Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Udaipur Chronicles (Part -2): When Past Beckons and Present Underwhelms

May 1999, Udaipur, Rajasthan

It was fascinating to watch the bats. They moved in such perfect synchronization; almost in a V-shape. They flew determinedly, without any fuss, just gliding across the evening sky towards their destination; which, I had been told, was Gulab Bagh – the nearby zoo.

“So what time does your bus leave tomorrow?” asked Paritosh, my elder cousin. The two of us were perched above the water tank on the terrace – the highest point of the house – at my nani ghar in Udaipur. It was the last day of my summer holidays here and I was feeling rather glum. This spot – with its quietness and solitude – was a perfect getaway from the impending misery facing me. It allowed me some moments to savour the place and all its charm.

“2 pm,” I answered morosely, not taking my eyes away from the bats, perhaps trying to hide away the gloom in my heart by diverting my attention to these creatures.

“Ah…Okay,” he said, “So what will you do back in Calcutta?”

“There is not much to do,” I said bitterly, “Struggle with mathematics and continue with my boring life at home.”

He was not much of a talker, Paritosh, but he sensed my sorrow. “Don’t worry, you will be back here before you know it. One year goes by in a jiffy,” he said comfortingly.

I remained silent. One year seemed like an eternal wait at present. A train passed by from a nearby railway track; the railway station being within spitting distance from the house, we would often hear several trains whiz by at regular intervals through the day. I loved looking at the trains go by from the terrace and realized another thing that I was going to miss about Udaipur. I sighed.

 “You see our khet there?” Paritosh suddenly gestured straight ahead. About 60 yards in length, it was the field where we played our afternoon cricket matches every day. At its corner, there stood a well where we would often take our morning baths. 

“Yeah…What about it?”

“You made a lot of memories here this year,” he said, “It’s all lying here in a layer. And when you come back next year, you will add another layer of memories to it. Every time you come, you will keep making the layers of your memories in this field, in this house. And even after you return 20 years from now, they will remain right here for you. All you need to do is to lift those layers and you can relive your memories.”

I listened to him while looking at the field. In a strange way, he made a lot of sense.

“You see, mere bhai, you  may leave Udaipur. But Udaipur will never leave you. Don't you ever forget that,” Paritosh added with a smile.

I felt better and looked skywards again. The last of the bats was now flying away. Someone began singing a ghazal downstairs:

“Kisi Ranjish Ko Hawa Do Ke Main Zinda Hoon Abhi…”

I smiled, for the first time that day. Another train hooted by and I closed my eyes; savoring the moment as much as I could. A cool, pleasant breeze caressed our faces. It wasn’t such a bad day after all.  


October 2015, Udaipur, Rajasthan

“Bhaiya, Shastri Nagar ka kitna loge?” I asked one of the auto drivers outside the Udaipur City railway station gates. It was 9.45 in the morning and having traveled for close to 40 hours, my body was aching all over.

After arguing with him for a couple of minutes, we settled on 25 bucks; fairly expensive given the locality was hardly a five-minute ride. However, I did not have much energy left and just wanted to reach the house. Hence, I settled in along with my luggage.

As the auto whirred to life, I felt that familiar sensation of excitement surge through me whenever I would enter Udaipur. I looked out and was greeted by a new-look Udaipur city. A lot had changed in this once small town and it seemed to be absolutely flourishing now.

Traces of the old Udaipur – the one with the simplistic Rajasthani charm – had withered away a bit, I noticed as the auto maneuvered its way through the busy main road. Countless swanky cafes, restaurants, lifestyle stores and hotels dotted the streets now. I felt a little disappointed.

When we reached the turning of my colony, however, I was pleased to notice that almost everything was the same as I had left them. The bus stand was there, along with numerous small paan, medicine, Xerox and grocery shops near it. A small ‘Pyaau’ right at the border of the area also caught my eye. A typical middle-aged Rajasthani man, wearing a massive red safa (Rajasthani turban) and having a twirling moustache, was serving cold water from a large pot for free to anyone who needed it. He seemed unaffected and unbothered by anything. Just sitting there under the shed of a tree, waiting for people to come to him.

At least some things hadn’t changed, I thought gladly as the auto whisked me away from the man towards my destination.


Entering my nani ghar at Udaipur had always had an exhilarating effect on me. We had these giant gates at the front and would usually find someone or the other – given the countless number of people who lived there – welcoming us animatedly from there. Once inside, we would head straight along a small passage towards our nana-nani’s room. Even before we would enter it, my nana’s boisterous laughter would reach us. And the moment I would set foot in the room, he would cheerfully remark, “Arre Chiku bhai…” Those words, in several ways, defined my childhood at Udaipur.

And, unfortunately, as I made way across that same passage again at present, that boisterous laughter was nowhere to be heard. With nana no longer among us, it felt rather strange to be entering his room again.

“Ah…You are here!” my nani exclaimed in delight while sitting on a chair, as I bowed down to touch her feet. She could hardly see now and I had to announce my arrival to let her know who I was. She embraced me lovingly, and did not want to let go. “I can’t see you properly, but let me feel you for a moment. It’s been so long. You have become so thin,” she said. I sensed her eyes welling up a bit.
“Yeah…I know. I almost flew like a bird here, so thin I have become,” I replied with a snigger to lighten the mood and sat down on a bed near her.

“Chup! I can’t even cook anything now, or else I would have fed you with all the seera, poha, and paratha,” she said while wiping her eyes with the light- green sari she was wearing.

We began talking about her health and what she had done these past few months. While she spoke, I observed her. She had definitely become paler, I realized unhappily. Nana’s passing had been a big blow to her and I really felt sorry for her.

This small room had an unbelievable amount of memories for me: the kitchen where nani would cook breakfast for me, the creaking bed where I would laze around and watch cartoons; the old almirah at the corner, the huge Lord Rama photo frame on the wall, and the shelves where nana kept his medicines. All of them had several traces of my childhood.

My eyes then fell on the small table up front where a photo of nana was placed. He had that usual effervescent smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. It was hard to believe that he wasn’t among us anymore. Hard to believe that I won’t be served with any of his famous gulab jamuns and jalebis. I sat there in his room and clung on to those last strands of memories of his, half-expecting a cheerful voice to greet me heartily and exclaim, “Arre Chiku bhai…”


My nani ghar, I realized while having lunch, had completely transformed from what it once used to be. What was once a huge building having an old world charm to it was now a sleek modern-looking dwelling with just little traces of its past. All of the families now had separate luxurious rooms and I was at present having my lunch in one.

My nani ghar during my childhood

In my childhood, we would all form a big circle and have lunch together in a central hall on the ground floor of the house. Laughing, cracking jokes, pulling each other’s legs while being served diligently by the younger ladies of the family. Those few moments really made for some precious memories that will always remain with me.

And now, as I quietly ate my lunch with an elder cousin on a highly furnished dining table, things just did not feel the same. It was like reading a favourite old book of yours but with a glossy cover on it. Something just did not feel right.

I realized then that it was not just the city which was changing.


“Vidhyarthi Ras Bhandar- Since 1966” read the steel board of the slick-looking sugarcane juice shop located at the corner of Delhi Gate (a busy area of the city) I was at. It was late afternoon now and one of my cousins had brought me here, singing great laurels of the shop. Apparently, the owner had started with a small sugarcane juice cart and had become so popular across the city that he opened several branches and now owned a bungalow and a set of luxury cars. Despite the riches that he had earned, he was known to come up to this shop and serve juice to people whenever possible. 

The sugarcane juice counter

The glasses were priced at a nominal 10 and 15 rupees apiece. I decided to go for the 15 rupees one as I was quite thirsty then. The juice, I must admit, lived up to the hype that my cousin had created. It was crystal clear - there was not a single strand or particle in the juice - and tasted absolutely divine. I had never tasted a sugarcane juice of such high quality. Smacking my lips in delight, I decided to have another glass.

The juice had a pleasant effect on me and really helped to loosen my stiff body. I sat there on a chair along with my cousin, quietly sipping the juice and watching the cars, autos, and bikes whizz by through the busy crossing. I had never seen so much traffic and of such variety in Udaipur and it really was appearing like a small metropolitan city now. This was the new Udaipur, hip and happening; whether I liked it or not. Perhaps I will find my Udaipur in its old bazaars and lanes, I thought and made a mental note of visiting them the next day. And then there were the likes of Pichola Jheel, Duth Talai, Fateh Sagar and much more to check out. That thought cheered me up a bit.

The evening sun began to fade out slowly and darkness soon completely enveloped Udaipur.


“Pankhida re udi ne jajo pavagadh re…Pankhida Oho Pankhida…”

The familiar garbha song being played loudly at a nearby ground made me realize that Navaratri had commenced. Hence, celebrations were on in full swing even though it was 10 at night. The entire locality was decked up in twinkling lights and people from every household, dressed in glitzy traditional attires, were excitedly scurrying towards the ground to take part in the garbha celebrations. Though a Gujarati tradition, it was immensely popular in Rajasthan as well.

I sat there alone on a platform outside the second main gate of our building, listening to the ‘Pankhida’ song and musing on the days gone by. At this very platform, I, my bhaiya, and several of my cousins had held countless memorable gatherings. Through these very gates, we had scampered around; playing tag (Ice-Pice we used to call it then) all the way up to the terrace.

There also used to be a neem tree right opposite these gates, at the border of the house’s wall, and I, always being the tall one, would often be asked by my naani to grab a bunch of neem leaves from the tree’s branches which she would then use in her cooking.  I remember being very fond of doing that; getting the opportunity to climb up the branch and sitting there, watching the squirrels scurry about and observing the cows on the street. In fact, such was my demand whenever I would be here during the summer holidays that several ladies of the house would find me out and request me to get the neem leaves for them. And I would happily oblige.

It was right here as well that I had spent several hours chatting, teasing and playing games with my cousin maasis (technically, they were my maasis but my relationship with them was more that of cousin sisters). I had an amazing rapport with all of them and loved pestering them all day. Today, none of them were here. Neither was there any friendly gathering or the neem tree or the squirrels on them.  And nor was there our kua or the khet where we played cricket on. With the passage of time, the house and its inhabitants had changed. There were so many new faces and so much of new beautification on the house that for the first time in my life, I felt a little distant from my nani ghar. All of my cousins too were busy with their own adult lives now. And I didn’t blame them either. That is the way of life, I thought sadly.

My eyes then fell on a painting that was drawn on the floor of the main gate, right at the center. It was an age-old painting of a leopard, colored brown for some reason. This had been here as long as I remember it. Whenever I would enter my nani-ghar, this painting would always be here greeting us. It had survived all the changes to the house and lay here unaffected. It wasn’t a very well drawn painting but held a lot of significance in my memories of Udaipur.

The painting on the floor 

I smiled and touched the leopard’s lips, which I had always found scary as a kid, and instantly my eyes went moist. You know how when you suddenly come across an old photograph of yours or your old toy and are straight away transported back to a particular time. Yeah…This was one of those moments.

I kept stroking the painting lightly, hoping to uncover a hidden memory from beneath the leopard’s fat layer of skin.

All you need to do is to lift those layers and you can relive your memories.

Something clicked inside me. 

Perhaps I was looking at all this the wrong way… In front of me lay a treasure trove of memories of this house, of this city; waiting to be relived, waiting to be explored again. And I had a knack for bringing moments alive through my words. These past few years, Udaipur and my nani ghar had invaded my dreams and my mind with extreme regularity. I had often wondered why. Perhaps there was a reason to all this…Perhaps it was meant to be like this…

My childhood in Udaipur…The khet, the cows, the countless games, the comics, the long nights on the terrace looking at the stars, the summer rains, the group dinners, the midnight stories, my maamas and maasis, my nana and his gulab jamuns, my naani and her seera…All of it…Will live again…Through my words…I reflected as excitement surged through me.

“What are you doing out here alone?”

I tore myself away from my thoughts to find a man walking towards me briskly. It was Paritosh, my elder cousin. He was apparently returning late from work and looked quite tired. He wasn’t much of a talker, Paritosh, and after exchanging brief pleasantries, he bid me goodnight. Years had passed by but he still looked much the same as his younger self. It was almost as if he had just descended from the terrace after our little chat there several years back.

I returned my eyes to the painting on the floor again. It was time, I thought determinedly. Instead of letting those memories swarm my dreams, it was time to unravel them. I shall not be containing them now. No, that was not an option anymore. Because as someone had told me once, I thought as I looked at the back of Paritosh disappear inside his room, I may leave Udaipur, but Udaipur, after all, will never leave me…

To be concluded