Grief sometimes takes us by surprise. It stalks and pounces. Today was one such day. I don’t know how I was reminded of the ghosts of the pasts, but here they were – Nana, Nani and my maternal uncle, Mama. And the place that brought all of us together – the farm. We strive towards material detachment and yet I find my heart pining for the place. Tucked away on the GT road, you would have passed it a million times on trip to the mountains in Himachal from Delhi. It is a few kilometers ahead of Pipli and holds a chunk of my childhood.
We would drive down to the farm with me cribbing all along. I was a restless child. I would complain of a bloated tummy, and ask every nanosecond, ‘how many kilometers left?’ I was too young to understand the concept of distance. And yet, I kept asking. The most exciting bit was the car slowing down to turn in to the dusty lane lined by tall Eucalyptus trees. At the end lane would be some chairs laid out, the farm house on the left. And there she was. Nani. ‘Aa gayi gudiya.’ She would say. Under her chair would be a lhasa apso, Jackie. That one bit at the hint of fear. We steared clear.
Nana would be somewhere in the field with his spade. And Mama we would meet the next morning, sitting in the tubewell! There would be a chair in the water, with beer bottles chilling in the small reservoir, and there he would be, complete with Ray-Ban glasses. Morning would bring its own excitement. Nani would settle down in her tiny temple of a million gods and nana would catch hold of us and joke about her gods elbowing each other for space. She would shout at him. He would grin. And then in another universe mama would sit in the tubewell reservoir, bang in front of the water outlet with his beer. We would try to balance ourselves once he left, mimicking him. We would invariably be swept away by the current.
The next leg of the day was spent with the cows and bufflaloes. I was probably seven when I discovered a calf and was totally enamored. Nani fondly told me, ‘that’s your calf from now on.’ That moment I was the most self-important seven year old there was. I owned a calf. I could name her and care for her. That become an important memory-peg to hang my childhood on.
Then there was this summer when nana’s Swedish friends decided to leave their son with him for the vacations. Lucianne was my age, about 9 I think. For once I found an accomplice! We caught rats and checked whether they could swim or not, turns out they can. Climbing trees was a given and so was being chased by the disturbed bees. Ofcourse we got bitten. Iron knives were vigourously rubbed on the bites. But they didn’t hold us back. We would get back to our adventure around the farm as soon as the pain got bearable. Next stop was cattle–yard. That day we discovered that cows can behave like dogs and charge at strangers. The two of us froze. There was a herd of about 30 odd cows charging at us. In true bollywood style, the caretaker pulled us out just in time, preventing us from being headlines the next day. I never met Lucianne after that. I wonder where he is. I wonder if he remembers.
One summer we found a pair of ducks on farm! They fought the dogs to protect their eggs. The dogs lost every day and won every night. But the ducks never gave up. They fought the entire pack every day. I had hoped to see ducklings. That never happened. But I remember the days spent in happy hope.
Nights at the farm were mostly outdoors. Beds were spread out in the backyard, with a wall separating the yard from the endless fields. Sleep came after we got tired of counting shooting stars and hearing stories of constellations that my father would tell. We slept to a lullaby of lazy toads and crickets singing away.
The three people who made the farm what it was are not around. Only ghosts remain- of the people, of the place, of the years gone by. Grief does take us by surprise sometimes. It brings with it tears, a smile from the past, a longing to return, to try and balance the chair in the tubewell reservoir, to get scolded for walking in the fields, to hear panic under the tree while we sit on the branch below the hive. Someday, I shall perhaps revisit, cry some lonely tears, let grief wash over before I see those three smiling and conjuring the joys they brought.