Two days back, I came to Patna. I reached in the morning and I ran in the evening. This is the route that I ran. Between that, I also submitted a proposal on behalf of my company – the real reason why I was sent to Patna at the first place. Between that, I also had time to play with Anshu.
My baba (grandpa) has a house in Patna (the dotted balloon in the linked map) along with chote baba (his younger brother). The two houses are inside the same campus and only a staircase separates them. But there are two separate gates – you can use either of them to reach the staircase. Baba’s house had been locked for the past six months because baba-dadi had been staying at papa’s place in Deoghar. So when I reached Patna, I stayed with chote baba all day. And I played with Anshu, my cousin. All it took to get the shy fellow talking were few chocolates. And my camera. I clicked his pics like crazy. And he posed like crazy. And then he also clicked some. And he did a good job I must tell you (are you reading this Ali?). And then I bid him good-bye to hit the road.
As I ran I remembered a lot of things. The St. Karen’t school bus-stop. What was my bus number? Z7? Z9? Some shit like that. The National Seeds Corporation, up till which I used to run from my house. Only for some time when I was very very small and mummy still lived with me and Subbu and Sweety in Patna. And papa used to work in different towns. To come back on weekends. Till one day Papa took mummy and Subbu and Sweety to his place forever. I was in seventh class. I was left in Patna. I was told that there was no good school at papa’s place. It didn’t matter for Sweety who was in class V or Subbu who was in IIIrd. But it mattered for me. I was in class VII. And I bought this logic. And for most of the time after that, I stayed with baba-dadi whenever they were in Patna and with chote baba-dadi when baba-dadi were not available. Mintoo chacha was my best friend in the house then. He had a Hero Puch. And I had a retarded sky blue coloured TVS Suzuki which I started riding once I reached Xth class. The bike was fourteen years old then. And Neelabh and I had a hell of a good timing riding it. I sold the bike for 3,000 bucks when I left Patna after Xth.
As I ran I noticed a lot of things. So many shops in Patel Nagar were still there, just like the way they had been ever since I had known what shops were. The shop from where I used to borrow comic-books at 50 paise per book. Khusboo general store from where I used to buy pens and gifts and very rarely – a cold-drink (one cold-drink in a month was a luxury). Even St. Albert’s, my school before St. Karen’s, was there in Patel Nagar. I remembered the Bengali girl Ratna who lived close to my house and with whom I had a massive fight once in class III because she had borrowed a book called ‘100 natak’ from me but had returned it with missing pages. I remembered wading through water-clogged streets between our house and the school during the monsoons with Ratna, her small sister and Sweety, dressed in our sky blue shirts and navy blue pants. I never spoke to Ratna after our fight and I wonder where she is now. While I moved to St. Karen’s in class IV, she continued with St. Albert’s and we lost touch.
Baba-dadi and papa were to arrive in the evening. When I called them up to ask where they were, papa told me the train had been stuck in some station for over one and a half hours. And then my phone got discharged. And for the first time in its life – the charger stopped working. So I had no clue when baba-dadi and papa would come. Chote baba-dadi went to sleep. I kept waiting. I found Sweety online and asked her to call papa. She said she didn’t have his number. I felt like telling her papa must be so proud of her. I didn’t. I just asked her to call mummy and take papa’s number from her. It took her half an hour to do so. Finally when she called papa, he told her he was about to reach home. Soon he reached home. And baba-dadi. It must have been about 12 in the night. I was seeing baba-dadi after more than an year. They looked frail. And weaker. And sadder. Exhausted. They had been in a train for about 11 hours when it should have taken less than six hours. Welcome to Bihar.
I hadn’t asked chote baba for keys to his side’s gate because I had thought baba-dadi would have keys to their side’s gate anyway. Dadi did have some keys with her but she could not find the right one. So after wasting lot of time in the middle of the night trying to enter the house, we had to finally wake up chote baba. He opened his gate. And then everyone could reach the staircase.
We climbed up. Chote baba went back to his house. I told him I would shift to baba’s. We opened baba’s house. It was full of dust, litter and dead roaches, rats and lizards. And there was no water because the water pump had stopped working. We were in a dirty house. But this was also the house where I had grown up – where I used to have a room of my own – and a table with three drawers covered with Boomer stickers – a red jute carpet – dark curtains – a sofa set – a million magic books – the ICSE books – sketch pens – a blood-soaked Valentine Day card – portraits – sketches. It always feels special to be in the house where you have grown up. Even when it is full of dead lizards. We were a family. Three generations. We slept inside the dirt house and felt good about it.
I got a bottle of ‘Minute Maid Nimbu Fresh’ for dadi in the afternoon the other day and she liked it so much that she asked me if it had ‘alcohol’ in it. It’s just nimbu pani dadi. I assured her. And if you really think about it, what is life but nimbu pani. Relish it. And remember it. And once in a while, write about it.