This is about my mother rediscovering her childhood paradise after a long passage of time and her feelings thereof the story is told.
I have tried to narrate lucid reminiscences of her younger days as told by my mom. At times of her will and sometime being coaxed by her children, she spoke in fragments but vividly about her parental haven buzzing with activities of members of a large intimately bound joint family comprising her grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousin brothers and sisters and herself as eldest and most adored child in the family. She remembered cozy cuddle of grandma, feeling of being loved, pampered by elders, hug from aunts in distress, shoulders to cry on, moments of caring, small sharing and stupid fights creating deeper bounds and miracles. She spoke with esteem about her well-knit and happy family. She talked about as a lively stripling wandering under shadows of lush green trees of leeches, mangos, guavas, pears, plumps, peaches, cherries and many others surrounding the house. She talked about a huge molsary tree in front of the house casting deep shadow and honeybees humming all around it and its small orange fruits and white flowers strewed under its spell. She remembered blossoming of fruit trees and flowers disseminating delicate fragrances all around. She remembered when children gathered around fruit trees, seniors perched on branches and youngsters lurking around to pick up the booty, to conspire in absolute unity against dictate of grandpa for plucking forbidden unripe fruits and when caught, endured quietly his scornful eyes without letting out the secret pact amongst them. When it was time to climb out of bed and wipe the sleep from her eyes, she recalled, birds were awake and singing. The ambiance was rife with activities of beautiful birds of various colors and feathers. They came winging down in abundance from all over year after year and flocked, chirping and hopping and howling and nesting with their instinctive sense of being in a friendly and safe haven and of plenty for them and flew away to return in the next season. She recalled when a native fruit Kaafal was ripe, a certain bird chirping and sounding as if saying “Kaafal paako” (Kaafal is ripe) and another bird mischievously responding “Mein na chaakho.”(I did not taste). She remembered parrots flocking over tall chestnut trees and dropping partly crunched green nuts and her picking them up. She described how fascinating was to watch squirrels zestfully playing hide and seek with each other all the while. She talked about butterflies teasingly gliding all over with their candid patterns of wings laced with exotic combinations of colors of yellow, orange, red, black and white and her toddling after them. She spoke about planting a creeper of grapes at one corner of the compound and watching it grow and its new tender foliage unfolding before her. She expressed about unforgettable smell of wafting smoke of burning wood emanating from flue of the kitchen. She even talked about, though could not describe, infatuating meek smell of damp soil deeply imbedded somewhere in her subconscious mind. She talked about visiting parade ground during winters with elders and enjoying sliced bananas sprinkled with special spices.
She described the view of Mussoorie after sun set aglow with lights glittering like a diamond necklace and splendiferous after first snow fall on its crests as colors gradually changing from somber to fierce golden at sunrise on clear days when rays caressed its snow caps. She remembered her visits to Mussoorie with classmates and collecting small colored stones and wild flowers. She recalled picnics to picturesque Sahastra-Dhara and Robbers’ Caves and enjoyed wading barefoot through crystal clear streams and splashing water. She wished to relive those scorching summers, biting winters and cloudbursts of rainy seasons. She remembered all womenfolk of the family collectively preparing for rainy seasons. With pride she spoke of cosmopolitan society of the city comprising of settlers like retired army, forest, Survey of India and other senior government officials living in absolute harmony. She also talked about best public schools in the town. She would narrate endlessly reminiscences as far as she could recollect and to her heart’s content and wished to settle there if she had her way. She virtually craved to be there at least once.
At 80, wrinkled but agile, charming and affectionate radiated an aura of contentment. She was married in to a felicitous family and settled in Mumbai miles away from her parental town Dehradun. Her pleasant disposition was source of warmth to every member of her own family as perhaps she herself was happy and satisfied on every conceivable count in her life. All events in the family revolved around her though at that phase of life she was absolved of all responsibilities and had nothing much to contribute physically. She lost her parents when she was very young and did not remember them. After marriage she did visit her hometown a few times while her grandparents were alive. The last visit, in her memory, was a few decades ago at the time of demise of her grandfather. There after she got overwhelmed with affairs of her own family and gradually lost sight of her maternal abode and the clans. However she nurtured an ardent desire to visit her hometown at least once to see for herself the place where she was born, lived her childhood, did schooling, and spent her most adorable and carefree younger days with her loving grandparents and other members of the family.
I being eldest son and having visited Dehradun with mom as a child during vacations hazily remembered what she said about and respected her sentiments. I and my wife therefore decided to take her to Dehradun. We travelled by train from Delhi so en route she could also fulfill her wish of having tea served in earthen pots (kullar) at Harrawala and Doiwala railway stations. On arriving at Dehradun she was perplexed and hesitantly came out of the station. Outside she looked for a tanga (horse cart) but found only cabs waiting to ferry passengers. We hired a cab and asked mom to give driver the address of the house. She did not have any written address but confidently asked the driver to take them to Flora. Wondering, the driver asked her for location of the house as he had not heard that name before. Surprised, she retorted as to how was that he did not know Flora as it was a well-known place in Doon! Helplessly driver again nodded in negative. She then directed him to drive up to a lane starting from DAV school. The driver corrected her saying that it was not a school but a college. She again looked rather puzzled as she was sure it was a school as she herself studied there.
We reached DAV College and entered a road perpendicular to it. She seemed confused as the lane in her memory was rather narrow but the road they were entering was fairly wide. We drove through looking on either side of the road for an iconic Molsari tree in compound of a house. However we could not find any house with her description. We again drove through trying to read every name plate of houses for Flora. It was early morning of winters and therefore there were not many people on the road who could help us locate the house. We shuttled the road couple of times asking every occasional passerby about the bungalow but drew blank. We spent fairly long time in locating the house. The taxi driver was getting restive and with difficulty we could pacify him and requested him to bear with us as we were strangers in the town. Not able to locate the house mom was also perturbed. We then decided to scan all name plates of the houses and the owners and also looked for any Molsari tree in the compound of the houses along that road. While reading one of the nameplates, I uttered a name aloud “R Kohli” That name got quickly registered with my mom and her face instantaneously brightened up. She remembered and murmured the name, as Dr. Kohli was her family doctor and lived across the lane. Hurriedly we entered the compound and knocked on main door. A husky and tall elderly person appeared at the door holding a walking stick. My mom came out of the taxi and enquired about Dr. Kolhi. He looked at us a little baffled and said Dr. Kohli was his father who did not live and that he was his son Ravindra Kohli. He then asked about us, from where we were coming and who we were looking for. My mom told him that she belonged to the family that lived in Flora. Both my mom and Mr. Kohli did not take any longer to recognize each other. He instantaneously addressed my mum with her nickname “Moon?” and my mum called him “Babbu? It was apparent from their conversation that they had known each other as kids and both their families were close. They appeared practically of same age. With a grin and gleam on her face, mom looked at us as if telling that look people know her in that city! We were happy too that at least there was someone in that town who could recognize her and boosted her drooping ego. He offered us tea and cookies as normal courtesy. He then pointed towards a house on the other side of the road saying, “That is Flora.” We took a sigh of relief as the great search was over. He told us that the house was practically locked for long and to his knowledge nobody lived there. He explained that as every house had to reconstruct the boundary wall; name plate might not have been restored. The Molsary tree was chopped off while widening the lane.
We entered the compound of Flora. On one side in front of an outhouse we saw a middle aged person wrapped in a blanket, perhaps the caretaker, sat on a cot was sun basking, warming his hands over a small fire and enjoying a cup of tea. He did not care even to get up and from there itself asked us as to who we were and what we wanted? My mother moved towards him saying that her name was Moon and a member of the family that lived in that house. Very bluntly he retorted that he did not recognize her nor had heard about her. She tried to explain to him about her relation and asked about her cousins, their children and for Chaturbhuj the caretaker. The man softened a little but casually replied that he had heard about Chaturbhuj who died long ago and his family migrated from there since then and that he himself was the new caretaker of the house. He further added that owners occasionally visited the house. She requested him to open the house as she specially came all the way from Mumbai to see the house. His initial reaction was negative and said he did not have any instruction about her visit, however due to our persistent requests, very reluctantly he unlocked main door of the house and followed us in to the house.
She lead us through confidently in to the house. There were cobwebs and dust all around the house as it was not cleaned for long. It was dark inside as windows were closed. There was a queasy smell due to stale and humid air. When my mom asked him as to why the house was not cleaned he remained silent as if he was not answerable to her. She walked past each portion of the house perhaps remembering some of the events associated with them. At certain places she paused for a while as if recollecting something. We entered a large open space (aangan) in the center of the house. She pointed to a kitchen and an empty store room on one side of the space. We moved in to deep verandah and then in to a spacious hall surrounded by many living rooms. We saw a few rolled up carpets standing at one corner of the hall and very large antique wooden takhat in another corner. Mom told us that the family members and guests used to congregate there during day time and children would sleep at night. There were days when guests stayed over and shared mattresses laid on the floor of the hall and stayed up through the night talking about anything and everything with deep sense of kinship. She pointed to a small vacant room specially meant for keeping a silver box (paandaan) containing traditional beetle nuts and beetle leaves. There was a long and deep verandah on one side of the house. She pointed at a corner where her grandpa after an evening walk would sit in his rocking chair and watched children of the house practicing music or learning some musical instrument as per tradition of the family. She showed us a place where family and guests celebrated festivities with lot of fanfare. She tried to locate her own room which she shared with her cousin sisters but could not find it as new walls were raised to partition the house from within and some doors were locked. She did not remember that house was ever locked. She appeared rather disturbed as she perceived divisions of house as manifestation of present generation syndrome of mistrust, misunderstanding, intolerance and insipid family relations overwhelming virtues of modest, tolerant, affectionate and exemplary living endured and prophesied by her elders and irony was that modern epidemic had dampened the immunity of even thoroughbred plaguing her kinsfolk by inducing frivolous and fragile family bonds. We then came out and moved around the compound and found it shallower with fewer fruit trees and nearly barren. There was wild growth of creepers and grass blocking the trails. It evinced callousness or preoccupation or perhaps inability of present inheritors. We could not walk anymore and came back in front of the house and stood before it for a while. The house standing aloof as an archive enduring weathers and the ambience tacitly devoid of sounds, activities and people were hurting her. In spirit, all creditable attributes of the abode as my mom told us time and again seemed to be extinct. We realized that momentous impressions of her childhood, which were the secret of her sparkle for all through her life, were brutally shattered. She was humbled and we saw tears welling up in her eyes. However her mature mind instantly acknowledged the fact that as time of four generations had passed by and that over the time deceitful maladies stimulated by debased winds of change had inevitably swept the world at large and her childhood paradise could not have remained unswayed. That consoling thought helped her overcome those distressful moments and she composed herself. She then simply murmured “Let us go. This is not the place I lived.” Without uttering a word we walked out of the compound and looked for a cab. We cut short our trip and instead of going to Massourie hired a cab for Delhi. During our entire journey back to Mumbai my mom was disquieted. Thereafter nobody in our family ever spoke of Dehradun. After some lapse of time she was in her normal self but spoke little of Dehradun.
We all got enwrapped with our routine lives. One morning my mom collapsed with a massive stroke and was hospitalized. She remained in coma for days and according to doctors stood slim chance of recovery. She did recover from coma but all her senses, reflexes and physiological activities were inordinately defunct. It was pathetic to see her completely bedridden, silent, emotionless and not responding to any of our gestures. I hated to accept that perhaps she was on her last lap of journey in life. While she was still in the hospital, I daringly whispered in to her ears, “Mom, once you recover, we all shall go to Dehradun together.” I saw traces of tears in her eyes, some expression on her face and a slight movement of her lips as if trying to say perhaps “No.” and closed her eyes forever. Her soul had departed from our lives.
Sometimes when I looked back and remembered mom, I wondered whether it was prudent to take her to Dehradun to fulfill her cherished desire or we should have let her live with the memories of dearest moments of her childhood.