Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wiping off the last droplet

Assume you have worked hard in the sun and you sweat. Then, the droplets of the sweat start crawling over your face. You feel irritated. You want to wipe them off as soon as possible. You wipe them off finally. You feel, you look beautiful now. But suddenly you realize that, those ugly droplets of the sweat were protecting you from the heat. They were absorbing all the heat and were passing only the cool wind. But you have wiped it off. You had to wipe it off anyhow. One can’t live sweating forever. Quite stupidly, every time, I think of childhood, this metaphor comes to my mind. Being a child for too long starts irritating you. You want to get rid of it. But then, when it goes, you also feel that you lost something.

This winter, when I went to India, I went in search of some lost moments of my childhood. I went to Dholka. A small town 35 kilometers from Ahmedabad, my hometown. Dholka is where, my father spent first 22 years of his life and I spent major part of all the important vacations of the first 18 years of my life. My grand parents used to live there. Our home was in a street called Khokhar Chakla. Chakla probably means a market or a market street in Urdu. The moment you enter this street on the right hand side there is a school. Where nobody studies now. School has been shifted and only the building is there, waiting to be razed and erased. Then follow a small grocery store, a provision store, a barber shop, a telephone booth (a tailor shop in the past), and then a small door, 2 ft wide and 5 ft tall small wooden door. That was the door of the small room (nani oradi) of our home. Next to the door, a warehouse, a sweet shop and a big gate. You enter the big gate and you suddenly come into a different world altogether. Unlike the crowded and noisy market street, you come to a place completely calm and peaceful. That was our home. The moment you enter the big gate, on the right hand side was our home, long, single-storied with a traditional roof. On the left was a small room where a watchman used to live who used to look after the inn which was exactly opposite our home. That inn was being run on no-profit basis I guess. Rarely people used to come to live there. Between our home and that inn, there was an open space. In the middle there was a small structure with seats made of stones, inside. Looked like a meeting place for kings and all. Once upon a time, there was a fountain inside. The architecture of this entire place was similar to designs of windows and doors that you find in typical Arabic structures, e.g. La Alhambra. On the right side of the home, was the backside wall of the school. Beyond those rooms of the inn there was a mosque. So early in the morning, either the first Azans of the mosque will wake you up, or after an hour, the morning prayer of the school will do that.

Well, I don’t want to recite all my childhood memories of that home. I want to show you what I saw this time. Let me give you a little bit of history before that. In 1993, my grandfather passed away. My grandmother stayed there till 1996. Last time, I visited that house was in October 1996. After that my grandmother moved in with us in Ahmedabad. I never went to see the house again. The house didn’t belong to us. We were tenants. For more than 70 years, we were tenants. Finally we returned the keys to the owner, without creating any nuisance. I didn’t know what happened to that house. So, I didn’t know whether it still existed or not. Well, fortunately it did. The new owner has new plans for that land. And, they were destroying the house for their new plans to take place. I just reached in time. As if, I had gone to see an elder relative on his or her last moments. I am attaching pictures of the half destroyed home. Someday, I will describe how beautiful it was for you to be able to empathize with me. I walked around. Tried to touch some walls, some stones, and some old furniture. As if, I was searching for something that I didn’t know. I was looking at these walls for the last time. It was their last evening. Next morning they were going to be broken down.

I left the place. Symbolically sun was setting behind the minaret of the mosque. As if, it was an occasion of seeing your own memories being effaced from your mind. As if, I was wiping off that last droplet of sweet sweat from my forehead. As if, I was losing a big part of my identity.

But I was happy for one thing. The new owner is building a school on that place. My grand father was a school teacher for his entire life. A popular, disciplined and extremely honest school teacher. Somebody has said, “Even time pays tribute to the truthful”.