It was a bright sunny morning today in Bangalore. I was all alone in the house as my flatmates had either left for work or had gone home for new year. I followed my usual ritual of getting up, doing my daily chores, turning on the geyser, carefully arranging an assortment of songs to be played for the next half an hour on my computer which included aashayein, Lucky Ali and music from "Scrubs" (the most awesome soundtrack a TV series could ever have. Zach Braff rules!). Then I made myself a cup of coffee and stood in the balcony with the sun rays on my back and the music floating out of the hall. I felt wonderful.
My grandparents lived in a place called Silchar, Assam. And every summer vacation, we used to go there for about a month and a half. I remember it as being the best part of the year for me, especially the day the journey was made. The journey had three legs to it. The first leg was covered by a taxi from Bokaro to Dhanbad. The second leg was the train journey from Dhanbad to Howrah. Thereafter an interval followed, spent either at a relative's house or some guest house or (this was my best choice) the DumDum airport. I loved putting up at the airport dormitory. The evenings were spent watching flights take off and land and roaming around the lounge. What more could a kid ask for. It was easily the best day of the year for me. From evening to morning next day when the flight would finally land on Silchar airport I was on a high. I loved every bit of it. The excitement of travelling, the anticipation, the security check, the bus ride to the plane, the climb up the stairs, the airhostesses, the take off, the clouds, the landing, the smiling face of my Nana as we descended the steps from the flight. Boy, it almost felt like heaven.
It was huge two storied house that my Nana lived in. It also had a big garden and a pond or pukur. I remember how I used to sit with my Nana as he explained to me the principles of Profit Loss and Simple Interest. Yes, those were the days of holiday homework! He also had a plethora of bengali story books which I used to read. From Satyajit Ray's legendary Feluda to the more intellectually stimulating Byomkesh Bakshi to folk tales and hunting stories. My mashi also used to live there along with mesho and my cousin brother who was five years younger to me. Teasing him and giving him fundas was a favourite passtime. Evenings used to be spent either playing cricket in the nearby ground with the local boys and my brother's friends or taking a walk by the river Barak. There was no internet and even cable TV was a new concept, two things without which life today would be unimaginable. I used to spend days loitering around the house, watching people do their daily jobs: Nani doing her cooking, Nana tending to the garden along with a servant and playing games with my little brother and just lazing around at times. Oh and there was also a VCP in which we used to watch movies. Haathi Mera Saathi, Tridev, Ghayal... just to name a few!
We also used to have these fishing sessions in the pukur with the most enthusiastic members being my Nana, my mother and I. So I would quietly sit with my Nana at vantage positions patiently waiting for the fishes to take the bait as he went on puffing cigarettes. It was an awesome experience. The tug, the dip, the pull and finally the catch.
Once during my stay a fisherman would also be called with his fishing net. That day was special. Everybody would gather round the pukur (even people from other houses!) as the jele (bengali for fisherman) would cast his net and then slowly pull it out inch by inch. My brother and I went crazy as we saw the fishes sparkling in the sun and jumping about. My brother being more a localite than I, was more adept at handling all this stuff and often I ended up following his lead on how to catch a fish and prevent it from jumping back into the water.
My granparents and others even tried to get me to learn swimming in the pukur. So my Nana and Mashi (both being good swimmers) would jump into the pond along with me holding on to a banana tree log. I was very afraid of water and could barely let go of one of the helping hands even though I had two or three people close to me who would never let me drown. This carried on for a few years and though my braver brother learnt swimming, I didn't. Much later before joining college when I finally did learn how to do it, it seemed surprisingly unscary! (is that a word)
Then there was the ritual of gathering the coconuts from the half a dozen trees in the house (I told you it was a BIG house!). One of the servants would climb up the tree and drop the coconuts into the pond which would later be collected by someone. My Nani used to make delicious sweets out of these coconuts.
Coming back was tough, very tough. I remember my mother, my grandparents, in fact everybody crying. I didnt. The flight from Silchar to Calcutta would be so very different, though I was happy at the prospect of meeting with my Dad after a month or so. He would be waiting at the arrival lounge waving to us. I would run to him and give him a hug. We would soon be headed towards Howrah to catch the train to Dhanbad as he narrated the latest stories from our Steel City, like so and so got Rank 21 in IIT. Yeah, guess that's where my fate was decided to an extent.
My Nana died in '98. Even then I didnt cry. I dont know why, considering how close to him I was. He was the best story teller I ever had. I remember one particular night when he kept on telling me stories till we could see the first rays of the sun. I noticed that in the later years he became so much quieter and indifferent to happenings around him. He would even listen less. It's strange that even as I write all these I can feel my eyes becoming moist. I last went to Silchar in '99 for his annual ritual.
My Nani visited us this October and I met her after six years. She said that the house has changed a lot. The pond has been filled up, the garden is no more there. She also gave me the diamond ring my Nana had. She said that he would have wanted the same. It was such a different time, a different world.
And about the first paragraph, I had set out to write something else but then this came up.