By Bhoot Jolokia
“With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love.”
Recently, an old gentleman was caught in the iron grip of death. The news of the man’s demise tugged at my heart. He w as one of the older faces of the small neighborhood, someone I had regularly seen and later heard about in the 23 years of my life. Although the years away from my home had inculcated a desultory feeling in me towards my neighborhood but I remembered the face vividly, remembered his countenance vividly, and it will remain with me for years. Now that I walk down the memory lanes, I cannot recall any other expression on the man’s face apart from his smile. Always smiling and always happy, he was the hope in a small community.
I remember the litchi tree in his house which had the juiciest litchis; his son and I spent evenings picking the litchis from the branches. As I went to his home after ten long years to offer my condolences, I could not help but notice the absence of his trusted Hero cycle, which was probably as old as him at the time of his death. The litchi tree had been cut down too and with it went a lot of memories. His death represented a void for me. It was an end to a generation, the withering of one crucial branch of the dying tree of my childhood, a fluttering ember which could not weather this year’s monsoon.
“These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,”
The tragic event pushed a wave of nostalgia in me. I reminisce now of all the days gone by, the happy days, when an unsowed paddy field was the hallowed ground where the best years of our childhood were fostered jubilantly. Where are all my childhood companions now? I have lost track. More than a decade ago we played together. We never communicated through cell phones, I do not remember having the phone number of any one of them, and perhaps that detachment from mechanical means of communication has continued. I do not have their numbers now, neither do I know where they are, but I remember them fondly, all of them.
For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all.—I cannot paint
What then I was
hat time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures.
In our neighborhood, a broken bridge on top of a small stream separated the higher ground and lower ground. Now, the upper and lower ground represented a chasm, an economic divide, upper middle class families would stay on the higher ground and lower middle class families would stay on the lower ground. Apart from that, the community was quite diverse in the avenues of caste and religion. Economic division was greater than caste or religious segregation.
We would often divide teams whilst playing cricket based on who belonged to the higher ground and who to the lower ground despite the difference in distance being less than one kilometer. The broken bridge still survives proudly basking in the glory of its broken splinters. People had taken the initiative to fix it but it would be broken again; the bridge perhaps was stubborn on its permanently broken appearance. The broken bridge is one of the last non living remnants of my childhood.
Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompense. For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
I have not crossed the bridge in more than ten years. My routes have changed. My friends have changed .The paddy field is overrun with nettles now. It has become desolate now. I wonder who the owner of that paddy field was as he/she deserved much gratitude from a number of adults who molded their childhood in that paddy field.
More than ten years have elapsed, time does fly by, but even after all these years if someone asks me to describe the characteristics of each of my friends when they played cricket, I am confident that I would be able to describe them succinctly. I remember the absurd rules we had. The one who hits the ball into the nearby stream had to be the one to retrieve it. So many balls were lost in that stream that a rule was enacted that whoever hit a ball in that stream would be considered as out and would spend the rest of the match fielding. I learnt about respect and friendship just as swiftly as I was learning to bat and bowl in the ragged paddy field.
We are strangers now. We are too proud to talk to each other as our souls have become distant, but no matter the walls that we build to push people away, the memories woven on that paddy field will remain tucked in everyone’s minds and we will visit them someday seeking solace. If I could reverse the wheels of time, I would reverse it for one more game of cricket in the paddy field, one more game of unbridled happiness, just us and the world.
(The quoted lines are from Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798 by William Wordsworth)