( this is the tragedy of life... people we dont want to see changed,change and for worst....nostalgia of a city one grows up ! it can be a painful trip down the memory lane and those half lit bylanes)
A philosopher says " I think , therefore, I am " yet another says " I feel, therefore, I am " However, hard we may try to forget and disassociate ourselves with past,it haunts us. Our roots, our moorings keep calling us. Its these roots, its these moorings which keep us firmly grounded. Going away from ground is against the principle of gravity. Gravity is a nature's phenomenon,hence,any attempt to go against nature is unnatural and creates a vacuum. Needless to say nature abhors vacuum.Every city has something to its fame, be it oranges,brassware or silk sarees. Aligarh beside University is renowned for lock,knife,mosquitoes and flies, not necessarily in that order.
Come summer, the vacation time,we would be excited beyond words to meet,play,enjoy and have fun with our endless cousins. We were the city bred, more lucky and worthy of envy lot from Delhi. Delhi has all the trappings of a big city. Big city of dreams. It has all along been associated with that rampant,raw and ruthless power. The distance between Aligarh-- Delhi is not even 100 miles but I feel,its not geography which decides the distance, its more the 'mindset' which determines the distance in terms of far off or nearby. As they say its not two wings with which a bird soars in the sky,its the 'courage' and 'confidence' which takes a bird higher up in the firmament.
As I am, so is my father,eldest son in the family. With hordes of cousins,uncles and aunts it was simply a fun to be there. Whole day we would spend playing,roaming around bazars,exploring,eating whatever came our way. We were the VIPs who would create quite a stir in the otherwise drowsy city of Aligarh. My parents' 'span of control' would relax for the duration of our stay similar to relaxation in curfew hours in Kashmir. It used to be a big party time. On every visit we would be introduced to newly acquired assets-- babies, daughters-in-law as our latest aunts,bhaiya,behan bhabhi etc. I would always return to Delhi with a heavy heart.
As we were growing up,slowly but surely, the visits, once upon a time, twice a year,became rare and rarer. A phase came when journeys were only on 'need to go basis' i.e. either for attending important marriage functions or for offering condolences.
It was after a huge gap of 25 years that i was travelling to Aligarh. Earlier, journey though of less than three hours in the slowest train was a picnic and was to be enjoyed in no small measure. My mother would prepare whole lot of eatables as if we were going on a jungle safari where she was certain, food will not be available. We as children were no less. No sooner we sat in the train, we would feel thirsty,hungry and that irrepressible urge to go to toilet, all at the same time. I believe, children are same today also.
Aligarh looked like it has stayed in the time wrap and progress has not kissed,touched or even passed by Aligarh. Same townish construction,same traffic indiscipline,same cycle rickshaws and same strange yet familiar smell all around. As we passed by Bada Bazar, I remember, the stall we'd visit for that gazak (chikki). The seller was an old man, he would be painfully systematic n slow weighing his wares and wrapping/packing them. My uncle or cousin would flaunt "your gazak is going to Delhi,so you better be careful in packing best of material in best of way" as if gazak was not going to New Delhi but to New York.The tendency of name dropping cuts across urban boundaries. After crossing 'Sarrafa' (row of goldsmith shops) comes Jaiganj. It was here in Jaiganj area that we would be coming atleast half a dozen times during the day,for it was here that Post Office was located. An ice seller sat beside it, who would pull that big slab from underneath the jute sack and skillfully with his iron poker break the ice. He 'd give you ice for 5 paise also. O boy ! those were the days. With ice firmly tied in our handkerchief or towel, it was a race with ice,whether we reach home first or ice melts first.On the other side of the road was 'Chunna halwai' our favourite confectioner. Though Chunna halwai had died long back but his shop continued to be known by his name. Something like Dr. Gandhi's clinic in Bengali Market of Delhi.His fair skinned obese son would sit there in his spotless white long shirt and payjamas. He would deal with the customers in a most professional way with wrinkles on his contracted forehead unnecessarily adding years to his age. He was too young to have those wrinkles on his forehead at first place. What about Gyan of Gyan's shop who would cut bread into slices as if in entire city none else could do it more meticulously. Babu Lal the boiled milk seller,opening his shop in the evening ,he would put an extra large layer of malai(cream) like icing on a cake and continue watching you till you acknowledge his liberal gesture. That Prem Kachodi wala where people would throng morning after morning for their fix of kachodi breakfast. Lastly, the twin shops of Shroti-- our A to Z store .
Our sprawling house is staring at me as much strangely as i was looking at it in disbelief. As if everything has shrunk in size and glory. This courtyard was too big to be covered during our innumerable games in childhood esp that blindfold game where we were to catch a person with blindfold on. Is this the same brass tub in which i used to hide during our hide n seek. This tub was my swimming pool, i could nearly drown in. How could that be ?. It is no more than knee high now. Suddenly, I realised, the tub has not changed in size,things non living dont, we do. And where the hell that large neem tree gone. My aunt informed, it has been chopped off because of nuisance-- excessive fall of its leaves and fruits which required intensive cleaning twice a day. Who will do it ? so they thought it best to cut it once for all. How townie people too are becoming comfort lover at the cost of nature. It was the same tree we'd put our jhoola (swing) on. My aunt ! oh what happened to her ? She was so very beautiful. How could one acquire so many grey hair and wrinkles. I had attended her marriage function. In fact, i had sat for a while beside the groom, my uncle, in that swan shaped car so often hired for its 'style coefficient' in marriage processions. Its either horse (in fact its mare) or this swan car. Its now only that we have shunned horse and swan and left with car alone. But what happened to her why is she all haggard. Not that she was any tall but her petite frame appears to have further shrunk.She has been suffering, she informed, with half a dozen diseases. Medication or consulting a doctor in Aligarh is only when absolutely necessary and you can not live without, what you call break down maintenance, unlike big cities there is no concept of preventive maintenance.Is it the same Aligarh ? i wonder. My other aunt who lived in Bharatpur also came. she once was ravishingly beautiful and equally sweet. She now looked like a character from a Ramsay brothers' film. She had married off her daughter recently and was expecting to become a grandmother in near future. But here is she, already looking older than a great grandmother. People updated me about the whereabouts of our playmates, few of them have died.How come ? they were near about my age, how can they die just like that. No, but then have died. Strangely, I found people, so very indifferent towards ones no more in our midst. The guys of my age and even younger were all looking so very aged,sick and as if left with no zest to live. Are these same very chaps who were always one up in mischief. The whole set up which once was mine true to the dictum: 'it is ours; so it is mine' was looking as if it belonged to me in my previous birth. Now it belongs to somebody else---to nobody. Such are the ways of the world.But why ? Poor folks beaten by the vagaries and hassels of earning their livelihood,child not doing well in studies, sickness, death. I think nobody cared for anybody any more. How sad !
My uncles,aunts and cousins for whom i was once a VIP from Delhi were looking at me with those uninterested hollow eyes. Are they seeing me at all. People's energy to live on, has been systematically sucked out by daily struggle to survive.They are no more young,not even young at heart. They are old,aged, sick and are floating with whatever miseries the day brings for them. They are living just because they are not dead yet.Where have all those sweet, affectionate people gone. More importantly, where the sweetness and affection gone ? Is it the same Aligarh ? No it has changed, changed for worst. Oh Aligarh ! Let the whole world change, i dont care, but i didn't want YOU to change.