A guava tree, a chiku tree and a mango tree – all three planted by my grandfather. The mango tree provided the little corridor between the building and the fencing wall with shade, and of course ‘Kairies’ (raw mangoes) and lots of disputes on the ownership of the mangoes themselves. The chiku tree was a beautiful tree, not very tall and kind of rounded with rounded leaves. It never bore fruit and yet it served as a beautiful backdrop for many a family photo. The guava tree was a delight! Anybody who has been around one knows that it is a very sturdy tree with yellow-brown rounded stems and branches. It is strong and flexible enough to bear the weight of 4-5 children using it as their play haven. We swung from its upper branches, walked on its lower ones, reclined on its stem and devoured the fruit.
This little corridor between my grand parent’s house, (Nani ka ghar) and the boundary of the middle class building in a suburb of Bombay was home to many Spiderman, WW III and star trek games. When we were not wreaking havoc or saving the world we were laying on a bed, under a row of windows that opened into this passage. We didn’t sleep and yet we were never awake. Mausi (aunt), Nani (grand ma), bhaiya (elder brother and in this case my cousin), Mummy and I – all of us together, on one bed – at ease and comfortably listening to the radio kept on the windowsill. Those were days, just days, not summers, not hours but days where time stood still and budged only because Nani wanted her chai.
Neem trees, majestic neem trees were planted all over the external affairs hostel. Delhi needs big trees to shield the earth from the harsh summer sun and Neem was particularly useful to the residents of the EA hostel. Known as an insect repellent, the branches of this tree were used for packing and storing woollens. We lived in the deluxe suite. Probationers usually had to just do with a room, balcony and a bathroom. Being married had its privileges, and a kitchen was indeed a privilege. The kitchen itself was a little more than a hole in the wall with a drainpipe running through the ‘cuddappah stone’ platform and yet it was a hotbed of culinary experiments. Instant noodles, omelets, instant rasgullas, and many many a dish gone awry formed our staple diet then. We sipped our morning tea with the ‘Times of India’ as we sat on plastic chairs in the balcony overlooking the hostel playground, and in the evenings we were either out for a soiree or catching up with friends. I spent the afternoons lying on the bed under a row of windows that opened above a couple of Neems. Oprah and Jerry Seinfeld kept me company. On weekends after a hearty brunch and before the customary stroll to India-Gate the afternoons had their own tedium. In summers we were already sweaty and it didn’t matter and in winters we needed it, so as dutiful newly weds we let passion rule and worked up some sweat to fill in the gap until it was time for a cuppa. I finally understood why dreams are made up of a ‘cozy apartment’ – so that we live in constant companionship. Giving each other ‘our own space’ was an alien concept early on in our marriage.
The bonsai like trees and other fauna made the university campus a charming place to be in. He did his thing and I did mine. He studied, while I watched MASH or Friends or cooked, adding ‘dum murgh’ and ‘keema’ to my culinary repertoire. After lunch I would go in with a book to lie on the bed under the window that didn’t open. The glass panes in this foreign land just slid from one end to another. The sky looked beautiful from our 9th floor apartment. The swivel and creak of the chair meant he was still studying. Invariably, after some time, I would here those familiar sounds; the whirr of a chair being pushed aside and the swishes of his long strides. Soon he would slump down beside me – face down and tired after having studied for eight hours already. It was not a bed that could house three generations. It was a bed where we had to draw an invisible line to keep ourselves comfortable or else we would be rolling in to each other’s ‘spaces’ or falling to the ground. It was a delicate balance that we maintained and lost. Invariably, a quick kiss and a wrinkling of the nose meant it was time for ‘nai cha’ (milk tea). Time was encapsulated.
Potted flowers and Christmas trees dot the diplomatic compound we live in. our modest apartment has a view of the city’s main artery. Buzzing traffic and glittering lights can be seen through a row of tall trees. Life for me is rounding up it is not linear anymore. I can’t save the world and I haven’t wreaked havoc yet. Its vacation time and mummy is here visiting us for a few months and life is good. He is flipping the pages of an (un) important ‘White paper’, Mummy and I are chatting while the baby makes music. She bangs everything, claps her hand, coos and then giggles. I tickle her, he makes a funny face and mummy nudges her playfully. Winnie the Pooh rules. Not Superman, Oprah or Alan Alda - but the Pooh reigns this afternoon under the window that slides.
Like the popular song ‘Turn, Turn, Turn” my life is turning. “There’s a time for everything/a time to live/a time to die/ for everything there is a season….”
It’s the season for life to come full circle. Mummy, him, baby and myself together. Three generations (and a marriage) on one bed. Not sleeping and not awake, living striving and coping. Chai anyone?