Sunday, May 30, 2010

Timeless Ties

In an old black and white picture in the family album there was this girl, some years older to us running after my brother as he was seen chasing a flock of hens in the vast courtyard of our ancient family home in my native town. I was told that she
was the daughter of a doctor who was posted on government duty for some years in my native place and had stayed in a residential block in the sprawling campus of my grandfather's kothi.
This was many years ago.

But the memories had remained as happens at times, when in this voyage of life you meet people who instantly seem to be one of your own. Doctor saheb and his family had carved out an irreplaceable place for themselves in the hearts of my family. Those ties remained firm and strong although they never came back to my native place after their transfer.
Initially letters were exchanged with intense enthusiasm. Then the pace slowed and then as life moved from one phase to another, though memories lingered, the keeping-in-touch became more of a ritual on Raksha bandhans, Holi, Diwali and Idd.
That also withered with time, but strangely the bond remained.
I was to realise later that this relation was too deep, too unswerving to just sink in the sand of time.

In a providential coincidence doctor saheb's wife met my mother's cousin, Baaji Aapa on a train journey.
The two women hugged each other affectionately, taking their time to settle down. Then began the exercise of exchanging notes and measuring the water that had flown down the bridge while they had been going about their ways. She informed Baaji Aapa that after doctor saheb's retirement they had settled down in Allahabad. Their daughter happily married and the son now an officer in the Indian Army.

And then by another unbelievable coincidence some years later I went to Allahabad. Unbelievable I say because there had been not even a remote chance of me ever landing up in Allahabad.
But there I was most unexpectedly and very happily married to an Allahabadi ...!!!

My mother and her younger sister  told me to search for doctor saheb's family.
We had an address to go by. I searched in the telephone directory.
Made a few calls to the people who I thought matched the description. But that got me no where.
So once when my mother was visiting, we decided to go and find out who was living at the address given by doctor saheb's wife.

The house looked deserted and even before I opened the iron gate with some hesitation, a voice inside warned me of some misadventure, but I brushed aside the thought. I did not want to spoil mummy's child-like excitement.

The lawn was unkempt, but someone had been watering it because the greenery was
thankfully there; the flower beds were full of weeds, the front door was locked, but in the open space on the left that took you to the backyard, there was a clothesline with some clothes hung out to dry. On an old worn out wooden chair and an ordinary cot woven with rough coir were spread some colourful woollens...shawls, caps, sweaters, socks...
The winter was setting in.

Mummy and I looked at each other. A little unsure we walked towards a door that was ajar. A fair woman of medium height, neatly draped in a cotton sari, a deep red round bindi perched proudly on her forehead , was perhaps about to go into the next phase of her daily routine. Her payals stopped their sweet jingle as she stopped in her steps looking up questioningly at the sound of our tiptoeing.

Oh! Yes she knew doctor bhaiyya and his family. But they did not live in Allahabad any more. Their daughter was doing well, her children had grown up, they were doing very well too.
And their son was a "big officer" in the Indian Army. Happily married, two sons and a lovely wife.
Great! I could see mummy's eyes light up with joy.

The woman went on with her loud and incesssant chatter for some more time, smiling and laughing, which apparently seemed unnecessary. I was watching my mother closely as she was taking in each word that the woman uttered. Very attentive not to miss anything at all in the details that the woman was giving about doctor saheb and his family. But I could also sense mummy's impatience at the time this talkative woman was taking to give out details  about  Doctor Bhaiyya and Bhabi's present location and address.

My mother could have burst out and perhaps admonished the woman in an unusual bout of anxiety, but something kept her patience going and she listened quietly as the details about doctor saheb's family and his stay in Allahabad poured out.

And then the woman paused, as if exhausted from her own chatter.
After what seemed eternity she, almost inaudibly said something. Most certaily  she did had not wanted to utter those words. Now we knew why she was talking of everything else.

But had we heard her right ???
Mummy's eyes suddenly widened with disbelief before numbness took over.
And what should I have done? I should in all probablity have been indifferent. It hardly should have been of any concern to me. After all how much did I know or associate with a doctor and his family who at some point in time, had been close to my mother's family. And who I do not remember as having seen, leave alone met in my life...

But how do you really remain indifferent when you hear of death?!!!
We were informed that both Doctor Saheb and his wife were no more.

The search for them was complete. It was sadly a "dead end".
When Mummy spoke despair and helplessness was evident as she remarked with a sigh, "We should not have insisted on looking for them. At least there was this hope of running into each other sometime... at some turn in life... out of the blue..."
Her voice trailed off as tears filled her eyes and emotions choked her throat yet again.

I wonder why do people not allow their past to rest in peace? You meet so many people in various phases of life. Some stay with you longer than the others, some just fade away while some others stay forever. So let that beauty be. Let us stop chasing the past. I would like to believe that if one has to meet someone it will just happen.

But no. Even if one wants very earnestly to let the past be, it keeps coming back. Our past is already a part of us. We know everything about it. And the best part is it has gone, never to return. Therefore we love it so much.

I could not help smiling cynically when in an intersting coincidence I am entrusted once again with a similar task. This time the search is for a Parsi lady in Mumbai. My first effort to locate her has drawn a blank. But I have my fingers crossed as I go about it not giving up.

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