Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The green, green grass of home

No more suitcases and missing tickets. Hello, travels are over. I’m back in Delhi, Gurgaon even, and as of yesterday, one gymnastics event of the commonwealth games down. Clever New Zealand chick did her one minute twenty second routine to a Hindi Song – chand sifarish. The desi audience roared! The three Indians contestants didn’t stand a chance, prancing around like school-level amateurs. Not a patch on the much more graceful Aussies, English, Canadians, Malaysian and other bendy, fair-skinned peeps. Still, tick mark done -- "Of course I saw the commonwealth games"!

Till last Wednesday though, the games were not on my mind. My holiday wasn’t over. The second leg was just beginning. I was sitting in a train, yawning, going to Dehradun in the Shatabadi that leaves at 6.50 a m from the only superficially-spruced-up New Delhi Railway Station – all for the games, of course.

Having been in my seat for five hours, and done with reading Michael Foley’s The Age of Absurdity (addictive), I look out of the window. I know the landscape. I know it like I know my intuition. I know we’re warm, growing hot, about to reach Doon. I’m happy, inwardly aah-ing at mango trees, familiar hills, those flat grey stones of river beds and the acres of Lantana growing wild, all whizzing past. Journey getting over and brimming with this sense of wellness – heightened because I could see clearer with my brand new, high-index myopic glasses -- I plugged in the ipod and listened to Tom Jones, Elvis and Merle Haggard sing the same song again and again, like it was written for me.

The old home town looks the same

As I step down from the train

And there to meet me is my Mama and Papa

Down the road I look and there runs Mary

Hair of gold and lips like cherries

It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home

Yes they’ll all come to meet me on reaching, smiling sweetly

It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home

Of course no Mama, Papa or Mary with lips of cherries showed up. I was, after all, going to visit my grandparents. They now have walking sticks. But before I could dwell on that, from zero connectivity on my phone to suddenly all three strong signal bars, I got a text.

What are you doing back so soon from the shire, Frodo?

Had a middle earth of my own to get to, Gollum.

When this little exchange took place, I knew I’d use it somewhere.


New Zealand got over as quickly as it was meant to -- under a week, lots of photos and no jet lag. Probably because I was too charged up for the next bit of my holiday, to this Dehradun of mine, to this middle earth of my own as I called it in reply to that text from a person who has the gift of timely cross references.

Dehradun, for me, means my grandparent’s home in Rajpur. It’s not the most fun place. I have no friends there. There’s nothing to do. But being as it is total rehab for the soul -- sit in the garden and read to your heart’s content, it is my favourite place to romanticise. A chunk of my imagination is rooted in that home. If a shrink told me to visualise a happy place, I wouldn’t have to think hard. All over my head, I have disorganised post-its with smells and sounds of that house, of screen doors opening and banging shut, people walking on the gravel driveway, crazy day time insects in the bushes, the pressure cooker in the kitchen, light switches, summer koels, the thip thip thip sound of bare feet on cold cement –it’s all there, filed in my brain, glued inside my ears.

Only a couple of days old, this was the first house I was brought to. My grandmother’s brother, Amar mama ji, who I mentioned in a blog post when he died – had strung mango leaves on the door to welcome the baby girl, the youngest of his sister’s four grand kids.

I was brought back every year for the summer. My brother and I had to spend two-two hours in the morning doing holiday homework. Half the Enid Blytons we read were in those hours, hidden between tall math registers, the cardboard covers of which would smell like cow dung.

In the afternoons, while the household slept, we would ‘explore’ the garden, run around in the lawn, and play with rusted gardening tools. We’d even go to the dank, unfriendly, mildewed basement, open up creaky trunks, dig out old clothes and permanently borrow yellowed Archie comics that belonged to older cousins. Sometimes we would play scrabble. When that got too slow, we would pick fights and silently try to kill each other. This could be the phase when we were constantly being told off by our mother: Stop playing to the gallery!

One afternoon, when fellow gallery player and I were short of amusement, but with, strangely enough, a new cassette player at our disposal, I hatched a plan to record the snores of our siesta-obsessed family. My brother thought we’d get caught. His pansy protest was overruled – I was a bossy child. And so, a pair of buck-toothed brats, equipped with a black humming device, proceeded to hover first over their grandparents’ bed, then tip-toed bare foot to their parents’ room, and recorded for a full few minutes, the breathing and the flapping, the throaty crescendo and relaxed lows of their family’s vibrating tonsils.

Oh, we were so tickled! Every time the snores would peak, we’d launch into mute hysterics. At tea time, we played samples of our ingenious bravado back to the well-rested adults and, woo hoo!, didn’t get whacked. End result being, today, somewhere, in our collective childhood trash, on a tape pretentiously titled 'English Numbers' or 'Assorted - 1', there is a Side A or a Side B that begins with a low-quality recording of indiscernible whistling sounds.

And then I get asked, ‘but what’re you going to do in Doon for a week’?

True. There’s nothing to do in Doon but live that Italian phrase in “Eat, Pray, Dud”, as my friend called it -- the sweetness of doing nothing: Dolce Far Niente. But I hadn’t been back to Doon in at least four years. Last time around, the whole family was here, my parents, my aunt -- Masi and her husband, my cousin, her husband, their kid – my niece. My brother wasn’t, but we’re supposed to be grown-ups now. No recording snores. Behave yourselves!

The highlight of that trip, beside much family togetherness, blah blah, was making shampoo from reetha (soap nut) and later, driving up to Mussorie, with my uncle to call on Ruskin Bond for coffee who is from the same school as him. I remember the red sweat shirt I had on, the power steering jeep I was allowed to drive, and how glossy my hair felt. I’m telling you, reetha rocks! So does Mussorie when it’s not littered with tourists. I tried making shampoo back in Delhi, and it wasn’t the same. It’s the power of the hills.


This trip was on my own. It was short. Five days. Similar to the one I made back in college, first year. Back then there was a ten day strike on in Univ, so I came away. My grandfather, along with my aunt, also visiting then, thrashed me at Scrabble every evening – “there’s no word as bra, it’s brassiere!” We didn’t play this time. My aunt wasn’t visiting. And when I brought up Scrabble with my grandfather, he said pata nahin kahan pada hai- don’t know where the board lying. So instead, we sat, ate fruit, and watched the news and hourly updates of the commonwealth games, volume turned up so that my grandmother could hear as well.

They’re both 89, she a few months older. My grandfather – Bawa, as I call him -- is now hunch backed and too slow to go for the long walks he used to so enjoy. So, 5 pm onwards, he wears his walking shoes and just sits. This breaks my grandmother’s heart. "Hai, Nunu, I feel so bad watching Gian..." She told me that. She calls me that. I’m so glad I went.


My grandmother – Nanu, as I call her -- being brought up Shimla-side, speaks a mixture of pahadi Hindi and old Punjabi. I hear names of places such as Kothad and Spatu in her stories of back when people rode tongas and her mother hadn’t yet died. Sometimes Nanu sings strange folksy tunes. I ask her if she makes them up. She looks at me like someone from a generation to whom sarcasm is as alien as MS word.

Na’an ke kar hoi aaun,

Mota tedha hoi aaun,

Aandare jo tu bhi khaiayan

This is phonetically reproduced, even though I could ask any of my Punjabi speaking homies to correct me. For all these years, I’ve heard her sing this ditty to her grand kids, I’ve thought I got the gist, but only this time did I bother to ask, “Nanu, what does this mean?”

Allow me to paraphrase.

So, once upon a time, a tiger accosted a kid in the forest and said, I'm going to eat you. Kid said hang on a moment, let me first go to my grandmother's house (na’an ke kar) and get fat (mota tedha), then on my way back, you can eat me. True to his word, kid came back, but in the time he’d been at his na'an ke kar, he grew so bloody big and fat that the tiger backed off.

Moral of the story: eat. When at granny’s, eat more. There’s no such thing as I can’t or I’m full or No, thank you or Stop it!. So, whenever I refused a second helping, she would hum the strains: na’an ke kar hoi aaun...

Little bit like those pink post-it notes, na’an ka kar has been stuck in my head for a week now.


Sugar said...

love it!!! this one...

Parul said...

I think you are headed for that novel sooner than you think.

Anonymous said...

"Hai, Nunu, I feel so bad watching Gian..." She told me that. She calls me that. I’m so glad I went.
So lyrical.

Anonymous said...


The Mystic said...

Doon is such a lovely place, my aunt stays there. I miss playing in her backyard, going for bun-tikkis and kulfi.

Childhood memories are so sweet and untouched... (gets nostalgic)

Nimpipi said...

Sugar: Thank you. Although I do want to say thank you, sugar:)

Parul: You make me blush. Therefore, to you too, thank you, sugar.

Anon 1: As a variation to thank you, sugar, one number smiley face.

Anon 2: Glad you approve. Can I get a red star also?:)

Mystic: Bun tikki? Not samosa and elaichi chai? Oh well, bring it all on I say, the more the merrier! =)

kshitij said...

Na'n ke kar.....*nostalgic*
Like the post, love the na'nka.

The Mystic said...

Well Nunu! Samosa was too spicy for me as a kid, I ate the shell though!

Pringle Man said...

I remember that post you wrote about going to Doon. An old old one, like the Navy Ball one.

You have truly outdone yourself with this Nimpipi.

It's lucky though, to have one stationary place, have them grow old together, in a home they love. That is peace. The best kind of life I would reckon.

Sometimes I feel so alien, how different am I that I talk of hard drives and american musicians, but they love you completely and totally anyway. And somehow they seem to have a much firmer grip on your emotional well being than yourself. They can tell the phases, as though they are zoomed out on a lens angle we can't even see.

Also, if you do write your book, please don't include Dehradun in the blurb. Clearly it's a genuine influence for you, but it's just TOO much of a cliche. Okay? Okay.

Soulmate said...

Aah.. Dehra Dun.. Just the mention of it, and I feel running back to my hometown.. :-) the long drives on Rajpur Road, walking endlessly through Cantt, the winter sun, winter rains, the mountains.. I want to go back to Doon..