He sat slouched in his chair ,his legs stretched out before him ,one foot on top of the other wrapped warmly in wooly socks. His wizened hands lay on his stomach his fingers interlocked ,wrinkles glowing in the mellow Dehradun winter sun. Near him stood a rickety old table with a bright blue tablecloth with red roses in a neat delicate cross-stich pattern the handiwork of my grandmother that bore the weight of the activity for the morning. On it were the day’s newspaper folded which lay beneath the dark black spectacles, a bright blue box of cigarettes, a matchbox and his patent grey woolen cap. His grey hair was messy indicating he had just taken his cap off. He hadn’t noticed me walk in ,nor heard the clanging of the iron gate as I unhooked it from its creaky hinge. The black cigarette case was missing today I thought to myself reminded of its magical ability to pop out a cigarette with a gentle press from my grandfather. His head was slightly bent,the eyes seemed fixated on the bushes in the rambling garden or beyond at the maze of dark litchi trees in the distance.
“Hullo Nanu”, I called out to him and he slowly turned breaking into a warm toothless smile that I was all too familiar with. His arms stretched out for the grandfatherly hug and I reached out to hug him inhaling the potpourri of cigarette , Palmolive shaving cream and the CSD bought hair oil that he had used.
“How are you beta ji?” he asked as I sank into the light brown cushion on the chair next to him. An all too familiar sight of pickle jars had been lined up in the sun indicating that my grandmother had been at work. Some things were a constant at my grandparents place.
“How have you been?” I asked my faced scrunching up at the sun’s rays falling into my eyes. As I shifted the chair into the shadow of the chakotra tree that we had spent many summer holidays climbing and falling out of, he sank back into the chair and the reverie I had found him in.
“I was reminded of my days in Wazirabad this morning” he said looking back into the bushes. I hugged my jacket closer as a cold breeze from the snow clad Mussoorie hills blew towards us ,he seemed oblivious, his eyes having developed a shine as he transported me into the tale that all his children and grandchildren had grown up hearing. Words I was familiar with and some that I had forgotten tumbled around me like gentle waves in a sea – the story of the man who clung on to the memories of Pre-partition India. I squinted at him, the glow from the sun getting into my eyes as he looked beyond me into the bright blue Dehradun winter sky with its fluffy clouds that had snowed down in the mountains a day earlier. “Was Wazirabad this cold too?” I ventured to ask, knowing I was in for lesson in Geography.
He paused shaken out of his musing and reached out for his cigarette pack slowly. His movements were languid and un-hurried those of a man whom age and time had slowed down. As he struck the match and held the cigarette between his lips I noticed how he sank back into the chair almost willing himself to travel back in time. The thin transparent plastic film he had ripped off the cigarette packet fluttered in the breeze. He took a long drag ,blew out a cloud of smoke and spoke ,each word emphasizing the thought and memory that he had willed it out of. It was cold, but perhaps not so much in Gujranwalla and Wazirabad, it used to be colder in Abbotabad and Srinagar, he said. His words formed an imagery before my teenage eyes and each one of the places he had lived in sprang to life right there under that tree and in the golden winter sun. He spoke of the timber trade ,his travels to the mountains, his English professors in Gordon college ,the Chenab and Jhelum , rivers that had meandered through the cities he grew up in. His eyes lit up with pride each time he spoke of his grandfather, the Rai Bahadur or magistrate. Once more he had transported himself into the time and place that he called home.
The words raced out of his mind and memory hurtling over the 50 years that had gone by in between. It seemed like time had stood still , the intermittent years a dull haze in his mind. Home was always on the banks of the Jhelum and Chenab; rivers he left behind to settle in this town that lay between the Ganga and Yamuna. How strange it was; for me his grand-daughter for whom the chakotra tree under which we sat was home. Yet at that moment as the words tumbled out of his memory I realized that his home was far away-in the mists of Kashmir and beneath the trees that lined the Chenab.
Written for Word Press Daily Prompts. The prompt for today is Far from Home