This is about 25 years back when Life was simple without the internet and the gadgets.My world was like an episode out of the “Wonder Years” in which life constantly presented itself in all the myriad shades of growing from a child to a young adult.
On a chilly January evening after coming back from work, my father announced that we would be moving out of our official quarters to a new house in the suburbs.Well the very idea of leaving our home of 16 years seemed quite alien but we were excited about the fact we will be moving to a larger place with a park in the vicinity.
Once the house number 4/172 Vivek khand was allotted to us , my father started the work for making some extra rooms and a staircase to the terrace.Sometimes I would accompany him on his Lambretta Scooter all the way to the site to oversee the work.He said he wanted me to know the ways of the world and to learn how to deal with all the contractors, electricians and plumbers.I was not sure about the idea and if the skill set ever came handy but nevertheless those trips were quite interesting , almost filling me with a sense of accomplishment each time we rode back after a hard days work. May be he wanted me to just tag along for some company.Whatever may be the case ,it kind of bonded me to my father like no other time as Fathers were tough those days unlike now.
One thing that I distinctly remember about those early trips to 4/172 is the heavenly taste of puris and salted pumpkin pudding that my mom used to pack with us for lunch.I have never felt more hungry and nothing has satiated my pallate better.I think it was the sheer pleasure of building our home to be along with the physical labor involved which created such a magical feast.
Another vivid memory is that of me and my friend cycling all the way from Nirala Nagar to Gomti Nagar taking the longest route that went through the cantonment.Cantonment was our favorite detour with its greenery ( pun intended),wide open roads and a burger at Rover’s cafe thrown in.Cycling was our best past time and we wondered as clouds anywhere and everywhere that we could pedal to.Roaming around 10 -12 kms everyday was piece of cake.Our parents were not aware of our escapades but that’s the way I learnt most of my human qualities – being by yourself, endurance, patience , a sense of wonder and most of all companionship without dialogue.That’s the thing about living – you get your real education from things you are refrained from doing.
In a span of 6 months the house got ready and after the customary puja we moved in around the summer time.The house was nothing opulent and it would qualify as a rather humble place to live.Those days there were no fancy names to the apartments and they were classified based on the social strata they housed.We had a mini MIG which meant that the house just felt short of us being in the middle income group.It was a contradiction in terms as my father used to fall in the top slot of Gazzetted officers in the central govt. Somehow we never questioned this at that time as most of my friends had similar abodes.
Gomti Nagar was a deserted place back in 1987 and we were the 5th family to have moved in into what was pegged as Asia’s biggest colony.Later when I traveled to other parts of Asia I figured out why ? It had got nothing to do with the superior vision of the creators of Gomti nagar but it was just that the other countries had a culture of multi storied apartments structured differently to let Gomti Nagar bask in the glory. Now for the last so many years summers had been one of the most active periods of the year for us with food,friends,thums up et al.But the new house had only food and thms up , no friends.Thankfully my old friends came to my rescue and they started dropping in from the city quite frequently.Soon our house in Gomti Nagar became a destination by itself for friends looking for a drive out of the city and a quite place with lonely spots to smoke.
I have no particular memories of anything bad about 4/172 except that when my grandfather passed away.Soon after we moved in he had started feeling unwell and was keeping low grade fever for some time.I didn’t know at that time but he had been diagnosed with cancer.I was always very close to my grandfather and the memory of his body kept on the floor in front of our drawing room is still quite fresh.The place had black and white marbles placed next to each other as in a chess board and I had this weird feeling of loosing out. The smell of roses and Incense mixed with chants of the Geeta is something that got so deeply etched in my senses that to date I relate everything sacred to it.That’s perhaps the only time I have seen my father crying like an inconsolable child.I guess we grow up one last time when we loose our parents and that’s it.Now that I think of why I never took this incident as something that disturbed me is perhaps that my grandpa had lived a full life and had passed away at a ripe old age with friends and family by his side.He had his ups and down but then c’est la vie.
Life always finds newer way of manifesting itself and within a few years , the plants in front of our house became trees.There was a Gulmohar and a bottlebrush which I particularly loved .And yes there was another Blue Bells creeper which grew so thick and lush that it covered the entire facade of our house including the balcony of the first floor and my rooms window. I would not be completely wrong if I compared my house of then to some fairy tale dwelling in the woods with blue and orange flowers hanging upside down or may be downside up.Each time my mom wanted to chop off the trees or the creeper for want of sunshine all three of us kids would stand in the way.Finally she got so flustered that she said fine if that’s how you guys want it then so be it.
4/172 had a small 10 X 10 room on the way to the terrace and I had rightfully occupied it for the convenience and solitude that my youthful experiments warranted. I had a big poster of OSHO at the back of the door which was soon given company by another one of Jim Morrison.I imagine what they would be telling each other when I wasn’t there – Jibberish ???. To this date both continue to shape my being but in those days I used to just idolize them like a stony eyed believer.Through this room opened the vast vistas of the terrace which was our own after everyone went to sleep and the doors downstairs were locked.At the pretext of “combined” studies me and my friends would stay put so we could smoke our heart out and have swigs from the ‘tadka’ beer bottle laced with whiskey so it gave a faster and stronger kick.When you are almost loosing consciousness,gazing at the infinite darkness with the stars twinkling through represents such a twilight zone I tell you !! Most of the times we would get incoherent trying to impress each other with some half cooked philosophy of life.If rebel is the word then I was every bit of it I believe.I feel I am still quite a renegade except having been tied down to the certainties of a gathered past.
Huh ! We had the best of times and we had the worst of times in 4/172.There are so many memories of celebrating holi with our friends on the terrace – Roadhouse blues, Colors, Beer and pure madness.I am sure our neighbors too can recall those days with fondness now as the horror of seeing ghost like half naked young men running wildly has gone past.We were two of us brothers and with just a couple of years between we shared a lot of common friends.In fact when I ‘dropped’ for appearing in engineering exams we started sharing the same class for certain subjects in the University.His friends became my friends and my friends became his pals so that the dividing line became thinner until it disappeared completely.For 4/172 this was something very special as given our ‘friendly’ disposition it became the unofficial hostel of the Science department of Lucknow University. Things grew so informal that during exam time when we got completely engrossed to figure out ‘what was which’ that people would’nt even mind cooking and cleaning the kitchen when my mom was doing Puja or had gone out.Sounds of ‘ abe Chandu chai bana be’ or ‘ Pilav mast bana hai dost, thoda achar dena’ still reverberate in my head when I think of it.The phone oh how can I forget the phone ! The Black Plastic thing used to ring just incessantly.Most calls would have the caller answer at the other end but not always.We figured out that everyone in Botany Department was not so open about their identity when it came to strangers ! My father got completely harassed with this situation and started wondering ‘who’s line is it anyway’ quite literally !! His warning of plugging out his sources and disconnecting the phone went unheard so he finally charted out a treaty that aimed at not only bringing peace to the household but also to limit the bill to a minimum.
From the command station at 4/172, where at any given time a multitude of vehicles of all shapes and sizes were parked were governed most of the social activities for the youth of Lucknow.From rock concerts to fashion shows to youth festivals and even election campaigns were planned and executed with precision and finesse. Debates were practiced, songs were rehearsed, ammunition was smuggled in and romance was given a patient hearing …all under one roof. My room on the terrace became the nerve center of activity and after sometime our parents stopped bothering themselves with who came in and who went out.
As we passed out of the university things became a little serious as we started to think about stuff such as jobs and a career.But they didn’t become as dull till I had to go out New Delhi in search of work .I realized very soon that life was tougher than what we had thought and to survive in a metro one would need a little more than a golden heart and some smart chips.The innocence of childhood and the rebellion of youth died as they were sacrificed at the harsh and cold altar of reality.I am sure a similar transformation happened for all my friends too.As they say in hindi movies ” Munna aisa bhaga ki bhagta hi raha,bhagta hi raha….”
I feel 4/172 stopped being itself as we moved out of Lucknow even though we continued to visit as frequently as we could. Our marriages were performed, kids were born and festivals were celebrated on the fast track of limited days of leave so I could never feel the same peace of being at home and 4/172 distanced itself from being a participant to being a mere spectator of events.The nag of leaving ‘home’ that was 4/172 always lingered.I would compare it to a relationship that you know is dying either due to lack of proximity or the absence of togetherness or both.
Over the years the frequency of my visits has gone lower and the duration of my trips has become shorter, but each time I am at the doors of 4/172 I wonder how life would have been if my relation ship with it had not changed.
I guess both me and my ‘permanent address’ will have to live long enough to know the truth.Until then I guess these lines from Wajid Ali Shah would hold true :
दर ओ दीवार पे हसरत से नज़र करते हैं, खुश रहो एहले वतन हम तो सफर करते हैं…