Some of our days do smell like childhood. Every movement that we make, every thought that we think and every sound that we hear reflects the nostalgia of the day that we have already lived decades ago. As if our mind and body are wandering separately in two different days of two different years of our lives. This is exactly how I felt when I woke up this morning.
Chotu handed over the freshly brewed cup of black tea as soon as I went outside my bedroom. Seventeen years ago, when Chotu first came to us to be our house help, I was told his name was Govind. But looking at his stature at that time and how convenient it was for me, I soon started calling him Chotu.
I took my tea and went to the study room. That is where I have always taken my morning tea. I enjoy the fresh air more than the television during the first few hours after I wake up in the morning. I have my study room combined with the living room. Metaphorically speaking, I am more alive in my study than anywhere else. Hence it completely made sense to call my study as a living room too. My east-facing study faced the lawn and the brown entrance gate of our house. I mostly kept the study door locked and prohibited its usage for usual going in and out of the house. Anybody, who visited us, had to take the second door which led to the thin passage adjacent to the left of the study.
I have my writing table right by the big wooden window which was painted sky blue. Of all the other great things in my life which they have blessed me with, I especially thank my parents for this window. This window is my special free pass to get into the most artistic landscapes of my imagination. There is a semi-circular multicolored stained glass window on top of the wooden window which made the study look colorful with the lights reflected during the early morning hours.
Sitting at my table I could see all the trees planted in our lawn. Starting spring until the end of the summer, our lawn smelled of Jasmine flowers and Guavas. Flowers on the Gulmohar tree (Delonix Regia) added a different vibe and pleasure in looking outside the window. Together they raise a toast to my senses, particularly to the eyes. What we have seen through our eyes works dominantly with the memories that we create of our yesteryears or of every passing minute. Like I can still remember the fireworks during Diwali from my childhood and how much the sight of it used to fill me with joys or the summer evenings which I used to spend in our lawn looking at the stars. Every evening, Chotu would pluck some jasmine flowers and put them in a ceramic bowl of water on my writing table. One can only think of pleasant thoughts when surrounded by the natural aromatic fragrances.
Ours is a two-storeyed house in Vasant Vihar, Delhi which was constructed at least 37 years ago by my parents. When my father was still working with the Indian Railways, he was confused about choosing between Delhi and Kolkata to build himself a home and get settled. My mother used to write articles and short stories for local magazines, and it was easy to access multiple big, medium, and small publication houses in Delhi for her work to get published. They had lived in a rented house in Vasant Vihar for a couple of years after their marriage and they honestly believed that they felt at home in this locality.
Today as I sit by the window sipping from my cup of tea, I can vividly feel all the summers of August I have spent in this house. Being the only child of my parents, I had always discovered my ways of keeping myself busy and entertained. During the daytime when my father was at duty and my mother was busy writing in the study where I am sitting right now, I would sneak outside and start playing with Chotu’s bicycle. My father had bought this bicycle for him to take care of the outside chores. His bicycle was slightly bigger for my age. I used to drag myself on it, nevertheless. As a teenager I was curious to see if the leaves of the trees or plants felt anything when we touched them and I used to spend long afternoon hours observing the plants, hanging guavas and collecting the fallen jasmine flowers and leaves and stuffing them in the pockets of my dress. Later, I used to decorate the study table with those flowers and leaves.
Summer has the longest days and even though the father used to come back home from the duty by 5pm, it never felt early. Once my father was back, we all used to sit on a big jute mat on the lawn and Chotu used to join us after he had served the evening tea and snacks. Father would tell us about his day at work and the mother would talk about the signs of progress on her articles and stories. I used to listen sincerely whenever my mother talked about the stories she was working on. I think I get my reading and writing habits from mother as even when I played alone in the lawn during the afternoon hours of my childhood, I used to observe my mother sitting by the same wooden window of our study and working on her stories.
After listening to my parents talking about their day, I used to engage myself in playing and chatting with Chotu. I would insist if he could tell me some stories from his village or what he used to do in the afternoon when he was a little kid. He would tell me how he would sneak outside of his house without letting his parents know and go swimming with his friends in the small pond which they had in the village. When they had swum in the pond for a while, they used to catch fishes using the bamboo stick with a hook attached to one of its ends. His stories were fascinating as I never had done any of those and I would listen sincerely as long as he would go on. After he ran out of the stories, he would lift me up and help me pluck guavas from the tree.
Today felt like one of those summer mornings of August in Delhi when our house did smell of guavas and Jasmine flowers. It did smell of the incense sticks that father would light before he would have breakfast and leave for the duty. It did smell of all the spilled inks and crushed papers around the mother’s study table. It smelled like raw memories.
I firmly believe that our past gives us the most precious gift of memories only when we live completely in our present. Imagine if, twenty years ago, I didn’t notice closely how the trees of our lawn looked like in this month or how my mother would work inexhaustively for long hours on her stories or what ingredients Chotu used to put in my favorite snacks or what my father would talk about during the evening teatime – then my senses would not have collaborated well with my brain to create the most cherished and honest memories for life.