The past always has a way of being heard. It ensures it is never forgotten. Through songs, poems, stories, pictures and buildings it always stays alive. The now defunct windows which refuse to close have been witness to miracles and disasters. The peeling paint silently narrated their despair. The grandeur of the past was a ruin in the present and yet it depicted ambition. The sun might have gone down taking away its glory and the fulfillment of desire was long satiated.
“Laxmi Nivas”, everything that I associated with this place was no more today, my grandfather, Appu Ghar, my best friend Ronnie and Jhallo. As the sun set down one more time I stared at the structure urging to speak one last time. It told me the story didn’t matter. It was long forgotten and of no relevance. I insisted, stating it is important. I was asked why. I answered, “Because you are and hence your story matters. When we die our stories cease to be of importance. The very fact that you are standing tall today with your glory intact speaks volumes about your story.” Somewhere far away I could hear a siren, just the types they used to play before royalties began their speeches in olden days. Finally it was about time!
My grandfather bagged a 5 year project with ILO, pushing them to relocate to Delhi. My parents weren’t too happy with his decision and tried convincing them for weeks to change their mind. However for the seven year old me, nothing much changed except the destination of my summer holidays. That is where I met Ronnie and Jhallo.
It was a typical sweltering April afternoon when we had reached their new abode in Rajendra Nagar. Laxmi Nivas, the board proudly displayed the name of the bungalow whose upper portion had been rented by Grandpa. Amidst the huge bougainvillea swaying in the front yard I caught a glimpse of my granny trying to look out for us. “Ammamma…..” I screamed waving from the rickshaw, lighting up her face instantly with a huge smile.
As we got down from the rickshaw a lady opened the gate and started picking up our bags. While Amma was busy haggling with the rickshaw puller, that lady ruffled my hair and asked me to follow her. Dressed in a pink Ghaghara choli with a blue dupatta covering her head, she looked very dainty. Her hands were jingling with bangles accompanied with the tinkling of her anklets. “Ammaji…. Here, your Laddo has come.” She announced on reaching the first floor of the bungalow. Within no time I was engulfed into a warm, endearing hug and showered with kisses all over my face by her. She kept mumbling something, most of it I couldn’t make out except “Kanna…” I hugged her back tightly, “Ammamma I missed you!”
It was when my mom came that I got to know ‘her’ name. Jhallo. Ammamma introduced her to Amma. Laxmi Nivas belonged to Mr. Heer Singh, a colleague of my grandfather in ILO. Named after his mother, he stayed there with his wife Jhallo and their pet dog Ronnie. Jhallo would be alone whole day with nothing much to do, so she would spend most of her time with Ammamma helping her with the household chores.
It didn’t take me long to befriend Ronnie and very soon we were spending all the time together. Ronnie had almost shifted himself to my grandparents’ place. He would wake me up every day by a warm snuggle, followed by a leisure breakfast in the balcony surrounded by potted plants. I learnt the art of climbing trees from Ronnie and in turn I introduced him to the joy of eating ice creams. Under the shades of those trees I learnt some of the most important lessons of friendship. Appu Ghar was my favorite picnic spot because that was the only place where I couldn’t hear my mother saying, “Ishika….nooooooo!” in her ever-so-stern voice. This was one place I could do, all that I wanted to do.
Ronnie spoke a language which was alien to me but in my 45 days stay I had mastered it well. My Hindi was very basic as we had just started learning it at school. So initially my communication with Jhallo was also very limited. But gradually we had a language of our own, a funny combination of broken Hindi and sign language which only we could decipher. By the time my vacation had ended, Jhallo had taught me ghoomar while I taught her Bharathanatiyam (whatever little I knew).
For almost three years we continued meeting in the holidays and exchanging letters otherwise which, most of the times were stupid drawings from my side with I miss you scrawled across in gibberish. I used to take my mother’s help to read Jhallo’s letters till I had learnt to read them on my own. The bond just kept growing stronger with memories of the time spent together kept us warm throughout the year. It went on for a while even after my grandparents had left Delhi for greener pastures till suddenly one day when the letters stopped coming. Even the ones I sent came back with a tag “shifted”. All my questions related to them went unanswered. Gradually with the passage of time, I forgot about it and got busy with my studies.
Couple of years later I overheard a chanced discussion between my grandparents. It was disturbing to know that Ronnie had died 5 years ago. He had entered into a fight with the street dogs one day and had returned home badly injured. It was so unlike him, but they couldn’t understand why he would do something like that. He never recovered from those injuries as some went septic. Jhallo died 2 years later due to cervical cancer, a rare and uncommon thing in those days. This was perhaps the reason she could not bear children. After Ronnie, I was the closest she had to having a child of her own. Apparently she waited for weeks for my letters and had a huge file of all my paintings along with scribbling. That night I cried myself to sleep. While not being in touch since last few years didn’t hurt that much, but never being able to get back in touch broke me. A part of my childhood died that night, along with these two and their fond memories. Childhood for me will never be the same.
Current Day -Delhi
Today when years later I am back here it feels strange. I lost my grandfather two months ago and since then life hasn’t been the same. He was my rock of Gibraltar and after his demise there is a vacuum within which just keeps getting deeper and deeper every day. I feel as if I am being sucked into a never ending abyss, never to be rescued… destined to die just like my memories and people associated with them. On a whim I decided to come here, thinking it might help me heal. But on the contrary it has opened old wounds.
As I entered those familiar lanes of Rajendra Nagar which would lead to Laxmi Nivas, nostalgia gripped taking me back in time. Nothing had changed. The houses, even with their peeling paints and broken window panes still evoked a sense of belonging. Children were playing cricket in the street. The delicious aroma of food hung around in the air. It all looked the same. This lane is so familiar, scary at few places and comforting in some; scary because of the uncertainty held within those dark corners and comforting because it leads to a place which I had begun to call home. Childhood lay hidden somewhere here amongst few broken dreams and some soiled memories.
The songs of yesteryear were still hummed here every evening. Love and longing took a different form altogether with the voices baring their soul. Golden sunrays would perch themselves on the branches before exiting just to witness its grandeur. Laziness dipped in bemusement laces the flavor of the song. No rush to be anywhere, no hurry to finish the song… just basking in its beauty with every word bringing along a sense of completion in itself. Now no one hears them anymore. The voices are shut just like these windows. The life altering fear of “what if” is palpable. The laughter dancing within the walls is now a fragment of your imagination. Stories are born and they die even before they can be understood. But what has not changed is its beauty.
It stands tall like a woman who has been scorned in love and now has closed the doors of her heart. She exists, but barely lives. Just like its story, existent… but rarely heard. Someday when you happen to pass through this lane, in sepia toned afternoon like me you might end up being called out to listen to the untold tale. Would you? I did, treading cautiously on the path that promised to be rocky ahead.
“Whom do you want? Nobody stays here.”
A distant voice warns me of what’s in store but I conveniently ignore it and open the gates. I feel something getting unlocked in me, as copious tears started flowing down. Slowly at first and then uncontrolled, I cry like a kid who had lost her favorite toy. Every memory, every story, every song so clearly etched in my mind, the walk inside was tearing me apart. Memories are what makes us and memories is what we become. Memories full of hopes and desires, love and laughter, dreams and nightmares, fear and sadness, victory and failures, joy and sadness cloud our mind. A teeny weeny bit of it also has all the unsaid, unheard and never done things that tug our heart at times. Buried deep within us these memories become a part of us, like invisible glue that holds all our shattered pieces together. We are always scared to let it all go, because we think that if we do we will break apart and crumble down. But what we forget is that these memories are also the ones that give us strength- the strength to keep going despite all the obstacles, the strength to smile through tears and the strength to see the tiniest flicker of hope in the darkest hours. Life is always a choice between holding on and letting go. And today, I chose to let go.
I am. And that is obvious.
All that was, is oblivious.
Namrata is a lost wanderer who loves travelling the length and breadth of the world. She lives amidst sepia toned walls, fuchsia curtains, fairy lights and shelves full of books. When not buried between the pages of a book, she loves blowing soap bubbles. A published author she enjoys capturing the magic of life in her words and is always in pursuit of a new country and a new story.