Friday, October 12, 2018

Nani Ghar

Sitting in train en route to her maternal grandmother's house, Samyukta takes a plunge into nostalgia and reminisces her childhood spent with her Nana-Nani. She lived with them until she was 10 years old in a remote town situated at a higher altitude with narrow and dusty lanes, clean air, longer days, darker nights, rich flora, variety of chameleons and a famous all-girls convent school where Samyukta went. Every parent in the town dreamt of their girl going to that school to speak English fluently, make a 'cross-like' hand gesture whenever they saw a church and sing English hymns. The same dream got the better of Samyukta's parents so they decided to let her continue in that school for a few more years until her "fundamentals" are clear and then have her join them where her father worked.

Samyukta's 'nani ghar' was at the end of the lane. Her grandparents had a huge land which comprised of the house, a hand pump, a well and mostly a vast garden with a variety of vegetables, a pomegranate tree, a guava tree and different species of flowers blooming in abundance. To her grandmother, the garden was a treasure of which she was the custodian. But she took care of her plants like a mother, with all she had. The treasure was protected by a dilapidated, soggy wooden gate that would creak, making a shrill noise like "keeeeeeeeee" whenever it opened or closed acting like a calling bell for the residents of the house. Samyukta still remembers how the sound evoked a mélange of emotions in her, and to her, it seemed like the gate too was emotionally coordinated with her - Creak of excitement, if Nanaji was back with Kismi toffee bar he promised, creak of suspicion, if it was wee hours and nobody was expected, creak of happiness, if mom dad had finally arrived to meet her after 6 months, creak of dejection when they left and wouldn't be back until winter holidays, creak of horror when the 4 p.m. math tuition master came.

To outsiders, the place looked like a paradise with a house surrounded by pretty flowers creating a riot of colors, birds chirping, squirrels scampering around, the big guava tree standing tall in a corner bearing big and sweet guavas that hanged low like some tree in heaven. Sometimes the produce was in so much excess that her grandma had to distribute the guavas in the neighborhood. There was a henna tree also from which Samyukta used to pluck the leaves in a bundle and smash them between two rocks she had found lying near the hand pump and blobbed both her palms with the thick paste. She would wait for the blobs to dry up and reveal those amber suns in her hands. Sometimes she would stalk a chameleon for hours to see it change colors as it crawled across the garden from brown to grey to green to yellow. And there were times when she would rampage through clusters of touch-me-nots with her feet just to see them fold inward coyly and marvel at nature's magic trick.

Samyunkta always came first at school owing to her grandma's passion which was gardening and teaching. She would wake Samyukta at 5 in the morning and both of them would sit on a rug below the guava tree where Smayukta would recite tables (pahadas, as her grandmother would call it) from 2 to 20 in a monotone, "2 oneja 2, 2 twoja 4, 2 threeja 6" while her grandma tilled the ground with a hand spade, watered and manured the plants. On special occasions at school, like teacher's day or principal's birthday, Samyukta's diary always had a note from school requesting a bouquet made by her grandmother. Her grandma would make the bouquet pouring in all her creativity and pride, picking flowers carefully for a perfect color scheme, contrasting with fillers and leaves and tying them up with a satin ribbon. The bouquet had to be stunning because for her grandma, it was similar to showing off your parenting skills and as an outcome, your uniquely talented kid to the world. She had a lung ailment because of which, at times, she had to be taken to the nearby city for a week or 2 for treatment. In her absence, the guava tree would start shedding its leaves and the flowers would whither down even if they were taken care by a proxy gardener. On her return, the garden would blossom again like a bright rainbow after the gloom. The plants would wave in gratification in the breeze that carried their mother's rustic scent.

Samyukta's grandmother died 12 years ago and so did the garden. The old wooden gate also creaked last around that time and the chameleons and squirrels also abandoned the place. At  present, Samyukta enters her 'nani ghar' opening a broad wrought iron gate and notices that it is just the house, a dried up well and a thirsty hand pump left from her childhood memories. The empty land where once a lush garden thrived had shrunk to a few square feet and had been filled with cement for ease of cleaning. There is a 4-storeyed apartment towering over everything where once the guava tree stood under which she had spent her mornings reciting the pahadas and watching her grandmother create and nurture lives.

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