It was raining heavily. As I sat in my room, looking out of the window, I noticed how the raindrops fell gently on the lush green leaves of the mango tree as it hung over the huge door to the frontyard, like a festoon.
Our 100 year old ancestral mansion, to me, was and probably still is, the most fascinating place on this planet. It had multiple entrances; the main gate that led to the huge one that further led to the frontyard; with the old mango tree that looked over it as if monitoring every person who passed through them. The frontyard was vast and one of my favourite places in the house. As a little girl, I would often play there with my friends. Sometimes, the whole family would sit there together and have breakfast and tea in the morning. And when Mr. Electricity took leave for a while, we would sit there fanning ourselves with a handfan and gossiping ; I, of course, only had the privilege of listening, as my family talked about everything ranging from how much the neighbours were spending on their daughter’s wedding, to what would be cooked for dinner the next day.
Our house was one that stood out in the neighbourhood. You had to just tell the rickshaw- puller to take you to the ‘aam gaach wala bari’ or ‘the house with mango trees.’ This expression aptly described the house, probably the only one in the neighbourhood with mango, coconut and jackfruit trees. Our huge garden, with its wide variety of fruits and flowers, was a fine specimen of grandpa’s greatest hobby- GARDENING! The terrace, too, was decorated with numerous flower pots ranging from roses to dahlias and many others whose names grandpa would often tell me, but I could never remember. The terrace looked especially beautiful in winters, when huge dahlias of a variety of colours, bloomed, and so did the pretty roses- red, pink and white, though they required a bit of extra attention; their sweet scent mingled with the fresh air and made the terrace one of my favourite hang-out spots in the house. Being a passionate photographer, grandpa would often take me there and make me sit and stand in different poses, sometimes with the flower pots around me and at times keeping them in the backdrop.
The frontyard wasn’t far behind when it came to the flora. It had a few ‘tulshi’ or ‘basil’ plants in one corner which grandma watered every morning as part of her hour long prayer service; and as per traditional Hindu customs, chanting the ‘mantras’ continuously as she poured the holy ‘gangajal’ on them. It also had a hibiscus plant with large blooming blood red hibiscuses. The frontyard had two doors, one that led to the living room and the other led to the kitchen. Though, I was fully aware that it was anything but architectural brilliance, I still found the setup very convenient.
I sat looking at the raindrops as they slid down the mango leaves. As my eyes traced their path as they fell from the edges of the leaves to settle on the ground, a smile drew on my face, when suddenly, Ma’s voice woke me up from my reverie;
“Only dreaming won’t help. One has to work hard. You have to aim big to achieve big, do you understand? If only you aim for topping the University will you be able to do so. Alright, forget the university, but top your college atleast? And you know what I just heard? Mrs. Gupta’s daughter has made it to IIT, electrical engineering. Had to happen, you know how hard she studied? Had you worked as hard, you too could’ve been there. But you weren’t interested! Who on this earth would believe that? Huh! Anyway, let bygones be bygones. Now, you have to make it to ‘Delhi School Of Economics’ and show the world that you’re no less, do you understand?”
All this while I sat gazing at her blankly with a stupid smile on my face that indicated I wasn’t completely out of my daydream yet!
“What are you sitting and looking at?” , snapped Ma, as she put the things in my room in order;
“You’re 18 years old now, do you realise? Learn to keep your things in place. How much work do you expect me to do throughout the day? Then handle your tantrums. And you’ll be happy to know that your sister is also treading in your footsteps. Don’t crib about the food today. It’s saturday, so no non-veg. I’ve made dal and gobi for lunch. You have to manage with whatever is there. Your Baba has said he’ll take us out for dinner tomorrow, so be happy about that”
I kept looking blankly at her when she shook me by my hand and yelled;
“Stop staring like an idiot, will you? Study, study! The last thing I want to know is, my daughter failed her semester exams. Now, get to work, fast!”, and with that she stormed out of my room.
I was surprised at how Ma’s lecture went uninterrupted, as more often than not I preferred interposing with my arguements, vehemently opposing her assumptions about me not being sincere with my studies. But, I was so lost, that I almost laughed at my own stupidity. I did nothing, but blinked once, and looked out of the window again.
But, to my surprise, there was no mango tree. Neither was there any frontyard. Only, huge, skyscraping bulidings. No honking rickshaws or little children sailing paper boats in the flooded streets. All I could see and hear, were, big cars zooming past the buildings with their blazing headlights!
It’s been almost 8 long years since my father along with my mother, sister and I, left our hometown, Shrirampur, in the Hooghly district of West Bengal; the moffusil region outside ‘The City Of Joy-Kolkata’, to settle in Gurgaon. My life has changed ever since. My house no longer has a garden with mango and coconut trees, nor a terrace with roses and dahlias. I play with my friends in the frontyard no more, but ‘hang-out’ with them at shopping malls. I now pose for pictures with an artificial fountain or a ‘Wills lifestyle’ outlet in the background instead of the beautiful flowers on the terrace.
But, what hasn’t changed in all these years, is, my love for the place where I was born; where I spent 11 happy years of my life. Sometimes, I do feel, that I’ve lost the old little me amidst this big city hustle-bustle. But even now, when I look out of my window on a rainy day, all I see is the vast frontyard with the hibiscus and tulshi plants, and the wise old mango tree still hanging over the huge door!