Paradise is not lost

Our lives are trapped by memories, bitter and sweet. Whether bitter or sweet, the ones of childhood get imprinted in our minds and hearts with an indelible ink.

My drive from my suburban home in Mumbai to my city home meant passing some familiar localities. In one such, was wrapped my glorious childhood days, where love and sunshine had pervaded every sense of living.

I revisited the area after many long years. Stepping out of the cab, gingerly, my eyes had begun their search, even while I implored to the almighty to give me the insight to see what had changed and what remained.

The streets were still the same. Trees bowing in, providing its shade to the road and human lives that treaded with indifference…after all they were not doing my exercise.

I looked at the houses, standard three storied apartments, color lost in the several decades of existence. My feet lead me down to the end of the road, where the corner building had been of significant importance, then and I wanted to believe, even now. The familiar pharmacy that my family had used at odd hours still there… but not interested in stocking chewing gums, chocolates and such random unrelated stuff. Had they changed with times? Not by the look of it…

Same hair cutting saloon and laundry…maybe a little worn out as much as the building that housed it, was untouched by the much advertised outer coatings, that flourishing paint companies advocated.

My eyes were drawn across the road…and I saw the store my kid brother visited almost every other day. He had remained the store’s single high value consumer walking away with new boxes of biscuits or chocolates. The shopkeeper had taken advantage of his down-syndrome status, and I remember how my mother was hurt! But she swelled with pride knowing that my brother had distributed the biscuits/chocolates to the kids in apartment complex. I looked at the store’s dull name board hanging loosely held by some divine grace I thought it was called some other name. But I accepted it by whatever name it chose to call itself.

I walked under a trance down and saw the School remained and added a new structure to accommodate new curriculum. This school was a landmark, but without much personal recommendations. I was happy it remained. Interestingly, an old board hung saying- Painting, stitching and embroidery was hanging. Do people still nurture such crafts, I wondered!

Turing back, I walked down another the lane and saw the small cottages as they were when I was a child. Some were painted and others had new curtains put up. But the comfort of reaching home was my first thought. The park to my left had people sitting on the benches. I remembered this open ground was used for the festivals with days of loud music, prayers and eatery joints.

Mesmerized by the strong past shrouding me from reality, I turned to find our old home. I scrutinized the structures. I took tepid steps and stood in front of a grey building, run down and had on first level, to the left a grey haired woman reading a book. She remained unaffected by my stare. How grey and old my house looked beside the cream structure to its left, with brown tiled roof at each window! It was such a contrast, to the newly painted one. I would have loved to see my old home in glory and not looking so desolate. A man leaning on a car beside me said,

“Are you looking for someone”?

“No…actually I lived in this house on the first level some decades ago”, I said sheepishly for being caught in an act of prying.

“Dr XYZ has always lived in that house. That is Mrs XYZ”.

“Which one is Shakuntal?” I questioned with some surprise mixed with an unknown anxiety.

Nodding in direction of the building under my observation he said, “That one there ….” He said pointing to my right. Smiling my thanks, I let my feet lead me closer to Shakuntal.

We had lived very happily in that home so many years back. I saw a woman bending over at the window talking to someone below. But I watched the house with interest.

It looked good. Well lived in. Prosperous with two split air conditioners installed at two windows. Verandah grilled, but looked tastefully done.

In that moment I realized how important it was to see people living there, were very happy, cheerful people and lived as a family unit.

Behind the grilled verandah I could almost see my family, caught in the household’s bustling activity. Flavors of steaming hot food from my mother’s kitchen- tasty, well spiced and interesting mix of traditional with a tinge of the Bombay food, amidst squeals of laughter, and how wonderful life was those days! Simple lives, simple pleasures, with seed sown for a great future for each individual in the household!

On the opposite pavement I saw changes. The corner kitchen selling “tikki-ragada-pav” wrapped in newspaper, topped with sliced onions, tamarind chutney and the greens, was no longer there. Instead a shop was selling Mumbai sandwiches now.

That somehow disappointed me. As a child I had always wondered what that wonder-food tasted like. That kitchen was so integral to the lives of residents of Sindhi Colony… so somehow the Colony’s character seemed to have lost.

Across the road, the College remained secure, adding a board announcing television journalism course as another interesting career opportunity for the youth.

Giving way to commercial pressures and supporting the College a Lakme salon, Nokia center, and a commercial center came into being. And there were exciting food carts.

As I left Sion West, I was happy that this locality had preserved the old times, simple living, community seemed untouched by changes all over the hugely commercialized city of Mumbai.

The trees were still green, shops had held their ground selling the same ceramic and glass plates, cups, mugs and what have you, and just opposite the crockery store the vegetable vendors still had farm-fresh green vegetables.

Heart of this locality seemed to have sustained shocks of change, locked in its own private space. Time will decide its future and fate. When existing structures of surrounding areas were raised to the ground, estate brokers will vie for this peaceful area to disturb its paradise and charm.

Until then, paradise will not be lost.

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