It was the month of October when the grip of summer heat had loosened over the North Indian Plains. The lush green of post monsoons was soothing to the eyes. As we proceeded to Shillong by road the drive from Delhi was an extremely pleasant one. We started our journey, at the crack of dawn, as the early morning sun shone behind the morning mist. I guess more then mist, it was the pollution that had settled the night before. Whatever it was, it looked beautiful and misty. The sun, in the plains has a misty hue in the morning rather than the clarity we see in the hills. As we left behind the concrete jungle of square, rectangular and high rise buildings, wide roads with forced plantation of trees all along, I was exited and nostalgic for the route we were following would lead us through the village of my ancestors; my roots. Mukhmailpur as spoken and Mukabilpur in papers, a dusty remote village, earlier within the district of Kanpur but now incorporated in the newly formed district of Etawah. Approximately 7 to 8 hours drive from Delhi and 7 kilometres of the main highway.
I was returning after 13 years since the first death anniversary of my grandmother. Nothing the others said could make me give in to the suggestion of passing it by, without visiting. I was adamant I had to go and we did go. After the death of my grandmother, it was no more our winter holiday destination. However, over the years I always remembered this place with a lot of nostalgia. There, I felt, my roots belongï¿½ and the feeling has endured over the years.
The last leg of the journey was a dusty bullock cart road with a hump in the middle all along the 2-kilometer stretch that finally took us to another world. In this quiet, remote and dusty small village, ï¿½Timeï¿½ seems to have stood still for many a century. Life moved with a different pace here, unaffected by technology, globalization or the internet. The only direct connection with the outside world, the radio that functioned on batteriesï¿½ there was no electricity. No hospitals and no schoolsï¿½ but people lived and survived here for eons.
Peacocks adorned the fading horizons of this small picturesque village; the resplendent kingfisher perched on a nearby tree beside the village pond. My gaze followed the animals proceeding for their daily drink to the pond, dangling their bells swaying left to right. A few men were having their afternoon siesta under the mango tree. Nearby a bore well pumped water into the fields, a cool breeze whistled and swept through; a respite on a warm sultry day. It was a warm laid back afternoon, with all life in suspended form of animation. But, the roaring of our Sumo engine disturbed the peace, the birds fluttered away and their reverie disturbed, the men got up trying to identify us. Suddenly there was a spurt of activity all around, children running after our jeep screaming in delight followed by the stray dogs barking, the domestic animals stopped short to turn and gaze at us. People started walking towards the epicentre of the entire commotion and gathering around us. The news spread around like wild fire in the village that we had come creating ripples on an otherwise quiet, laid-back and oblivious afternoon.
As I reached the village, I had a lingering feeling of pain and yearningï¿½ things looked so changed and yet so much the same. The village was synonymous with my grandmother and she was not there to receive us for the first time. Even after thirteen years of her death, I felt she would walk out from somewhere to receive us. The house looked dilapidated, soulless and deserted, no one lived there now. Life that brimmed over, when she was alive was lost to the dazzle of city life, as one by one everyone left, abandoning their ancestral home. Memories flooded my mind, of year after year when I, my brother and parents would come in wintersï¿½ how she would receive us kissing both our hands, fondling us with love and affection, and then feeding us with the goodies she had prepared herself. She was a small petite and a good-looking Brahmin woman whose courage and resilience had endured difficult times in her life. She had lost nine children, and gave birth to 14 in all, during her lifetime as she told me, and it was her alertness and promptness that saved whatever property and land they were left with in the end, from being stolen by other undeserving relatives and conniving neighbors. I remember, she would get up in the middle of the night take a lantern and a stick in the other hand and go off to the fields to check if anyone was stealing her produce. Frail, petite woman that she was, I wonder how she could have warded off the robbers if there were any. However, time and instinct had taught her to protect and survive in the harsh world. She fought tooth and nail for what was, rightfully her sons, the share of the family inheritance. Uneducated she learned to read and write by the sheer dint of her hard work and determination.
The winding dusty road, in front of her house was endless for her at some point in her life, it lead to her husband who was serving in Rajasthan and her eldest son far away in some distant land, of which she had an imaginary picture in her mind; high mountainous terrains, cascading, un-containable monsoon rivers, thick dense forests, as he had described to her, in his letters. She had spent many a day fixing her eyes on them waiting for a letter or a money order from her son. Sometimes that wait was endlessï¿½ dusk would fall and the postman, nowhere in sight. But as the night would fall and hopes crashed for the day, she was sure it was postal delayï¿½ her son would never fail her, she was sure. As sure she was, of the sun and the moon above her. However, tomorrow was another day and the responsibility was on her frail shoulders to pull through, the family through these difficult times. But, she had no time to think, by the time she would crash into her bedï¿½ a deep sweeping sleep would consume her, after a hard days work only dreams could soothe her aching bonesï¿½ of better days ahead when all her sons would be as tall as the sugar cane stalks in her fields. Then, she knew the swaying of her mustard fields would have different meaning for herï¿½ and the echoing sound of the grinding wheat mill -chakki as it is known- at the distance, would sound like music to her ears.
I remember the last time I saw her, she was not too well but she insisted upon, coming along to the bus station to see us off. Dragging her ï¿½chappalsï¿½ double the size of her feet she walked making a flapï¿½ flap sound. There was something in her eyes that day, something I could not understand, her touch was different too, but I could not grasp ï¿½ may be she did. As the bus left and she was enveloped by the dust raised by it, she faded into my memory; a blurring hazy picture waving from behind the cloud of dust. The thought that I would not see her alive again, never cross my mind. But I remembered that look and I can still feel that touchï¿½ it was different from the many other occasions that we parted. Perhaps she was awareï¿½ she did not live long after that. Her death was peaceful I heard, a life well lived with hard work, endurance and a steely resolute. Her sons were as tall as the sugarcane stalks in her fields, it was winter and her mustered fields were swaying with the wind too, finding solace in the fact that all her children were well settled by then. She was a success story.
As I left the village that day, heavily laden with longings for the days gone byï¿½ somewhere at a distance the sound of the running grinding mill resonatedï¿½ koooohï¿½ koooohï¿½ koooohï¿½, a far away sound, echoing distinctly in rhythmic beats, parting the silence gently apart. I looked back I saw a rich golden hue of the setting sun, filling the canvas, of a picture perfect village emerging out of the lush green fieldsï¿½ beneath the ï¿½neemï¿½ tree, by the side of the family well, enveloped by the cloud of dustï¿½ I thought I saw a hazy picture of a small petite figure smiling at us. I smiled to myself as the cloud of gloom and yearning disappearedï¿½ for, as I beheld her, I knew that in some ways, wherever she was in which ever consciousnessï¿½ she was glad that I had come and for those split seconds, I was in complete unison with her, nature and the memoriesï¿½ lost in time.