And now over to Mom ... a trip down memory lane

The Knife: Imagine returning to the house you grew up in. 37 years after you left it. For a new country. A new life. 33 years after you last saw it. 

My mom went to visit her childhood home with my brother and sister in law. I was going to ask her to write about it.Turned out the she was already planning to. So here you are, a post written by Mom:

In search of my roots………………………..…stems, maybe !!

On a cold lazy Sunday afternoon of 21 November, 2010, Lady Rip Van Winkle (that’s me) woke up after about 40 years to look for her past.

I had come from Kolkata to stay at Gurgaon with my younger son Siddhartha and his newly wed wife, Soyel, for a while. Suddenly I decided to do so some sightseeing in Delhi and also visit a flat at Pandara Road, where I had spent a considerable part of my life before marriage.

We hired a driver, took out our car and set out on our quest. Our first stop was Lotus Temple, which was not built when I had left Delhi in 1973. After that we went to Humayun Tomb which was already there even before my birth.

Humayun Tomb, with more than 100 graves, is often known as the “Dormitory of Mughals”
Our next stop was Khan Market, famous for Salim’s and Khan Chachas’ Kakori kababs. Located near India gate, this is one of the many old markets of Delhi which has retained its original character but aged gracefully with time. We gave the Kababs a miss and instead chose to have coffee, mint chocolate ice cream & Spaghetti (without Cheese) at CafĂ© Big Chill. I became nostalgic seeing Khan Market after so many years. It was upmarket even at that time but there were not so many shops. I was surprised to see that all the important branded shops there and not a bit of space was left for setting up any more shops.

Darkness had already set in. There was a nip in the air. It was about seven pm. I coaxed my son and daughter in law to take me to that flat in Pandara Road which is at a stone’s throw from Khan Market. I was not too sure of the location as I had left it 3 decades back in 1973, after my marriage. I had only gone back there once in 1977, with my elder son Kalyan, during a short visit to India from UK. The only thing I remembered was the Address of the Flat and that it was somewhere near the UPSC office, at an arm’s length from India Gate.

So the search began. It was already quite dark. Roads were deserted. A sort of uncaniness added fuel to my thoughts. There was hardly anyone on the road whom we could ask for directions. A strange feeling set in. Was that flat still there? Had the Flat No. changed?

Finally, after taking a few rounds, we met an Istiriwallah (Clothes- ironing guy) who directed us to the flat. At last we saw the flat for which were looking for the last 30 minutes. It was the last flat in the row.

Found the Correct Row finally!!

What a feeling!

The flat was illuminated with Chinese lights. My son asked me to stand before the Flat with the No. plate of the Flat in the background so that he could click a quick snap. I showed them the window of the room where I used to stay with my younger sister. Then followed another snapshot.

Me and My Flat

The window of what used to be my sister’s and my room

There was eerie feeling in the air and I felt as if the lady from the front block, “15 No. Walli (mostly residents in this colony were known by their flat nos.)”, would come out smilingly and talk to me. I could visualize my next door South Indian friend Shanta, “17 No. Walli”, Majumder aunty from the next block, Chatterjees etc. and feel their presence.

It seemed as if I was turning back the time machine forcefully and trying to peep into the past against nature. The big trees, in the adjacent ground, sighed and whispered so many things into my ears. I was in a stupor. 

Suddenly the present tenant of the flat opened the door and asked us what we wanted. When my son introduced ourselves, they responded very nicely and even asked us to come inside. It was an added bonus and quite surprising in a city where nobody trusts anybody. There was a marriage in their house in a day or two. That explained the illumination. They showed us all the rooms. These are Central Government Flats allotted to Government officials. This one was a 2BHK apartment with a balcony in the front. It had a separate bathroom and a separate toilet, like they used to build in the good old days. There was also a kitchen garden at the back. The flat was just as I had left it years ago.

The Flat, illuminated to celebrate a wedding in the family

There were some changes of course! Cement floors had been replaced by white tiles, whitewashed walls with distemper paints. Apart from these few cosmetic upgrades everything else was the same.

 Snap of the drawing room. The mother of the present tenant sitting where my mom once used to sit

Near the kitchen, there was a small hole in the wall where my mother used to store coal, cow dung cakes (dried, of course) and a hammer to break them. That tiny place used to be veiled by a curtain made of old sarees. In the age of gas ovens and microwave ovens, that place had lost its utility. So the present tenant has set up a small Mandir in that place.

This was my mother’s coal storage place during those days

We were then taken to the garden where I went looking for the banana plants and the flower plants which my mother had planted. Instead, I found a lemon tree with ripe lemons hanging from it. I asked them if I could take one. They readily agreed and I plucked one off and put it in my bag.

The Bougainvilleas and white Chameli flower plants, which my mother had planted near our front verandah, were also missing. They were replaced by some other plants.

The Lemon Tree in the backyard

The front garden still there, with new flowers and a new gardener

This was the house where all of us four siblings had stayed together with our parents. Life had its own happiness and frustrations at that time too. But as Walter Scott says, “distance lends charm”. So all I remember are the sweet memories.

I had left the flat at the age of 25 for the UK after my marriage. A blue eyed girl, with dreams in her eyes and endless possibilities in life, left the house weeping for her parents and siblings.

After thirty seven years, life has almost come to a full circle. While coming back in the car, I was taking stock of my life and trying to match the balance sheet of my life. What I found was endless happiness and also a huge loss due to my husband’s demise. At one point of my life, I was swimming against the tide and trying to keep myself afloat with my two sons. I survived and kept afloat!

At this stage of my life, I can match both sides of the balance sheet. Expectations and achievements are almost at par. I looked into myself. I have no regrets. I have forgotten and forgiven…I am at peace with myself. All I want now is happiness for my two sons.

I woke up from my reverie when my son tried to call my parents and give them updates. Surprisingly, their phone was out of order. Then I called my sister and told her about the flat. She was very happy.

I came home but the whole night I was in a stupor. But today when I am recording my feelings of last night, sitting in the sunlit apartment of my son, I am very much in the present. These are my feelings and thoughts ‘recollected in tranquility.’

Me with the kind present tenants
-RK, Gurgaon 22/11/10