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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Of Factors, Equations and More...

I do not remember very much of how that day began. But I do recall that it was a very early morning in the summer of 1993. I was woken up gently by Ma, who helped me get dressed, and then the three of us – Ma, Dadu and I – left for Allahabad. I had no idea who lived there, or why we were going. But we boarded a crowded train that trudged reluctantly along inconspicuous stations, farms and kachcha roads, as if protesting the relentless heat all along.

Seven hours later, we were knocking on a grey door. Then we were being greeted by the surprised shrieks of family members who had not been informed of our arrival. As Ma hugged relatives she was seeing after many years, I kept looking around, lost. I knew no one there. I distinctly remember feeling that all of those people, our relatives, were very, very loud.

Eventually, Ma realized that I was there. And bit by bit, over the next four days, the Allahabad connection was unfurled to me. I learnt that the house we were in was where Ma had grown up. I learnt who was who. I was asked to call certain people by certain names. And I was pampered to the core. I was Mitali’s daughter after all; Mitali, who was the youngest of her generation, and the apple of everyone’s eyes.

Over those four days, I experienced many ‘firsts’. For one, I had always lived in a fairly small apartment in Mumbai. It was a quiet life, with just my parents for the most part, and occasionally with my grandparents. In that huge ancestral home in Allahabad, there was a courtyard, there were fruit-trees inside the house, there were staircases, there were two terraces, and there was a “choubachcha”, or a water tank. And there were aunts, uncles, cousins, grand-aunts and grand-uncles and neighbours all the time. It was chaotic, but it was beautiful. I realized for the first time what it was like to be in a joint family, and I loved it. But the best part was that I had resident playmates all the time, in the form of my siblings. And to an only child like me, that was complete bliss.

After that trip, my cousins and I began writing to each other. I would wait to spot the blue of inland letters or the beige of postcards with familiar scrawls. My life in Bombay had plenty of other distractions, but I looked forward to those intermittent bits of communication. And on birthdays, there would be the much-awaited phone-calls.

I made subsequent trips to Allahabad over the next few years. In the interim, our games had matured; from Blind-Man’s Buff and Chor-Police, we graduated to Charades. Occasionally, we fought, then we made up. Allahabad was a small, unambitious city, and power cuts were commonplace. I remember hot afternoons of no material comforts in the form of fans or coolers, but of the solace of lots of laughter and mad company.  There were many more rooms and many more beds in that sprawling house, but somehow, despite that heat, we slept huddled up on one single bed, using each other as side-pillows.

One morning, two of my cousins had a fight. Bubul Dada was picking on Tumpa Didi, she said a few nasty things in return, and they fought. Bubul Dada sat down quietly in a corner of the room. The rest of us continued with our games, glancing at both of them from time to time.

After a while, I noticed a tear trickling down Bubul Dada’s cheek. “Bubul Dada is crying!” I shouted. Tulu Dada, our eldest brother, who was normally very quiet, swooped in on the scene at once. He hugged Bubul Dada, wiped his tears, and told him to not pay attention what Tumpa Didi had said. And then, with the stern authority of a father, he commanded Tumpa Didi to apologise.

Tumpa Didi flatly refused. “He was the one to provoke me”, she said. “I am not saying sorry, no way”. The rest of us, much younger than them, started wheedling to Tumpa Didi to apologise so that everything would go back to normal. I, in particular, wanted it to soon because I was leaving for Bombay the next day. All of a sudden, I do not know what happened, but Tumpa Didi burst out crying as well, and ran to Bubul Dada screaming out multiple sorries in quick succession. The next minute, all three of them were hugging, and we were watching them, amused. Five minutes later, it was as if nothing had happened.

That memory is still vividly etched out in my mind, because that was the first time I had seen so dramatic an argument between my cousins. Now that I think of it, back then, Bubul Dada was twenty and Tulu Dada twenty-three. I had seen a grown-up man crying, so uninhibited, and only because of something his little sister had said to him. And Tulu Dada had cajoled him like one would a little boy of four.

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Today, Bubul Dada is thirty-six years old, and is the father of a five-year old. Today, Bubul Dada, as per his wife’s orders, does not speak with the rest of us anymore. After a series of incidents, we have learnt the hard way to cut off from them. To not call. To not convey enthusiastic wishes on birthdays. We have not seen him in many months, and doubt we will again. We have also learnt to consider his absence from our get-togethers normal. We know we won’t see his son growing up, the way we see the other babies of the family. When we have our family con-calls, we do not mention him. When we send each other forwards on our Whatsapp group, we know he will never get to see them and laugh. I still want to send him a Rakhi, but even if I do, he won’t wear it. When family members die, Bubul Dada won’t think of a perfunctory condolence visit or phone call. Things are different. Very different.

I recently recounted that childlike fight of sixteen years ago to another cousin of mine. “Do you remember how simple things used to be then? I wish they still were”, I told him. “That’s alright”, he said. That was one kind of life, this is another. We made the most of that life, we need to thoroughly enjoy what we have in this one as well.”

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As we grow older, we begin to realize that certain things that we considered ‘factors’ in our life weren’t really factors at all. We learn to live without people, without things, without abilities. And we discover new possibilities and new lives with new people, new things, and newfound abilities. Sometimes we look back and ponder over things that aren’t the same, but then, that is only momentary. And we are back to this life. Just like that.

Maybe this is wishful thinking, or the emotional fool in me talking, but sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if once more, something else or someone else intervened, like Tulu Dada had back then? What if someone could swish a magic wand?

But then, I know the answer. Those things will never change. The good thing, though, is that we have our own magic wands, with which we can change our expectations.

And in the end, that is really all we need to do.

Much Love,

Me.



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