Friday, June 11, 2010

Yes, the river knows

From the roof of every building in the flat complex where I had spent most of my childhood and so many incredible hours playing terrace cricket with my buddies, there was and still is visible a very serene sight. A view of the wide expanse of the Narmada river in all its glory is always remarkable no matter what the time of the day may be, in the pale early morning sun, in the glint of the afternoon heat and the silver hue that it sometimes assumes in the moonlight. Every evening that falls on Bharuch, a cool breeze awakens from the heart of the river not only refreshing young cricketers involved in post match chit-chat and heckling but also wanders through every house and street in that region of small town South Gujarat. 

On the rare day that we did not have enough enthusiasm/players for a game of terrace/full ground cricket, a few friends would get together and we would walk past our flat complex; across the huge ground with the palm trees in the middle looking like lost giraffes, where we used to occasionally play "challenge" (Read pooled prize money involved) matches against the kids from the tin-roofed houses behind our complex; past the mosque at the other end of the ground; down the sandy, muddy tracks where the only traffic was the herds of load-bearing donkeys which carried fresh red bricks from the kilns on the river's edge to the inhabited parts of the 'city' till we reached right to the river's edge occasionally dipping our feet in the river and in general having a good relaxed time watching the river flow by, chucking stones into it and hiding each other's slippers in the sand when the enemy was not looking! Whether standing right next to its ripply flow or just fanning ourselves in its relaxing breeze far away from it, there is a strange kind of certainty and acceptance of the fact (at least for me) that the river in its vastness, wiseness and agelessness knows all that is there to be known.

Of how lost a Bengali couple with their 3 kids first felt in the year 1987 when they landed up in then even more tiny Bharuch far away from the sea of relatives and the comforts of a joint family in Calcutta? The river knows. Of how during the summer holidays and for every cousin wedding, the family took a trip back to their 'homeland' on the forever late Ahmedabad-Howrah Express clattering across the Narmada bridge towards Surat and then 1 and a half days later reached Howrah in the effort to keep ties with Calcutta strong? It knows. Of the kids' eagerness to get back 'home' after the initial euphoria of being pampered to death by relatives died down and "Chhutti-chhutti" programs on DD Bangla turn into endless re-runs it knows; home to the scribbling on the walls by tiny hands, home to the cartoon stickers on the steel almirah, home to the precious locker containing the most well preserved collection of toy cars, home to the tamarind tree within grabbing distance of their fourth floor flat's rear verandah where the langurs occasionally showed up to much to their excitement and mild terror, home to the brother-sister fights and then the subsequent reluctant peacemaking, home to the daily intensely contested terrace cricket matches come sun, rain or exams. The river understands personal non-attachment with Navratri festivities which nonetheless had to be participated in due to social compulsions and the joint need of friend circles to check out the 'greenery' as it does feeling detached about Durga Puja too. It understands the inherent crisis of identity in people who have been drawn to its banks from far and wide due to a variety of reasons, the difficulty in finding a sense of belonging, restless as it itself is, never sticking to one bank.

The river knows of the nun-run school which started out small just off National Highway No. 8 as trucks headed to Delhi from Bombay and vice versa rumbled by, unmindful of the hundreds of futures being molded inside the Vadadla building. It is aware of the unbridled joy of "Rainy day" holidays, of sleepy children in early morning assembly lines, of floating paper boats inside the flooded central compound during the divine combination of rain storms and recess. Of the frowns and the giggles, of the "Zero period" hymns and the playground laughs, of the eccentric teachers and their even more eccentric students - it make a note. Of matadors, jeeps and auto-rickshaws waiting outside the school gates to get their wards home safe and sound, it has its updates.

The river does not laugh at the idea of there being only one named road in the town, Station Road which runs from the railway station to the 'city' which basically indicates the older, relatively crowded portions of the 2500 year old port formerly known as Barigaza where the Parsis escaping from Iran landed, then as Broach by the Brits before assuming its Indian avatar of Bharuch. It has seen the three theatres of Relax, Relief and Shalimar invaded by gangs of school boys eager to watch the Hindi dubbed versions of the latest monster movies and double over in laughter as the on-screen protagonist screams "Bhaago! Dinosaur aayaa!". It is familiar with the early morning cycle rides in and around the GIDC complex by a bunch of kids, sometimes being brave enough to touch the distances of Videocon colony and Kabirwad beach, the portion of the river bank frequented by the same bunch of guys looking to beat the holiday boredom and basically splash around in the cool water even otherwise. It encourages reclining on the soft damp grass of the sneakily entered GNFC colony lawns and gossiping about life in general (sports, movies, motorbikes, girls to be specific) after a long evening of cricket or football as the sun slowly goes down. 

The river could indeed reveal many more secrets. Of tuition classes attended solely because of the cricket sessions before and after; of trips to the secluded quiet Gayatri Mandir on the river bank not because of any religious or spiritual reasons but because it was a relatively safe place to smoke a cigarette; of combined 'study sessions' at a friend's place when his parents were away, disintegrating much expectedly into video-game playing madness and climbing onto the house's water tank to enjoy the view and the windiness up there; of aimless Scooty rides out onto the highway & back and of wasting hours on railway platform benches, tea glasses in hand watching the night trains stop and leave - all this and more it has merrily concealed.

The river sends out it messengers daily to the well maintained gardens of the bearing factory which employed my father all this while as toddlers matured (hopefully) into grown men and women. To the kitchen and the flat where my mom spent a couple of decades setting up her house in a way such that she could run through her huge list of domestic chores in the short time that she got after coming back from teaching at school and entertaining my brother's and sister's friends from college. The blazing summer sun ignored by us too hyperactive to stay put at home, its lazy winter 'avatar' when everyone wanted to get their fair share of sunshine, and the rains which every year would invariably would cause it to flood and lead people to come to the Narmada bridge to watch her rising waters - all good friends with it through the millennia. Memories of Uttarayan, when every roof had cassette players blaring the latest Bollywood numbers as hundreds of kites being flown by ages 8-80 crowded the skies and that of Diwali when the day after the festival, the whole courtyard would be strewn with bits of burnt newspaper, proof of the thousands of rupees of firecrackers collectively ignited to fill the night sky with light - bring a smile to my face and the river knows the why and how of it.

The river turns a sombre grey sometimes because it has seen the madness of the communal riots, when blood of innocents was being spilt by both sides in a meaningless battle. Amidst opposing shouts of "They insulted our community.", "They started it.", "They deserved it.", "We have to fight back." etc, none of which are plausible explanations or solutions for the futile (like all violence is) destruction, if the river had a voice it would ask the only question worth asking "So how do we go about finding a solution such that no matter how big the disagreement, no one has to die?" Instead it just flows on. It is aware of our wishes for our pet turtle Michaelangelo who had come to us when a flood carried him to our maid-servant's house after which he stayed in our house, in my brother's MSU boys' hostel room before finally growing too big to be kept inside the small tub we had reserved for him and heart-broken we returned him to the river that he came from and watched him swim back... happily. It solemnly carries within itself the ashes of my dear deceased grandmother, accepting a very lovable lady who had spent all her life in Calcutta and a central figure in many of our most pleasant childhood memories as one of its own.

The sum of everything that the river has seen of my life holds the explanation to why even after having been in and enjoyed Kurukshetra, Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, Boston, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York and any other place which the future holds for me, the word 'home' will always remain associated with one little town on the banks of the Narmada. Of how empty and hollow, a family of 5 Bengalis will feel when they drive out of Bharuch for that one last time across the Narmada bridge, looking back on 22 years worth of friends, places and incidents of a place that had quietly moved to the centre of their existence? Yes, the river knows.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Blood brother

Sunday morning was a really sticky one today as I dragged myself to Beniapukur bazaar for the bothersome necessity called food. Bazaars are very colourful places with the whole spectrum of colours encompassed by the sellers, shoppers, fruits, vegetables and the other riff-raff. When the sweat is not pouring out of your very own sweat pores like someone has installed a little pump in you and you don't look as if someone has just dunked you in a tank full of sweat, the charms of the bazaar may just work on you. But today was not such a day!
So shopping bag in hand, I moved grim faced from vendor to vendor, usually buying stuff from the very first seller of that particular item be it tomatoes, capsicums or garlic not really bothering with what was "the best" in the market or the best priced! Not that I ever took the pains, but today there was even more incentive not to put myself through the torture. Then came a motorcycle lazily gliding through the milling crowds of people parting them down the middle like a swimmer in the pool. As the motorcycle passed me in slow motion (after all, a crowded bazaar is no place to use the accelerator), I saw a very interesting little sticker on the rear mudguard which conveyed the rider's thought process.
The sticker said "I don't ride fast, I just fly slow".
The weather didn't feel so hot any longer. A cool breeze of release blew through my mind as I thought of my own two wheeled ride waiting patiently inside my garage at home. And I smiled... a very evil smile!
[Do not be foolish enough to consider everything stated above as an incentive to speed. Drive and ride safe. Reach home. Alive. With all limbs in their respective places. Let others on the road do so too. Please.]