I remember having this great urge to write when we shifted to a different, bigger house in the winter of '99. I even had the title prepared. '3016, IV-C: From a Quarter to a Home'. I never actually got down to writing it. I regret it to this day.
Bokaro has always been a sanctuary for me. A place to come back to to cleanse myself, to recharge my batteries. A place to soothe my nerves after a grueling semester in college. It's a return to innocence. Then again, over the years, the exposure to life at big cities and my growing up has meant that my feelings for the city have become ambivalent at best. The city is there because of the people and not the other way around. It's as if it lacks a life of its own. The streets bear a deserted look after 8 in the evening, there are no Baristas to hang out, the traffic (if you can call it one) is too less for comfort. It's a very, very small city. But it was this very small town feel, easy going life without the red lights and big buses and lack of malls that made it a heaven for me when I was at school. I think a lot of what Bokaro is or rather was to me then is reflected in who I am today.
Kunal (Bunti) and Neha's wedding meant that were a few school friends who came over to make my stay all the more memorable. Kunal had started talking about 'we' and 'us' instead of 'I'. All of us were so happy for him and Neha. But in one corner of my heart, I could feel something going away. As we sat through the wedding ceremony which ended in the wee hours of the morning, discussing how getting married was at the same time scary and momentous and unsettling and the biggest emotional experience of our lives, I thought of how things have changed over the years. But more than that I think it's we who have outgrown the city of our childhood. This trip was memorable in more ways than one. So many of my friends have moved out of Bokaro because of parents retiring or getting transferred. A few have bought houses ensuring that the link to the city always remains. Kunal, whom I have known for almost twenty years now, got married and I am still unable to let it sink in. I got to have a drink with two of my closest friends and it was probably the last time we would meet in Bokaro. We also went to school where almost every inch of the ground had its own story to tell. It was as if the floodgates of memories had burst open. The classes and the labs, the place where we had our lunch, the different forms of cricket and tennis that we played, the trees that substituted as fielders, the assembly ground, the bunking spots, the fields and the games we played and invented, the bells, the dosa stall, the jack fruit tree; it was endless. Most of the teachers had also left though it was great meeting the few that have stayed. It was touching even, to know that they can still associate names with the faces.
Even my parents are facing the dilemma of leaving the slow, peaceful life of Bokaro for the crowded, faster paced life in Kolkata and at the same time embracing the culture of the City Of Joy in place of the lifeless evenings at Bokaro. Leaving Quarter No. 1019, IV-B though, would be the biggest jolt. Especially this garden.
I have never felt the impact of change more in my life than what I am feeling at this point in time. It's alright when you make the transition from a school goer to a college goer and then from an academic life to one in the corporate world. But when something you have known for you entire life, something which has remained almost unscathed, unaltered while people and times around it have changed, is about to make way for the unknown; it sure hits you hard. And was it coincidental that I was reading Pamuk's Istanbul at the same time. A novel about growing up. A novel about a city and its reflections in its inhabitants. I would like to think so. Kolkata would sure be a new and a much more diverse experience. It could even be said that Bokaro's time was over, there was nothing more left to savor in it. But it would still remain as the only home that I have ever known till now and in spite of its failings, I think I would miss going to 2157, IV-F on my scooter and shout out .......'Bunti'.