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An Old Pair of Jeans

An Old Pair of Jeans

13 mins 175 13 mins 175

It was the day before Christmas. Piu’s flight had just landed at the Calcutta airport and she was waiting in queue to collect her suitcase. As she stood there at the baggage reclaim area, staring at bags of varied shapes and sizes slowly making their way around the carousel, her mind was shrouded by a mixed feeling of excitement and nervousness. It had been 6 years since Piu had visited her home in Calcutta. She wondered how it would feel to go back, to acquaint herself with the lanes and by-lanes which she had once known like the back of her hand. How would it feel to sleep in her old bedroom, adorned with numerous photographs of her childhood and adolescence, reminding her of the times gone by? Had her mother torn down the Shah Rukh Khan poster at the back of her bedroom door, in all these years? Had the Neem tree outside her window grown tall, or had it been cut down again by dwellers of the nearby slum?

The questions were too many. Having spent 4 years abroad and the last 2 years in Mumbai, Piu had been comfortable with a new way of life. She had created her own independent space, immersing herself in work and travel. Her life was paced at a fast rhythm, gaining momentum with time. Friends and lovers came and went by in her journey, in tandem with her belief that her time for creating long lasting relationships was long gone. The handful of friends she had made throughout school and college in Calcutta, were the ones who were still with her through thick and thin, albeit miles apart, strewn across the world now. And then, there was her mother and father, leading their lives the same way as they did 30 years back. Suddenly, the thought of going back to the same old set-up, made her feel uneasy. What if she is unrecognizable? What if she does not fit in anymore?

Her red suitcase soon made its way to the conveyor belt and she collected it, garnering all her strength to pull it on the trolley. Pushing through the crowd, she made her way towards the exit. Friends and family of numerous passengers had lined up at the arrival gate, waiting anxiously to see their loved ones. Amongst them, was her father, standing in rapt attention to ensure that he does not miss out on spotting his daughter. He had not changed one bit, she thought, except for a few more strands of grey on his head. He looked surprisingly fit for a 60-year-old, his daily routine of swimming and yoga clearly showing. She noticed that his usual rimless glasses were replaced by a stylish black frame and his dark brown kalamkari shirt matched perfectly with the beige trousers. Must have been her mother’s choice of buy, she thought. But he was not looking in her direction yet. She called out loudly: “Baba!”

He saw her immediately and waved his hand in glee. Piu almost ran with the trolley and gave her father a tight hug.

“Nice shirt!” she said. “Ma got it for you?”

“Yes” he said, with a smirk. “You know she has good taste, right?”

“Ha ha, very funny! How have you been? What’s new in Cal?”

“Well, you’ll find out yourself” he said, as they walked towards their car in the parking lot.

They put the luggage in the back seat and started their journey towards home. On their way, they talked about new restaurants in the city, the changing politics of Bengal, the new split air-conditioner in their drawing room, their last trip to Sri Lanka and so on and so forth. The weather was a bit damp, with the winter sun shining feebly and a mild chilly breeze sweeping across the city. In contrast to this backdrop, the lush green of the trees and the bright yellow of the taxis stood out, reminding Piu of the canvas she loved and missed. The passersby were dressed in their winter best, comprising of colourful sweaters, Pashmina shawls and the infamous ‘monkey-cap’, which has perennially been symbolic of gullible Bengali boys. The city looked at ease, redolent of the timid pace of a cosy winter day. Piu kept reading all the billboards on the way, checking to see if her Bengali reading skills had deteriorated over the years. The conversations continued, as they neared home, entering the familiar lane of their neighborhood. From the main road, they took alternate left and right turns to move towards home - a process, which Piu remembered confused many of her friends. But for her, the route always seemed quite easy - left, right, left, and another right to reach their house on the left.

As they entered the last lane on the right, she noticed the houses, which stood there the same way they had 6 years ago, as if waiting all this while to welcome her back. The boys of the neighborhood, who were engaged in playing gully cricket, suddenly stopped at the sight of their car and started whispering amongst themselves. She could see the cycle rickshaws parked in the far corner of the lane, waiting for prospective passengers. The vegetable vendors were seated near the sweet shop, calling out prices of vegetables to lure the buyers crowding there. The general stores right below their house, which Piu used to run to for any of her miscellaneous purchases, was still there. The owner of the shop - an old man, whom Piu used to call ‘Dadu’ - was sitting inside as usual, reading the newspaper. Their building, standing tall at the end of the narrow lane, was freshly painted in a lime green colour. Nothing had changed after all, Piu thought. It was as if, the city was stuck in time.

As the elevator took them to the 3rd floor, Piu ran to the door and pressed the calling bell very hard, much to the annoyance of their neighbors. Finally, her mother opened the door.

“Hi Ma!” Piu screamed, embracing her mother.

“So good to see you mamma” her mother said, gleaming at the sight of Piu. “You have become so thin! Dieting again?”

“No ma! It is just a lack of good food. I’m sure I will not look like this at all when I go back! What’s for lunch? Ilish I hope” she said, referring to her favourite fresh water fish. That is something she utterly missed in Mumbai. Not that it was not available in the market there, but because she knew that she could never replicate the iconic taste of the fish curry, steamed in mustard sauce, which her mother prepared at home.

Ilish? It is December Piu! Ilish season is long gone!” her mother laughed.

“What, no! I want Ilish! Have you at least brought the mishti doi from Jugal’s? It’s been ages since I’ve had the dessert from that place.”

“Yes Madame” her mother said, teasing her. “Mishti Doi has been brought. There’s mutton curry today for lunch. I’m afraid you will have to make do with that.”

Piu beamed, thinking about all the good food that awaited her. She took a while to observe her mother. Time had not even touched her, she thought. Her long hair was still jet black in colour, loosely tied in a bun. Even inside the house, she was draped in a saree, a task which Piu considered utterly unachievable. She swiftly moved between the living room and the kitchen, catching up with Piu and keeping a check on the elaborate meal being cooked, with equal ease. It struck her, how much she had craved to have these conversations, to smell the aroma of home cooked food, to feel the comfort of the brown sofa, to stare at the dining table overloaded with bottles and jars of varied sizes and to absorb the view of the locality from the balcony. She felt at peace.

“Don’t sit around now” her mother broke through her musings.

“Go, freshen up.”

Piu did as asked, moving to the bedroom with her luggage. As she opened the door, a familiar smell greeted her. The room had not been locked these years, she thought. It did not smell old or forgotten, as Piu had assumed it would. It was as if she walked in her room just like any other day, 6 years back. She checked the back of the door, to find Shah Rukh Khan still smiling at her. The bed had been draped in a new purple bedcover, matching with the mauve walls of her room. The walls flaunted an envious collection of her photographs – one with her parents in front of the Taj Mahal, a few with her gang of girls in their teenage years, one from her school farewell, when she had draped the saree meticulously for the very first time, and several others from her college days. Her books were neatly arranged in the bookshelf, evidence that it had been cleaned before her arrival.

She moved closer to the window, to take a look at the view outside. To her surprise, the Neem tree had indeed grown tall, spreading its branches almost till the windowsill. She could see the slum dwellers busy in their chores downstairs – a woman carrying water in a bucket, an elderly man settled on a stool for a snooze and a little boy learning to ride the bicycle near the end of the lane, among many others. She turned around to notice her dressing table, tidy as ever, with her nail-polishes, lipsticks and half-finished perfume bottles lined up in a row. Beside it, was her wooden almirah, with the keys dangling outside. Instinctively, she opened it. The old clothes stacked inside stared back at her as if woken from a long slumber. She observed that some of her mother’s sarees had made their way into her closet, occupying the empty corners here and there. Her eyes went by each and every dress, recalling the time she had last worn them. There was the red flared pants from the DJ night at her swimming club, the black skirt from her last birthday party in Calcutta, the white shirt from her job interview and innumerable tops, sarees and kurtas from several other occasions.

Her attention fell on something blue, peeking from amidst the abandoned section of the closet. She pulled it out, to have a better look. It was a pair of faded jeans which, she recalled, was gifted by a boy she once loved. It was ripped near the knees, lending it a rugged look – a style which was considered to be much in fashion back then. She remembered how ecstatic she was when he had brought this, as a birthday gift to her. She had leapt in joy and hugged him tight in the moment.

She had tried them on immediately and cat-walked across the house, halting in front of every mirror to admire herself. A song by Bryan Adams had been playing on her computer that day, as they immersed themselves in conversations, taking advantage of her parents’ absence in the house. For them, surreptitious meetings like this had been the easiest, since he lived in a flat right above their floor. They might have danced, held hands and kissed later that day, but she could not recall. The memory had somehow faded, just like the color of her jeans. However, she remembered how broken she had been when the relationship ended. She felt as if she could never love again, crying incessantly for weeks. How much her parents had counselled her, how her friends had tried to cheer her up and how she had applied to colleges outside Calcutta to keep all this behind. It seemed silly to her now, submerging oneself in such grief for a boy.

She unrolled the jeans from its folds and held it near her waist while standing in front of the mirror. It looked fine, she thought, even after a decade of being locked in the closet. She slipped them in, carefully pulling them up towards her waist. But it was not as easy as she thought; it was sticking to her body and she had much difficulty towing them up. She used all her strength in hauling, to the extent that she had to lie down with her back on the bed.

“Well, at least something has changed in all these years” she muttered. “My waistline!”

After much jostling, she managed to pull them above her buttocks, but even then, the buttons simply refused to lock. She jumped around the room for some time, hoping that a miracle would happen and she would magically fit in those. However, nothing happened and the jeans stayed put, denying her the ease and comfort of her boyhood years. Dejected, she finally gave up, acknowledging the fact that she had in fact, outgrown them. She folded them back, as they were, and thrust them in a corner inside the closet. Just then, her landline in the room rang.

She picked it up. An ecstatic voice greeted her.

“Hi Piu! You’re here!”

“Hey Tina!” Piu exclaimed, overjoyed of having heard her friend’s voice over the phone.

“I thought I’ll try calling your landline, like old times you know. And you picked up!” said Tina.

They both laughed, telling each other how exciting it had been to reach home after such a long gap. Tina, from her gang of girls, was based in the US. She too had flown down to celebrate the festivities at home. 

“So, what’s the plan for tonight? Let’s head to Park Street and watch the Christmas lights. We can have a drink at one of the pubs and then head to Flury’s for Christmas special dinner and pastries. What say?” Tina suggested.

“Sounds awesome!” Piu replied.

“Okay. I’ll pick you up then, I have the car. You stay ready by 8 pm. We have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Of course! See you soon” Piu said and hung up.

Lunch lasted for almost an hour, with Piu savouring every bite of the lavish spread – steamed rice, lentils cooked with vegetables, slices of fried aubergine and her mother’s special mutton curry. Her favorite desserts were served on table as well and she wasted none, enjoying the food as much as the lunch table tête-à-tête. The hours whiled away in a long afternoon siesta post lunch. Soon, it was evening. 

As promised, Piu got dressed by 8 pm. She paired a blue skirt, especially bought for the occasion, with a pink sweater. Her mother gave her a pair of danglers, which complimented the outfit. A pair of high heels and a touch of lip-gloss completed the look, and she was all set for Christmas Eve. She waved her parents goodbye, wishing them a good time with their friends at the club. She got out of the flat and called the lift. While she waited there, she took out her iPod and plugged in her earphones. Her playlist read ‘Fatboy Slim’. As she scrolled down the song list, the lift arrived. She walked inside the lift and shut the gates. Just as she was about to press ‘G’, the lift got pulled up. It stopped at the 4th floor and standing there, near the lift, was someone she had not seen in several years; someone, she had dreaded to bump into.

“Oh, hey” he said.

“Hey” Piu responded, opening the gate for him.

He hopped in and pressed the ‘G’ button.

“So, here for Christmas?” he asked.

“Yes, after a long time. What about you?”

“Same here. The annual homecoming, you know,” he said.

A silence flowed as the lift traveled down. Piu’s mind was blank. She had nothing else to say. Since they were standing adjacent to each other, she could not even properly see as to how he looked. But she did not try to, either. As the lift hit the ground floor, Piu said,

“Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas to you too,” he said, opening the gates for her. They walked out of the building gate, uttering not a single word. He walked ahead, disappearing into the road, while Piu stood there, waiting for Tina’s car. She switched on the iPod and the song by ‘Fatboy Slim’ started filling her ears. It was an old forgotten song, about a pair of jeans. The song went on:

Sometimes, I think maybe we’ll patch it all up

Like a favourite pair of jeans that you won’t give up on.

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