Other reasons for me to visit:
1. My Captain-brother is posted in Jhansi.
2. Holi weekend. I had Monday off.
3. Sentiment. Like I said, I lived there for a year.
My father was posted in Babina in the nineties. As Army talk goes, he was commanding a brigade there. I was 12 years old, and I remember my childhood, Babina years included, with a clarity I feel blest to possess. I wanted to see our old house. Ideally, I would also want to cycle through streets next to the house, like I would with my friends back then at 5 o clock every evening.
Didn't cycle, but we did go back to "the old house". (We is my mother, my father, my brother and I). A bungalow with a kitchen garden that was an acre of farmland, the Babina house was the biggest place we lived in. The resident of the house, a colonel with a side-parting and henna-dyed hair, was kind enough to let us poke our noses in and around and squeal to each other, “Ohh! Remember this!”. The house seemed smaller. The furnishings, of course, were different. The contrast was clear. The memories of a bustling-with-energy house with a vis a vis the completely dead silence of now. Not a good reality.
Maybe this is a feeling only Army kids know (and, well, those others who are constantly uprooted). )We live in so many different houses for one or two or three of our growing up years, that they all hold a little part of our childhood in ways that make them all a little bit like home.
And right now, I was in my old house, once my home. I surveyed the lawn. I remembered a fatter version of me, just back from school, still in uniform with dusty blue school socks, sitting in the lawn after lunch, eating grapes. The lawn was smaller because of the new flower beds. The swing was gone.
I went over to the guest room, my little haven. I didn't have to close my eyes to remember the print and texture of the bed cover. That room was a little bit removed, like a garage, from the main house. I used to spend long silent afternoons reading my Enid Blytons and watching on TV episodes of "Home and Away".
Through the old kitchen, the pantry, the dining room, the drawing room, the parent's room, and after pausing everywhere to take photos that wouldn't make sense to anyone but me, I made my way to the old room my brother and I used to share. Both of us had on a silly grin, remembering, I suspect, similar little things –
Hey, remember this slope? Flooring’s the same… heh… the study table used to be here. This was my cupboard… no fool, this was MY cupboard… Oh, look, they shut the fireplace... Is this window new?
We invoked our two dead German Shepherds, made cracks of how they used to pass out in the veranda, or when it was too hot, sit on the cool floor in our room, fit under our study tables, stick out their foolishly long pink tongues and lick our toes. Remember the pups? They were born right here. I remember their smell. If I closed my eyes, I could cringe and smile simultaneously at a familiar whiff of, lets see: new-born litter, milk, carpet and poop. You get the picture. We stood at the spot in the study where they were born, looked, saw nothing, and moved to the next memory-trigger.
Flashbacks were happening to me at such a rapid speed that every new image had only about eight seconds to hang around my head before bossier thoughts pushed their way in. I remember August 97, the fancy dress party in our lawn. Aditya was a war wounded hero. He came in a white kurta pajama with red ink marks on his white bandage around in his head, with an affected limp, and gave a little speech. Something like how inspite of the physical agony -- limp plus bleeding head -- he had to come for this special birthday of his special friend. Obviously I was floored.
Standing in my room, I remember trying to sleep in that bed, unable to because I was terrified of the shadows that the light of the old Peepel tree outside was casting on my sheets. The light was a makeshift lampshade – a naked bulb under a cane basket. When there was a breeze, and in summer there was always a breeze, those backward-forward rocking shadows would not let me sleep. I would imagine snakes on the bed, crawling up my pajamas, hissing under my pillow – I really was a paranoid child! But Babina had a crazy population of snakes – vipers, bandit crates, the odd cobra, you name it. I remember their names because every other week, one hissler would crawl into one of the drains, or slither up under a study table or hit it’s head, or nose, or whatever against the five-inch-high wooden planks we’d erected at every door. It was always the snakes, not ghosts or anything as.. 'distant'.
I clicked photos of that tree, sort of said hi to it, and couldn't have explained to anyone in the family, had they asked, why I had slowed down or what's with the smirk. My brother was walking too fast ahead. My mother, walking slower, more deliberately, had her own plentiful associations. My father, the retired cavalry-man, was talking to henna-dyed colonel about whatever it is that two men with seemingly nothing in common talk about.
I don't know if we will go back there again. I don't see it happening. What would we come back here and do anyway? Feel bad that we don't live here anymore? Dwell in the past? Reminisce? Regret? No more big lawn, big dogs, big house? Feel the twinge and cry? How would that work? Delhi's not so bad. I love the house here. I loved even the ones we lived in before the Delhi house. Home was everywhere. Changing addresses made us resilient. I think I speak for a fair few Army brats when I say it gave us more -- friends, anecdotes, schools, suitcases, photographs, stories, hardiness. I loved the life I had in that house. I love my city life too. But it's nothing a city could have given me. And without intending to sound jingoistic, I feel the memories I have would have been infinitely paler had my father been anywhere else but in the Army.