Saturday, November 3, 2012

Revisiting the driveway.....

In Allahabd it was an early Ramzaan morning some time in October 2005-06. Pleasantly cold, it was that time of the year when one looks forward to festivities....Dussehra, Diwali, Christmas.....and the New Year.
For me and my family  this year was momentous.

I was in the midst of a  new beginning at this juncture in life when most of the complexities and the teething problems of a marriage are  usually   sorted out and life seems to settle down on a well cemented foundation.
So how does it feel when the apparently strong  foundation gives way and your  hitherto insurmountable castle of dreams comes crumbling down like a  weak house of cards ???

Having finished  the sehri, my father and I  got busy gathering the  things that had to be left behind  so that they could be safely kept. Our bags were packed for the journey that would take us away from this  beautiful and comfortable place called Allahabad.  The city where I had spent almost twenty two precious  years of my life. Some of sweetest and bitterest moments of life were shared not just in the company of my beloved family but in the arms of this wonderful  "friend" too.

I was about to go away, and  start afresh in a place that I had barely known ...... Just like it was more than two decades ago when I was married and  had to come to Allahabad , a town I had associated with "Chhora-Ganga-Kinaare-Walaas" .......I had left my parents, family and friends to settle down with an entirely unknown family, unknown people in a completely strange place.
And now when that place and its people had become my own I was being shunted out  as an outsider.
It was  perhaps the biggest paradox of my life.

But these emotions  must wait for a while. The eyes could not afford a surging rush of  salty waves that would drown my vision. I had work  to do. My father was diligently gathering all the important files that had to be left in the safe custody of a very obliging and trustworthy relative. My maid  and driver would arrive any moment.

A couple of hours later as she  walked with a loaded trolley of the things that I had let her take away, my maid of ten years looked longingly , tears in her eyes as if all that load which was now hers and was so precious to her till some  minutes back  had suddenly turned  worthless. All that mattered to her was the association which held us together not as a  Begum Sahiba and a maid, but as  Bhabi ji  and  Sona. I was her entire family's Bhabi ji.
And that was not all. The driver,  a young boy named Shamim in his late twenties was more like  a son  to me. He had begun by calling me "Madam" when he had joined, but later settled for that sweet word ..... Bhabi ji.

This was going to be his last  errand  for me  as my driver.

I wonder if  he could believe it. Because for me it was just too much happening too soon. He had  come  for the job  a little less than ten years ago. And through the years had sincerely  worked his way through to becoming  one of the family. I had trusted him with my small children. He had taken them to school , to friends' places, to the playground....
He had been always there with my husband on his business trips in and outside Allahabad. He knew the lawyers' office and residence. He knew the factory and offices of the companies that my husband worked for. He knew where our banks were located. He knew where our CA stayed.
He had  accompanied my father and me  as we made whirlwind tours of the locality   searching a  place where we could keep our belongings in-transit as we gradually worked our way out of Allahabad.

He was the one who, along with my innocent little children  had brought home my husband's body from the hospital.

And now he was the one who would take my father, me and our car to my native place, where  we would leave the car  before leaving for our destination: Mumbai.
He would of course go back to Allahabad.

It was too emotional a  journey..... The weather seemed colder than it perhaps was.
Usually we used to look  forward to long drives and  trips  outside Allahabad , to Lucknow, Kanpur, and of course to  my native town,  specially in the months when the weather is pleasant. Stopping over dhabaas and listening to film songs or music through the journey.
But this one  was rather quiet. Each one was perhaps engrossed in contemplating what the future held in store.

Five years later last December I was in Allahabad with my younger son.
A lot of things had changed.  To the eyes Allahabad was not the same.  But the heart knew that warmth , that love, that longing  which was all very much in tact.
December is really cold in Allahabad. The sun does  not come out of its sleeping bag  till noon at times....and goes back shivering  too soon.
I remembered  December was the time I had first  set my foot on this  sacred soil . I was not used to such extreme climatic conditions. But so totally loved it  from the beginning, spending   many  cozy winters  in the awesome hues of  Phlox, Salvias, Pansies, Calendulas,  Sweet Peas, Nastercium, Cinerias, Dahlias, Asters.....and the absolutely luxurious warmth of  a coal angeethi which  the servant was instructed to light before calling it a day, but sometimes my husband  himself would so lovingly light for me.....

Back to the present,  the dusty, muddy  and rather uneven roads were  a bit of a setback. Civil Lines  had lost its Colonial grandeur and fallen in line with "progress and development".  Gone were the old time bungalows that used to have  neat and plentiful gardens.  There were too many heaps of debris where once upon a time stood stately  spacious mansions. Too much construction activity was going on. We were  informed that multi-storied residential blocks would soon come up there.
And box-like monotonous Shopping Malls were fast  devouring in  those lovely personalised  grocery and clothes stores.
The Pride-of-Civil Lines,  "B.N.Rama" was razed to the ground.
And Palace Cinema was almost a ghost structure.

Is five years so long a time period or is the world moving too fast?

My son and I shopped for some gifts. And for Shamim's  children we purchased  story books, pencil boxes, colour pencils and such other  things. We knew he was working at the prestigious Bible Seminary and living in the residential blocks there.....his children were studying in English medium Schools.

When we reached the  magnificent Seminary  premises , there was a  Pre-Christmas celebration going on. Shamim's eldest daughter had grown tall and beautiful, almost lady-like, she was very dignified and clam. Not  a trace of that  running nose and those noisy tantrums had remained. His sons were too small when I had left and had not seen much of them then .Now  they came across as very well-mannered children accepting the gifts with  sweet "Thankyou-s".
Shamim's wife had learnt  embroidery and stitching  at a class for women . She was talking non-stop , her excitement oozing out like many birds chirping  pleasantly.

But Shamim was not home.
When I had called him half an hour ago, he had  not been able to contain his joyous excitement. So now where had he gone?
His wife smiled, and lowered  her large eyes  so  full of love. That smile  had not changed  even one bit.
Just then Shamim entered looking very smart , his sheepish grin,  in place...
The aroma of samosas following closely. And the earthen pot in his hands was so familiar. Gulaab Jamuns.....YES ....Of course !!!!
How many times he had brought these things when we had guests..... and  even otherwise when the children wanted a feast at home...... from "Heera Halwaai" at Thornhill road and Qadir Halwaai at Sabzi Mandi..... and the asli-ghee jalebis from Netraam at Katra.....countless......and countless  times  indeed!!!
On our way to Lucknow, we used to eat  at that one particular dhaba, which Shamim patronised. His chholey and samosas were divine. And the tea....absolutely refreshing.
At that dhaba  Shamim used to get  tea without sugar specially made for my mother, whenever Mummy accompanied us.

And  en route to Kanpur, there was The Mohan ka peda at Malwa-n and on our way to my native place  there were the  kalaa-Jaams at  Micheal Gunj....

So many memories  to share  ..... so much to say and listen....the time was indeed not enough.

The clock seemed  ticking faster than usual .........I'm not sure  how many hours  we spent with Shamim and his family........ but it seemed like minutes......When it time to leave, from the garden his wife brought some lemons and gave me , and Shamim said:
"Yahan sab araam hai Bhabi....lekin aap ke ghar jaisa araam nahi...."

I knew he was earning better, living better, doing so much better. I was very very happy for him from the bottom of my heart.
So could there be a sweeter and more precious  compliment than  him  saying this ?
I had a hard time holding back my tears of joy.

Once  we were back in  the car on the way to the hotel, my son remarked:
Amma! his children have grown bigger than I thought.   Our gifts should have been bigger by at least five years....!!!!!"

To us  it seemed  that those five years had  stood still ...........watching over us with fondness and good will all the coming years.....

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