About a fortnight from now, I would be leaving Delhi for good. The city which I first visited as an eight grader, the city to which I came as a complete stranger like so many others (especially from the part of the world I come from!) to chase my dreams, the city which has been my home for the last five years. But if you are thinking that I am going to chronicle my five, rather six years of stay in this city or enumerate the reasons why I have fallen in love with it, you are in for some dissapointment. For this post is not about Delhi, it's about a small city I spent my childhood in.
I grew up at a place called Bokaro; Bokaro Steel City to be precise. It was a beautiful place to grow up. I remember the look of astonishment on one of my mother's uncle's face when he visited us for the first time, for inspite of being in Bihar (yes it was in the pre Jharkhand days) about which more often than not an outsider forms a definitive image in his mind, he found Bokaro to be a place he would love to spend time in. For a child like me, growing up in Bokaro was one of the best things that happened to me. It's a small city and so everything was nearby ranging from the shopping centre to the hospital to schools. Kids could play on the colony roads without any fear of intrusion of vehicles, go to schools in groups riding a bicycle, play in the rain, go picnicing during winters. To a fourteen-fifteen year old, life possibly couldn't be any better. The only big city that I had been to as a kid was Calcutta, the city I was born in. And since the stay was never too long, I failed to associate myself with it.
It's difficult to write about something when you have so many memories of it. You don't know where and how to begin. It's like meeting your best friend from school after a long time. There's so much history between the two of you, so much to talk, so much to catch up on, that you find yourself at a loss of words.
My first memories of the place go back to the Nursery School I attended, a mere five minutes walk from my home, a distance which I used to cover on my father's Jawa in the morning and with my mother in the afternoon, harping about the happenings of the day. I still vividly remember one particular day when this ritual was broken. Classes had ended earlier than usual on that particular day and as was my wont, I looked out of the window of my classroom to catch a glimpse of my mother waiting there for me. To my horror she wasn't there. I waited for about ten minutes in the sun waiting for her to arrive knowing little that she couldn't possibly have any inkling that my classes had gotten over. But for a four year old kid, his parents are supreme beings, capable of doing anything, knowing everything and being anywhere when he needs them. Anyway, it took a great act of courage from my side and one of benevolence from the rickshaw-wallah who used to carry some of my friends and who knew me and my mother, to finally alight on the rickshaw and head towards home. It was about halfway through the distance that I saw my mother. I immediately got down from the rickshaw while the rickshaw-wallah explained the situation to my mother. The crisis was over.
There were children of all ages in my neighbourhood and all of us used to play cricket together; even the girls (though all of them sadly were didis for me). The lack of a field nearby meant that everyday from about four to six in the evening, the small bylane in front of our home would be turned into a cricket field with a concrete pitch (who said in India cricket is played on slow low wickets :)). Cars would be made to vanish, the ladies would take care not to sit anywhere near the pitch in fear of green spherical objects being hurled at them, passerbys would wait for the action to get over before venturing to cross the field, mayhem would reign supreme for two hours and yes, I almost forgot, some cricket would also be played. Sometimes the venue would change too. The concrete pitch would be replaced by a clay one, the girls would be banned, there would be no leg side play, the lack of space meant that the only shots which got you runs were the square cut and the tendulkaresqe straight drive, a bus tyre would replace the stumps (God knows where it came from), nicks would be considered out, the friendly tennis ball would make way for the mean deuce ball and the punishment for hitting the glass window pane was to register a complain at the nearby maintenance office.
The Bokaro I grew up in was a very calm and laidback city. There were no traffic lights, no public transport buses on the roads, people knew who their neighbours were. Everything was very simple, very easygoing. The city was there because of the Plant and not the other way around so apart from the fact that most of the population comprised of people who worked there and their families, it also meant that that entire city had a very structured and planned look about it. True there were no multiplexes or Nike and Adidas showrooms but who cared. I had my friends, my family, the weather was great, school was fun, teachers knew you by name and often became aunties when you met them in the market places. The place where I lived was called the Russian Colony. Several Soviet experts used to live there earlier during the days the plant was being set up and though quite a few of them remained then and the majority of the place had been populated by Indians, the name had stayed. I remember one Mr. Edward, a Soviet expert who was my father's colleague and friend and his wife Madam Ella. We used to go their place once in a while and they also came over at times. My father was fluent in Russian so while he conversed in Russian most of the time with them, I and my mother managed with English. I remember seeing Edward uncle in a golden kurta my father had given him and aunt Ella in a saree which my mother had given her. They looked beautiful. He was older than my father. In fact he had a grandson who was called Anton and since my pet name was Taton, I reminded him of his grandson. He loved me and so did I. A few years later, he left Bokaro, forever.
The colony had in its centre, what we kids used to call, a jungle. It was basically a quite densly forested area with a few foxes as the only wild inhabitants. What it also meant that during the rainy season you could sit on the balcony of your home and see the rain falling in the jungle and the water making small streams in the mud. There were also the sparrows, the hummingbirds, the koels and the parrots to be seen. In short, it was a very green city with lots of trees and parks, little pollution (the steel plant was on theoutskirts of the city) and no water or electricity shortages. I used to boast about it all the time when faced with the power cuts in my maternal grandfather's home in Silchar which we used to go during the summer vacations. Life was good and I was as happy as one could be.
Gradually the years rolled by. Scooters replaced the bicycles, tuitions replaced cricket, we moved from Qr. No. 3016 to Qr. No. 1019, a few friends left, some things changed. I came to know about life in another city called New Delhi and all of a sudden, Bokaro became smaller and ceased to be the best place in the world. Nevertheless my family was still there and the bimonthly visits continued. But with each visit, the city kept shrinking. Delhi is great and spending my college life here is probably one of the best things to have happened to me but whenever I go to the place I spent my childhood in and walk the streets which used to be our playground, go to my school (which warrants a post in itself), visit old acquaintances; the floodgates of memories open up. I feel a strange calm descend upon me and however bored I get there after a few days, the day before leaving is always difficult. My father would be retiring in another four or five years and move to Kolkata. I wonder after that if ever I would visit that place, the place who's name more often than not brings the same statement from people I have just met..."Bokaro... oh Steel Plant....". Yes, Steel Plant but also my childhood, my home.