adamant that I wanted to be home, in Noida, on the 16th of June when the fateful results would be declared. I came back once more, in December 2007, for Anuj Bhaiya’s wedding. Now it didn’t really matter that the wedding was in Patna- we were just there for the many ceremonies. Although I did spend a pleasant evening with Sir Ghazali who’s “Saagar Sinha, you’re a young man now. Today, we won’t just talk about the weather.” will echo in my mind for the quite some time to come.
This time, there was no one to accompany me. Rather, I was representing the folks for Bua-Phuphaji’s 25th Anniversary. Poised like never before on the brink of education and employment, this was to be in so many ways, the end of a chapter. I persist in saying that the decade ended on 31st December 2009. Posterity will record an end on 31st December 2010. But one far more significant decade, made up more of memories, milestones and mourning than of days, months and years, lasted roughly 10 years from 23rd August 2001 to this day.
The cricket pitch seemed so tiny. Was it really such a wonder that the ball had once been hit right over the building across to the temple complex on the other street? The panes on the opposite house were still broken- priceless reminders of the elation and alarm that those shots had brought us. We had to reverse the pitch in the end. The terrace was not that high after all- but it would still have taken the fearless outlook that only a pre-teen has to life to have scaled it without using a single stair. There were too many flowers and too many boundaries on that dusty patch where countless games of Pitto had been played, where Srishti, Swati and Moni used to sit once every year around that cow-dung contraption and make those haldi and cotton bracelets that Anupam and I would wear before grudgingly eating what we called the gobar waala chana. A sparkling new i10 now adorned Moni ka Maidan instead of the ancient Premier Padmini around which the restriction of 2 rounds had been put to tilt the balance of play a bit in favour of the den. A new extension had been built to the out-house. The narrow lane which had been home to rubbish and some very rowdy games was a thing of the past. Our own part of the house was locked, though I did catch a glimpse of the courtyard from the first floor. Weeds and undergrowth had made their way through the paved floor and rumour had it that a family of mongooses was flourishing where our own family had once blossomed.
Moni and I decided that we’d never been atop the Gol Ghar after all. We’ll have to wait a bit longer. It was dusk, dusty and deserted by the time we reached the ancient granary. A floating restaurant has now been started in Patna. I’ll have to wait to visit that as well. The steamer doesn’t run beyond a certain time. But I did sample Mango-Malai in a location that was not Powai, and it tasted just as good. The actual function came and went, and I managed to convince everyone that I had managed to pick up some directions in the first 14 years of my life when I guided the car correctly to the airport. This part of Patna was spick and span. The roads were broader, the cars were fancier- things are looking up indeed.
The last day was a social scramble to meet everyone I hadn’t already. Most embarrassingly, it took me 3 calls to Rashmi Bua and one to Phupha Baba to reach the house which I’d visited countless times in the past. En route to Arti Mausi’s I crossed the CBI building, and recalled the days spent at Anuj’s house just around the corner. The flyover on station road was now complete, and it took some doing on my part to identify the correct turn. This time, the feet did not automatically stray left at Kishore Medical- one glance at Om Raj was all I allowed myself before moving resolutely on. Harshit Bhaiya’s white house was being repainted a shade that the painters had given some fancy name to, but I’ll call light pink.
Somewhere between all this, I had jalebis for breakfast and got a shave at the old saloon that was now in a decrepit state. Optico corner was as empty as ever, although the friendly guy on the counter had now moved to greener pastures. I noticed that the post office was as red as ever, that Uma Cinema was still around with its offering of “Jaag utha khunkhaar Raakshas” and Khataal or no Khataal, cows still reigned supreme at Machhli Gali. One would say that in many ways, Patna had not changed at all.
Yet in all the other immeasurable infinite ways, the place that I grew up in, the city I called home for 14 long years and the land that I learned to accept, admire and adore as my own- had changed forever.
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