I have been thinking about writing this particular post for some time now but it has been a bit difficult to gather my thoughts. It should not be difficult, right? We all have memories that are dear to our hearts and memories that we wish we could forget but we can’t. That’s what makes memories omnipotent…they are always there with the good, bad and the ugly. I guess I have reached that age where I look back at my childhood days with fondness, but they also come with a strange anguish, something that tugs at the strings of the heart in a manner that is not always joyful in its entirety. The joy is always accompanied by the longing- the agony of wanting to go back in time and relive moments and days that are so deeply embedded in our conscience that it toys with the current nature of reality.
I am not very good with change…I have come to realize this. I accept change when the need arises and shape things accordingly but it takes time and while that can be good thing, it can also occasionally present itself as disconcerting. While I continue to adapt to life in this country, still learning the ropes after ten years, a part of me- the deepest part- lives thousands of miles away. The city of Kolkata and the small town of Jamshedpur are the two places that have seen me through the simple rites of childhood and through the defiance of teenage life and till today hold me in warm embrace of memories I made decades ago. And so naturally, they find prominence in any memory that I conjure up of the past to the point that the pining for the place and time gone by, hurts.
I grew up as part of a large extended family-my father has 12 siblings- and I have always been super proud to be part of this crazy clan. I have had some of the best moments of growing up with these folks during our yearly trip to our family home in Jamshedpur and I have been fiercely protective of all that it has entailed.
Times change. The house, a bungalow is no longer there. In its place stands a tall building that houses offices and a couple of floors have been turned into a ‘guest house’. The other bungalows in the neighborhood have all met the same fate. Families have left or have become just one more nameplate in the middle of the ten other that share the previous address of the ‘owner’, whose front yard had bougainvillea and the “champa” (Plumeria) welcoming anyone who walked through the small black gates. The big field that was the center around which the houses were lined, no longer draws children who used to be out every evening with cricket bats and balls and teams lined up for matches with rules that were tailored to suit the needs of the players. It has been fashioned into a parking lot of sorts for the cars and small trucks that the new residents and shop keepers own and small roadside stalls have opened up to cater to their chai-pani (snacks).
I no longer can go there. My people have moved too and are now in Kolkata. Having spent 70 years of their lives in that once beautiful neighborhood, their lives have been uprooted and are now defined by and confined to a three bedroom apartment. I no longer can run up the stairs and go to the roof to smell the bel phool (a type of Jasmine) or watch the clouds float across the mountain range that could be seen at a distance. I will no longer be able to see the golden moon rise from behind the school building that stood at one end of the big field, its walls bearing the signs of the city’s political story.
Landscape changes with time and I sometimes wonder if all of it is for the better. In the age of no cable, no colored television, no video games, no internet were we, and as an extension, life, more genuine, more palpable? Happiness comes at steeper prices now and yet, fails to satisfy at times. I also sometimes wonder if I have become too sophisticated for rustic pleasures and if my kids are ever going to know that kind of simplicity and joy.
I long for that place, a place that no longer exists the way my heart remembers. And it aches a bit thinking about that. But it also brings me immense joy reminiscing about that place and time and the people that made everything so unforgettable. I never somehow had a favorite uncle or aunt, but I have favorite memories with all of them and they have all nurtured, in their own ways, my growing up. I wish we all took more pictures at that time capturing moments that had us burst with laughter or cuddle under a big blanket in the front yard at night where we once had a ‘camping’ of sorts! It was honest and simple. My yearning for going back to India has not stopped and while I know that it is no longer possible, a tiny part of my heart still clings on to that hope. In this faraway land, where seasons dictate coffee flavors I reminisce and laugh on my own. I revisit the house and its rooms and think about the people that made the mundane, riveting. I share stories with Neel who tries his best to be enthusiastic at most times! I am waiting for my kids to grow up so that I can share stories with them and through those tales, bring that place and people a little close to them.
My memories inspire me and keep me connected to people I am many miles away from. They are part of my identity and they help me navigate where I am headed to. Memories make me who I am ( at least I would like to believe so), as they teach and guide; they let me fall back on them when need be and they also sneak up from nowhere to surprise me! They are my pathway to the future that may not have the exact idyllic scenarios from the past, but will hopefully help me shape ones that my kids will, one day, remember fondly.
“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it”- Lucy Maud Montgomery.