Wednesday, August 23, 2006

बीती हुई बतियाँ कोई दोहराए, भूले हुए नामों से कोई तो बुलाए...

Is it age? Looking back, seeking comfort in memories? Must be. When my married sisters came home they sought friends and teachers from school and college, lapping up the telephone directories and growing ecstatic when a chance meeting with some long lost classmate’s (who they never spoke with in school) parent took place in New Market. I had problems keeping my current friends. I ducked and hid if I saw a best-friend-in-school at the railway station and avoided alumni meets like chikungunya.

Now increasing, I’m looking back. Seeking friends. Sitting here I plan. This time when I go back home, I must do the following:

Meet Prof. Zamiruddin and Prof R P Saxena as I’ve planned in several past visits.

Meet Samina Ali’s parents. My college friend, she sang on my mehendi, got me a Bhopali jooda, the frock-style kurti and churidaar with a six-meter dupatta. She’s a Doordarshan newsreader and RJ.

Go past the Irani hotel with its dark mint walls and the front lined with glass jars full of rusks. The owner – a burly, bearded, handsome Pathan was my first crush :)

Then past Ms Nahid’s house, which remained the ultimate mystery of my school years. Just across the road from the Irani hotel (on Ibrahimpura road), is this huge pale yellow wall. A flight of stairs leads half way up into it and turns into a gray wooden door with a big chain latch. That’s all. Ms Nahid used to take the bus ahead of us and by the time our bus crossed her stop, she’d be at the door. In a second, she’d disappear. What lies behind that wall? I spent years in wonderment. This time I will 
get you a picture.

I will visit my alma mater, St Joseph’s, Idgah Hills. And perhaps show my daughter around. The stones that lined the playground where we sat eating from our tiffin boxes - the lid closed so as not to tempt the eagles that flew above and almost daily scooped someones sandwich or paratha away. 
The classrooms. Where Ms Burns smacked me for putting the glue on the wrong side of a craft work - a blue paper basket; Sr Antoinette read out my answers to the class as my face burned but heart glowed with pride; Ms Ghoshal taught History with the loud rhetoric, ‘yes or yes?’; Where Shilpa Agarwal threw love notes at me.  The corridors where Poonam Singh came running to eat halwa from my tiffin, the canteen that sold hot atta samosas, bhelpuri (murmura with runny imli chutney - just!) and orange candy...

Show my daughter the statue at Kamla Park. She has heard the story a thousand times. When I complained of Hari Moorty, the burly Malayali in my class who hit me regularly, Papa to soothe me would point at the statue and said, ‘I will make Hari Moorty, kali moorty (literally the green statue, black) and in ultimate childhood bliss, I imagined Hari Moorty standing there in the middle of Kamala Park with a pitcher on head, water flowing from it in the evenings. And of course, the pigeons decorating his fine form. He owns the Little Coffee House in New Market now. On my sister’s reco, I might also decide to show my daughter the spot next to the statue in Kamla Park where the Naga baba used to present himself sometimes as we shyly averted our eyes at the slighest sight of him from the school bus.

Perhaps go to Shilpa Agarwal’s beautiful, white, slanting-roofed house, which sports her kid brother’s nameplate now. Some years ago, in the darkness of night I went and sat outside looking at the first-floor window where we used to sit on the ledge and share the heartaches of growing up.

On second thoughts, I’ll give it all a miss. The fear of being confronted with change that will shatter the beautiful past I live in, is worse than any other. Places change, people change. How after meeting them will I be able to save my memories from being clouded over by the blemished present? What if the ber ka ped from which swung all the hopes and desires of my 9-year-old heart is not there? What if a stranger's face questions? Asks who?
I think I’ll visit the galis of Chowk and old Bhopal instead and buy shiny brocade, bead purses and tea-cozies (that no one has use of now).

This is Shilpa's house. I took the picture much later on another visit.


  1. Anonymous1:25 PM

    Old connections will not look the same especially if no contact was made to allow the pictures in our heads grow with time. You may see Hari Moorthy sitting on the till and licking his finger to count currency notes while keeping a vigilant eye on the size of portions waiters bring from the kitchen! It can be unbalancing to see Manav, a regular back bencher who strengthened his learning by repeating a class or two asking daughters of Sunil (another back bencher) “beta padhahe kaise chal rahi he?” But I can promise its worth a try. After the initial shock of seeing pot bellies, weathered buildings, ugly renovations, small talk to prove who has moved faster and ahead, you will see it’s the same old story.

  2. Anonymous12:41 PM

    U amuse. brilliant nostalgia writing. some juss feel, some juss narrate, some do both so effortlessly. looking forward to more of it. don't feel like waiting till next monsoon. let nostalgia flow this winter...

  3. Last summer when I visited New Market, during a casual coversation with the Anil Protiens' Uncle, I learnt that Hari Moorty had passed away just a couple of days back. RIP Hari Moorty.