The last time I saw his face, was as he disappeared and merged into the crowd on the crowded railway station of Barauni ' a small town but a major railway junction in the unruly state of Bihar ' from where our journeys on this earth changed its course forever. We moved on to Delhi and he deviated to Nepal. He was smiling I remember, waving vehemently but his eyes were brimming with tears. He was running along with the train trying to catch a last glimpse of us as long as it was possible, before finally giving up as the train caught speed, he could not match up to. Questions afflicted my mind then and I wondered why he could not come with us, why he had to go away, was not he a part of our family, the fifth member? Wasn't he 'us'? Nothing my father said could take away the pain, or the sense of loss I felt at that moment. He wasn't supposed to go away; he was one of us- a part of our family.
When we finally left NEFA - as Arunachal Pradesh was known then - for Delhi, he traveled with us in the same train but in a different compartment. I remember how I kept on pestering my father asking him why he was not sitting with us. Every time the train stopped in stations he would come to our compartment to ask if we needed something. However, when Barauni came something was different, I felt distinctly. He came, touched my father's feet and had tears in his eyes, my father gave him something ' I think it was money ' he was refusing but my father forced it into his pocket. I could see my father's eyes blood shot and red' I know now, that my father was emotional. He touched us, patted us and got off the train. I remember the expression on his face as he stood outside the window of the train' it was sad. My father was talking to him and he was listening to my father, nodding his head and repeating 'hazoor' with each nod' until the train moved.
The train moved away from the station and he into our memories. 'Baaje' that is what we called him. For a long time I thought, that is his name, but very recently, I found out that in Nepali, it is used with a lot of reverence for the elder member of the family. Since the day I gained consciousness, I had known him and till the age of four or five he was a daily part of our family, he was our cook, ayah, help, whatever, but for me and my brother he was our "Baaje"; the loving, caring and our affectionate 'Baaje', who was always there in our tears, our joys, as we passed our early stage of childhood' his memories linger and haunt us even today. An intrinsic part of our family then, I saw no difference between him and us, except that he always replied "hazoor" with a subservient tone in his voice, respectful and was always filled with humility. Slightly bent in the waist with age a piece of cloth habitually hung on the right side of his shoulders. In the quiet town of Sunpura, one of the remotest part of the country ' Arunachal Pradesh ' he filled the emptiness, with his presence. In our little, quiet and small world then, he had all the answers to our unassuming questions. He could name the things and the objects we saw. He knew all or so we thought. Without the complexities of the educated grown ups, in our children world his knowledge was enough to keep our inquisitive mind satisfied and wonder alive, as he explained to us with simplicity, what we saw. It did not need a university educated man, to deal with our questions; a simple worldly mind was enough. And that is exactly what he was, a simple, unassuming, worldly man.
To the near by saw-mill he took us ' my brother and me ' whenever my mother wore fresh saris; intuitively I would understand that she was going out. Upset a bit about the fact, a minor deflection though, we would gleefully follow 'Baaje' eager to go out, not realizing, it to be a diversion. He would take us for a long walk until my parents were gone; showing us around diverting our mind with pigeons perched on a branch or a squirrel as it ran up the tree. He would show us things and knit a story around it to keep our imaginations alive and to have us, attentively listening to him. With the rumbling sound of the saw-mill at the background, he had to literally scream to make himself audible though.
Of the faint and hazy memory that I have of him, I remember he was a good-looking man, a Nepali Brahmin by birth. Uneducated and jobless in Nepal, came to India in search of a job and found one with a posting in the difficult terrains of Arunachal Pradesh ' where most people decline to go ' as an employee of CPWD (Central Public Work Department of India) attached to my father as a Help for the house. A simple and an inarticulate man dedicated to his work to the hilt.
His memories were always kept alive around our house; his character, a yardstick to judge faithfulness, dedication and humility. In the later years, my mother told me stories about him, how once he had eagerly made gold ornaments for his wife who was away in his village in Nepal. He had saved money to buy clothes and gold for her for 2 years and was finally going home on leave to meet her. He looked happy, my mom said and very exited. He would portray his wife to my mom as someone very beautiful, with tinge shyness in his voice.
Eager, exited and with a lot of anticipation, he left that day, touching my parent's feet for their blessings, but not before, he was thoroughly sure that we would be all right without him, for a few days, promising that he would be back very soon. His leave was for one month.
It was early morning as he left for Nepal; a feeble sun was rising on the eastern horizon. The birds were chirping announcing a new day; he was full of hope and was expectant of a desirous, joyful reunion with his wife. Although slight worry prodded him, he did not hear from her for the past one year. He brushed his worry aside giving a good excuse to himself that perhaps she could not find any one to write the letter for her. Well, that settled his worry. It was a tedious journey, a steamer ride to cross River Bramhaputra, then a bus ride till Dibrugarh a change there and again another bus ride till Gauhati, from where he would finally sit on the train.
He was still childless, but every time he went home he always hoped, he would be lucky, and eagerly wait for her letter, waiting for good news from her. However, every time a letter came and as my father read the letter to him, in every next line he would be expectant of some news about a child, but no, it would say nothing about one. He never lost hope though. This time he am sure, he am going to be lucky he thought to himself. He kept his 'potly' ' a bundle of his cloths and things ' in one corner of the sea towards his head, paying heed to what my mother had told him, to make it into a headrest, as a protection from robbers. The train moved and slowly caught pace; he was happy that he was going to meet her, after 2 long years' ah! Finally he was going to Nepal, the land of his ancestors; it gave him a good feeling. Long stretches of unending land, bouncing off the mountains, snow capped Himalayas glistering in sunlight. Green emerald colored hills against the backdrop of white towering Himalayas, fast flowing rivers, waterfalls gushing out of the mountains, carrying melted snow of Himalayas' chilled to touch even on a hot summer day. 'Mmm' he thought I can feel all that again in the warm touch of my wife. He could hear her laughter resonating in the valleys, her eyes catching the glitter of the sun, her hair capturing the breeze and falling on her face, her golden skin, tanned working in the fields under the sun and her cheeks ruddy pink absorbing the chills of the unpolluted Himalayan air' everyone envied him in his village he had a young, beautiful and a robust healthy wife- and that meant, she could be of a great help in the fields to his parents during the harvest season. He smiled to himself, she was so real to him at that moment, he felt he almost touched her' as he dozed off to sleep that day he had sweet dreams of her and a nice feeling lingered somewhere in his spirit'
It was the 10th day since Baaje had gone, and my mother was least expectant of him to come back so soon. But there he was, carrying his 'potly', looking dejected and lost; he sat down in one corner, on the floor. He was looking pale, very sad and had lost quite a bit of his weight, when my mother asked him what happened he burst out crying like a child. "My wife'.!" he said sobbing "my wife ran away with another man". There was nothing more to be said after that, it was so final, he sat there in the corner and sobbed quietly for a while. Hearing the noise I and my brother came rushing in, seeing him we gleefully shouted, our happiness knowing no bounds, "Baaje aagayaa' Baaje aagayaa" (Baaje has come'Baaje has come.) And we were all over him hardly realizing that he was crying. And that was that; in our excitement he forgot his tragedy' he smiled and was happy to be back within his known and loving fold, here he was needed he thought and loved too.
That was our Baaje as I remember him, I wonder sometimes if he is still alive' well my father is doubtful about that. He must be very old by now, even if he is alive' may be one day I may go looking for him if destiny permits that is, but if it doesn't then I know he will always live in our memories' never to fade away.
Along the path of life we come in contact with many people, but there are only very few who leave an indelible mark on our consciousness and remain with us forever. In many ways they change our lives and we are never the same again. Our paths cross, as we change course walking together, time and situations will us together for a brief period. Time again makes us go asunder' looking for our own horizons, changing course this time apart and away, although unwillingly. A sense of loss prevails and yet we know, it could not have been, any other way. But in our heart we retain fond memories, and perhaps we may never meet again' but their thought brings us joy as we pass through the seasons of life till we lose our consciousness of this life, to be born again in another consciousness.