What is the purest form of happiness? To each there will be a definition of it of his own. For me, it’s that smile, that spontaneous smile which comes on your face, in a moment of solitude, of which the reason is a distant memory, completely invisible to others, and clear to you like nothing else. Sometimes, the memories of the bygone days, our childhood, give us the same smile. The memories flash in mind, and effortlessly, we smile. Don’t know why, but today, it is happening to me again, a pint of nostalgia, some smiles, some memories. So today, when I felt like writing I could think of nothing else. Only things on my mind were some memories from my childhood, especially of the days spent in the village of my maternal grandparents…and thus, today, I am gonna bore you with those very memories, nothing serious today. Hope my nostalgia gets transferred to you…and you too have those sweet little smiles on face after reading whole of this.
The faintest memories, the earliest ones, are those of Siwan Railway Station, and the bus we boarded from there, which would take me to a world of joy, a real wonderland, my Naani’s village. The village is 15 kilometers from the main town. A railway line runs parallel to the road. In those days, it used to be meter guage. And most fantastic site, which still titillates me, was to see the silhouette of a train running parallel to our bus, the big red sun setting down in the lush green background, amid the rhythmic sound of the rice mills resonating through the ambiance. The village is right on the Highway 91, and a brick road leads to its interiors. I used to recognize that brick road by locating a huge dry stump, which, as told by the elders, used to be a huge peepul tree . Our luggage would be unloaded from the bus and be transported to the Bathaan, an extension house, from where someone from the family of Khaleefa, a wrestler who used to wrestle on behalf of my Nana’s father, will bring it to the home. These were the signs of the aristocracy which our forefathers, who were landlords, enjoyed in the days bygone, and which is rapidly fading. The last landlord of this village was my Nana’s father, whose name is quite famous till date. Well he was not one of those wretched evil landlords as we get to see in our movies…in fact he donated a lot of land when Acharya Vinowa Bhave came to the area during the Bhoodan Andolan.
So from the Bathaan, we would walk into the village following that very brick road. My Nana’s house was at the very heart of the village. The road, running parallel to its fort like outer wall would turn left, and then vanish into the huge “Duar” (piece of land in front of the house) facing the house. And the house was real huge. It was beautifully designed old styled house with tiled roofs and about 10 huge rooms.
But who cared about that? Inside that house was my sweetheart, my Naani. This was the only thing I cared about. I would rush directly to my Naani who would embrace me and give me a kiss. The difference between mothers’ love and grandmothers’ love is that mothers can be stern at time but grandmothers are never. Moreover, they can scold even mothers whenever needed. So once you are under the protection of Naani, it’s like absolute immunity. My next venture would be to visit the houses of the two brothers of my Gran’pa and make it known to their families that I have arrived. All of them had seen me from the day I was born and I was loved by all, being the first kid of my generation.
My next fascination used to be the cows. My Nana passionately cares his cows. My favorite used to be a black one, perhaps because all of her calves used to be black, and black calves are very very cute. So, I would be present at the time when that cow was milked. But what troubled me was the process of dragging the calf back to milk the cow. I would argue with my Nana about whether it was necessary to drag him off….after all the milk is meant only for the calf. He would tell me that the calf would again be allowed to drink his share once the milking process was over. But this could not satisfy me, you draw all the good milk and leave the leftovers for the calf…it’s unfair.
In the evening a bonfire would be made of the rice thatches and leaves and dry dung, which those who belong to my region know, is called “ Ghoor”, and the three of my Nanas and other elders from the village would sit around it in a circle and tea would be served and local politics and stuff would be discussed. I would sit besides my Nana and listen to those things and wonder how much these men knew…perhaps they knew all the things in this world. One interesting thing was to throw rice grains ( Dhaan) in the glowing bonfire. The grains would pop and tearing the cover, baked grain would come out which we call ‘Lava’. It’s like popcorn of rice..I don’t really know what it is called in English. Then I would pick those Lavas from out of the fire and munch them, they taste sweet.
In the night, I would sit besides my Naani, who assisted by two or three maids, would supervise the preparation of food. My Naani never lets anyone other than herself make the Rotis. I watched with great curiosity the process of rolling the Rotis…how the Roti turns round and round without any visible effort. I would ask her about the magic behind it, and she would smile. In the Seventh standard, when I had to roll Rotis on my own for the first time, and when I succeeded in making my Rotis take rounds, I realized the reason behind her smile. It can’t be taught…it just happens. After spending some time on the tawa, the Roti would eventually go inside the choolha and would be baked on fire and come out as a huge round ball. Believe me, nothing tastes better that a Roti fresh out of chulha eaten with Gud mixed with ghee. Its divine.
Naani eats only after every single soul in the house has eaten. And after she was finished with her food, I would go to her, and with my head in her lap, would demand for a story. My Naani is a treasure trove of stories. With stories ranging from those of the Kings and Queens of Hathwa Raaj, the Tiger Hunts of her brother , the jungles of Rajgir, the valleys of Ranchi to those about the Sati Maata and ghosts and old movie stars, songs…. and those too in the dignified sweet voice of hers….could I wish for more? My favorite story was that one in which my Nana and his brother ride a newly purchased horse, which was “ulta”, which meant it would run even faster when the reins were pulled. So in their first venture, they did not know about this fact. And on the road, a bicycle overtook them. Humiliated, they pushed the horse to run faster. And once it got speed, they tried to slow it down by pulling the reins, But the horse ran even faster and eventually, dropped the duo in a field, and ran away. It could be found only two days later.
After the story, I would go to the chowki of my Nana out in open on the Duar. Traditionally, the elders in our villages sleep on their Duar in the days of summer. I would not ask my Nana to tell stories. Because I knew that his stories would be the serious ones, about the cases he won, the raids he led …etc etc. So I would simply tuck myself besides my Nana and sleep would come in no time. And I didn’t use to dream…in fact, for me, I was already living a dream.
Those were the days of childhood. Naani and Nana have grown old now. The old house has now been replaced by a new concrete house. People have grown old, everything has grown old, the love remains, as serene, as pure, as fresh as it ever was. Once or twice a year I manage to visit the place….and not a single time I have been able to leave that place without a lump in my throat. When I touch the feet of my Nani and she asks, “ Fer Kab Aibe..?”..my heart aches. How I wish I could tell her that I don’t even want to leave…that I can spend this whole life with my head in her lap and listening to her stories again and again. But the fact is that I can’t …none of us can. Out there, a ruthless world is waiting.