When the train pulled off the station and I bade goodbye to my parents the hundredth time, only then did I open my newly borrowed book, ‘The Old Man and The Sea’ by Earnest Hemingway and started reading it from where I had left. It is a very famous book by a much more famous author, the lender had said. I didn’t pay much heed but I knew I had read about it somewhere in my school days.
While my reading caught a good pace, the cacophony of a 3rd AC coach started receding slowly from my ears. Suddenly, these lyrics from the song, Re Kabira Maan Ja from the movie Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani blaring out from the very next compartment, caught my attention
Tooti chaarpaai wohi
Thandi purvaai rasta dekhe
Doodhon ki malaai wohi
Mitti ki suraahi rasta dekhe..
And as if in a dramatic way, I raised my head watching the black letters of Jammu Tavi over the yellow background just swift past, marking the end of the station as the train chugged out. The yellow sodium lamps that my gaze followed in the dark, made me numb for few seconds and flashed before me, the memories of last few days that I spent at home. Down came this idea, but I had nothing but my memory to pen it down over with few words and the recalled images of the best moments at the place.
Dearest Jammu Tawi
My native, my place of birth, the first view of the world that you offered me, I have no memory of, yet I am attached to you like I always belonged here like you have always sheltered me and given me moments of joy and contentment. And yes I do belong here.
This is a tribute to you. While I move out to various places of calling, my home will remain the same.
Little Round Stones
My memory of this place begins with the cute, round stones that you find there. Their unbelievably smooth and round shape still fascinates me. They are everywhere! During my childhood, my grandmother and I used to pray together. She had these little black round stones as Shiv idols, to pray to and Oh my! How much I loved washing them with milk and water, chanting ‘Om Namah Shivaye’ all along, applying sandalwood over their presumed faces in the shape of Om, garlanding them with little purple flowers of the nearby weed and then taking their arti with dhoop. No breakfast until Pooja is done, was the morning ritual when I visited them in Jammu.
Where they lived, my grandmother and grandfather were staying as tenants to a Sardar family, whose elderly would shout out to my grandfather, ‘Chaman Lal ji Pani Pakdo’ (Chaman Lal! Catch the water! ; That was when early morning , the freshwater would come through taps and be routed on the first floor).
My close friends were Gudiya and Charu who belonged to the same family and lived on the first floor. The brother-sister spoke Punjabi and I picked up bits. Gudiya and I used to play with pande (kitchen set), make chapatis and Charu would drive us around in his invisible car that ran on the sounds we made. Some days we would go out to play in streets with other kids, run around hens and run away after, teasing their ever barking dog, Tuffy. The Gurudwara, just ahead would say out the evening prayers and despite the loudspeakers, standing over great heights scared the ‘little’ me, I would often go there if Gudiya-Charu insisted saying, ‘Thalle Chalna matha tekne’.
It was a grand place with white marble floorings. The most peaceful and serene, glittering hall of lights, was too quiet, almost to the level of disciplining the child me, when I entered its huge white doors. After washing my hands and feet and tying a handkerchief around my head, I would do as everybody did; Walk up to the Takhat with joined hands, bowing down on my knees, in front of the holy book, covered with colorful fabrics and fanned over by an Uncle in long beard and a dagger by the side. I must admit the devotional songs, though undecipherable due to language constraints, captivated me.While kneeling down, I would close my eyes but then look from beneath my arms and legs to see if the fellow person had gotten up yet. The best part was the halwa prashaad, which was like a prize for entering the place and behaving. We would cup our tiny hands together, so as to get as much as both our fists could hold.
Matamal– Masi ka Ghar (Mother’s sister’s place)
Everybody in the locality knew the day I was supposed to arrive there. It all began, in Bhagwati Nagar, Jammu where my Masi and Mosaji( her husband), lived in a rented house in Bhagwati Nagar, Jammu. I was a kid of the level, when you think, climbing stairs is a huge task, in which I failed twice and broke my head, at the same place.
My cousins (their children), were thankfully all females, and nobody was notorious. We played together, though not so silently. I had to be fed, so my cousins would take turns when one would be too tired to run behind me with a spoonful of mashed bananas or Khichdi. The terrace, as always has been, was my favourite place. The small dark hole that drained the rainwater from terrace fascinated me too and I was told it held fish families. And since then the fish ended up eating mashed bananas and khichdi too.
There was a huge temple (which no longer seems so large now), just across the nehar (canal), in front of the house. As I was hungrier for my fascinations than religious beliefs, I visited the temple, more often than my masi and mum. The big ‘ShivLing’, right in the center, the smell of dhoop-agarbatti (incense sticks), the murmur of prayers, the slow moment of praying people, the images of various Gods on the walls of the central tetrahedral dome, very high above me, the ever-echoing bells, whom I just dreamed of touching until someone did the huge effort of lifting me up to that height. It felt that the world was slowly revealing its wonders to me.
The Fireflies, the Cockroaches and the Eight Legged
When my masi shifted to their new home, my arrival didn’t make much difference, except that it became even more difficult to lift me up, when I would run on the roads and jump on my sisters to exchange hugs and kisses. Yes, the whole mohalla would come to know days before that I was to come. Sometime then, I realised that the nights at Jammu there were so pleasant, with the heavy smell of vegetation around and the stars twinkling prominently. The Vaishno Devi ki pahadi (The peak of Vaishno Devi), was always confusing to figure out from their terrace among the flickering lights far away but the view was splendid.
The night glowed, not only with stars but thousands of Jugnus or Fireflies. I remember travelling back from the market in sheer darkness, as the lights had gone off in the society. It was so dark, that my mum and masi feared that I will step in one of the side–open shallow drains, which ran parallel to the roads, made of concrete blocks. I don’t know why but I still like them, beyond any justification.
So, when I took a turn at a road, in the blinding darkness, what I saw before, I would never forget all my life. It seemed that the whole Universe was made of fireflies. Yellow lamps blew and went off just near your nose and extended to few meters ahead. It was a pool of little glowing bugs. We would catch some and put it in our pockets to see if they still glowed.
While fireflies were terrifyingly amazing, cockroaches were amazingly terrifying. As if the second cousins of the latter, they would frantically pop out of nowhere. I struggled with my own self when one day we were sitting on the verandah on a Charpai (four-legged mat) and I saw few roaches roaming on the floor. I remember screaming the whole neighbourhood up from sleep and not having moved for hours until someone had to lift me up to get me inside for dinner. Again a mammoth task since I weighted really like one!
Eight legged beings that seemed to hang in the air, freaked me out. And my masi always had one or two spiders in their toilets. Trust me they have given me tough times.. (-_-)
When I was a kid, mum would take me to Jammu via train. A night’s travel would have delicious dinner packed by mum for the journey, the window seat and the middle berth from where I could get a glimpse of the passing stations and tracks glowing under yellow sodium lights while lying down. We know, we were about to arrive when the train would pass the Tawi bridge. The strange sound, that huge bridge would create, would often scare me but that didn’t stop me from looking down into the shallow transparent river below and spotting a tortoise amidst thousand round stones.
Little green buses, where elders got to bend their backs at right angles to their bodies and children had to be held tight, to prevent them from drifting away. Moreover, there was always a seat for another when there was none. I remember riding on these roller costars through the city, and struggling for oxygen from a partially open window, but they were fast, really fast! Student prices were always compromised to 2 to 3 rupees and for me, there was no payment at all. Loud Punjabi music and dim colourful lights made the petite matadors an out of the world place in Jammu.
My first thoughts on my recent visit to Jammu were, getting bored and sitting idle since my cousins no longer stay there. On the contrary, my stay in Jammu brought me internal peace and pure happiness. I relished the moments that were born with me and will continue to get created as long as I will be there, attaching me to the place. I came to know of Jammu as a grown up, about the far off places where I could drive and shop, eat and travel. But from the top of that terrace, I still get confused with the hill of Vaishno Devi.