26 August, 2009
Early in the morning when I walked past Snowdon hospital alongwith my brother and my daughter, my brother looked up and said, “there is my school.” I looked up and saw clouds having hidden the Kendriya Vidyalaya Jakhu’s building which was thus could not be seen but he could see it as it came alive to him–in his memory.
I saw the Poodiwala sitting near the tree on the Ridge where the road from Lakkar Bazaar meets the Ridge and could not help thinking that the tree did not look as big to me as it looked during my childhood. What had happened? Perhaps now I was watching it from the critical eyes of a seasoned mature person and not a small girl who seemed to be in awe of such a big tree on the Ridge!
Near the Golcha Restaurant where the steep stairs lead to the Lower Bazaar, we looked down at the market which was yet to open and decided to visit our old neighbourhood. Who would be there to remember you? Protested my daughter, scared at the thought of descending into a hub of small structures, seem to be grown on the sliding side of a hillock, and that through such steep stairs!
“We used to run countless times up and down these stairs!” said I in a reproaching tone. The small girl in me wanted to run the way I used to almost a decade ago! My knees and legs felt sturdy and I wanted to gallop down the stairs to the labyrinth of lanes where my childhood memories lay still fresh!
Down we went. My brother and I full of exciting chatter and my daughter grumbling at, what she considered, the precarious stairs! It was early in the morning and ringing the door-bell at such a nearly time was not, by any means, a good manner. But that was my neighbourhood where every time was considered a good time to call upon neighbours. I rang the bell. The door opened instantly and I could see her sitting by the side of a window. I had nearly overlooked the pretty young woman who had opened the door as I was literally dying to meet my childhood role model—Leela Behan Ji!
I was overwhelmed to see her. She was still the same—beautiful, graceful and ever smiling! Though it seems sacrilegious to me to name her by first name but this is how we have been addressing her ever since we became conscious of her existence. I ran to her open arms when she acknowledged me saying, “Kalo”! My childhood name never sounded good to me but it seemed musical to me at that moment as I seemed to find a way in the labyrinths of the maze of my childhood memories.
She was nostalgic for the good old times, for the old friends and for so many other things and the tales that came from her made us all mesmerized for their plain simple truth. Even my grumbling daughter sat quiet and absorbed in all that she heard. Stories and tales of a different time, a different world that was so different from the world she had seen.
I wanted to listen more stories, sitting at her feet, when she would be travelling in a far off past that was unknown even to me.
Stories from the Raj that she had seen from close quarters being a witness to so many of the happenings of those days of the Raj! I would relate all that I hear from her to my readers so that instead of the polluted information we get first-hand information from the perspective of a small girl who would run through the Mall, touching the satiny and silky gowns of the English Mem Sahibs!