We managed to wake the kids and get us all to India Gate by 7am. Delhi’s iconic and sprawling green lung that symbolises India’s imperial and colonial history was today the venue for a peaceful and silent protest against violence against women. But more on that tomorrow.
While the protestors walked on, mum and me stopped halfway to let Aadyaa run around in the lawns. Chasing crows and mynas was fun. Eating a picnic was fun. Running barefoot was fun. But the most fun was watching the bhelpuri wala set up his mobile stall. Improvised out of a simple plastic bucket, he deftly chopped onions and coriander real fine, then sliced green chillies longitudinally and kept sliced lemon handy lest an early customer should pass by.
Chatting with him, we learnt that he is from a village near Aligarh in UP, where his wife and four children live. He lives in Paharganj in Delhi and has been selling bhelpuri at India Gate for the last 25 years! He earns about Rs 300 a day. Interestingly he commented on how people no longer prefer snacks like bhelpuri and the guy selling chips did better business catering to new tastes, while he was still selling food gone out of fashion. Not a complaint but certainly a lament about the changing times.
Aadyaa watched him in rapt fascination, only to be distracted by Udai and Nupur, who returned with stories of the petition going into the Presidents house. It struck me how little our children interact with people who comprise the very heart and soul of India. How can we expect them to empathise? For without empathy, it would surely mean anarchy and a dismal tomorrow.
I met with a schoolfriend last night after a decade. Nothing much had changed, yet we had all grown up. The things in common remained and time seemed to have passed by as if water through a sieve.
What stood out in our conversations was the power of nostalgia. Memories of the past, especially fond memories of places and people, hugely influence our lives in the present. I have seen with many people that their memories of their growing years continue to be the yardstick for how they judge the rest of their lives. For those of us who had reasonably happy childhoods, childhood memories define our tastes for food, music, books and even friends!
Growing up in Parel, Mumbai in the ’80s has left deep impressions on me. It taught me to value freedom, of which I got plenty in a city that was big, yet safe, with excellent public transport. Life was simple and very middle class and the highlights were small, wonderful things like crates of alphonso mangoes in summer, mutton on Sunday, bi-annual picnics to places like Elephanta caves and the Goregaon national park; and Chowpatty visits full of the sounds of the sea intermingled with the smells emitted my a mass of people. This was the time of the mill strikes and I remember vaguely catching the mood in the chawls (via the relatives of Manda, who was my constant companion and caretaker back then), of livelihoods lost and futures in jeopardy; a sense of struggle, sweat and hope intertwined. The buoyancy of Mumbai has remained with me as my strongest memory of the city.
Lucknow, which plays the other major role in my formative years, is like a delicate, beautiful but slowly withering flower. I associate it with the gentleness of its people, the hot, sleepy afternoons spent curling up with a favorite book in cool nooks and crannies of our sprawling home on the SGPGI campus, innocent friendships, the discovery of love and longing, growing up, riksha rides with friends through the city’s winding alleys. If Mumbai taugt me about freedom, Lucknow taught me about bonds and being bound, by convention, by social expectations, by limits that I was expected to respect because I was a girl.
My fondest memories of Lucknow are numerous visits to its many memorable historic buildings, and the fact that old world charm was imbued in its every pore. Even Lucknow’s newer developments exude a languid, laid back air; people never look rushed. Whenever I feel like life is threatening to overtake me, I think of Lucknow and can feel my heartbeat slow down, my breathe come in easier.
Nostalgia is, to me, a great antidote when life goes through its unbearable moments. Mumbai and Lucknow, experienced at two distinct stages of my growing years, have created a checkerboard of contrasting and intermingling memories that have guided my opinions and tastes.