Sunday, January 31, 2016

What does an Army kid dream about ?

With the present occupants of our home

Most children of the Army spends their childhood in a blur, like a picture of a passing vehicle taken a moment too late with never ending tail lights of  shifting schools, friends, and fauji kid duties like surviving tambola at the local institute on Saturday evenings.  How to identify an Army brat? Just throw the question of what is your hometown kid? The sigh will be response enough.

I am not one for reflecting too much on the past, but as part of my research for my next book that tries to explore how memories are shaped and reshaped, I often slip in the question of one's past to my friends. The one's who have lived in only two to three places as kids are very specific in their response. They speak of the school they went to. The memories of their neighborhood. The afternoons with friends, most of whom they still remain in touch with after living lives that follow similar arcs since they explode out of the same source.

Talk to Army kids, or folks who moved a lot when they were younger and you know they don't get into specifics but often talk in sweeping terms about things like playing in the evening, the local squash and badminton court, the made up games with the other children of the unit and yes - the universal tambola evenings no matter which part of the country they were in. 

From class one to twelfth - I lived in about a dozen houses, give or take one or two. And the memories, always disguised as dreams are more about life changing events instead of places or homes. Perhaps, one can't remember anything since there is so much to remember. But there is one place, one home that keeps coming back in my dreams for it stood for everything that was right in my childhood. Open spaces, a close knit family, dogs, and a lot of time spent outdoors.

Belgaum. T 4 RA Lines. A place, which I remember for the specifics.

And so every time I dream of Belgaum, I wake up to a pillow that is wet from a rogue tear. And I sigh. A place where one did not have to think of the future or the past. An address where I was old enough to have an opinion, yet my father and mother shielded me and my sister with all that is wrong with the grown up world - the office politics and the financial worries. Possibly the last place where I was truly me.

Belgaum was the best house home I lived in. Period.

Recently, the missus and I had taken a road trip to Goa and we crossed our home on the way. As I let the engine run idle, our car parked outside the fence of what was my home then, and is someone else's now - I couldn't help but have a massive godzilla like lump in my throat. And when I felt brave enough to go inside the compound, and walk towards the door that had welcomed me so many times back from the school- I felt heavy like it was not only me that my legs were carrying but the burden of so many dreams of times already lived combined with the longing for the experience again.

It had been 16 years since I last entered the place. 

The family who were staying there were kind enough to invite us inside and show the rooms. 

And I saw my dad on the bed in the master bedroom. Baba was watching wrestling when it was called WWF. Mom was in the kitchen. I couldn't see her but I heard the vegetable crash into the boiling oil. My sister was in our room. And we looked at each other and my eyes told her that things will be ok after she had gotten into some sort of trouble with Dad over a late night party. I peeped into a small room where I had seen our beautiful dog Crush die at 5 that morning that still haunts me, his head in my father's lap as he took one last sip of water from the bowl in the hands of a man he loved so much, and then going outside in the veranda where I saw Steffi - out other dog look at me and wag her tail. I looked across the fence to our school grounds and I saw myself learning to cycle and Dad trying his first shots of Golf. 

The final resting place of Crush

I spoke with the present occupants of the home, and the officer was holding the same post that my Dad held back then. Their son was in the US like my sister now. He likes to write like I would in Belgaum. They were fixing the garden and bringing it back to life just like my mom and dad did so many years ago. They had a dog buried not too far away. And I realized that those times, my entire childhood actually - like the childhood of every single Army brat is so similar in spite of the different variables of places, and times involved. I guess, like other kids, we too follow similar arcs. 

And as the lump inside my throat grew and my heart could not take it any further, I excused myself and walked to the car so I could look at the house from the outside and coax my mind to how it used to be all those years ago. And the rogue tear from the nights in some other places appeared, and slipped off unnoticed to the red soil outside the fence like it marked my presence there for all of time to come. 

Rustom and the Last Storyteller of Almora by Gaurav Parab [Hachette] was listed by the Times of India and Business Standard as one of 5 weekend reads , The Hindu calls it a Genre bender, The Statesman ‘An Almost Perfect Debut, The Lucknow tribune calls it a debut to remember, The Pioneer calls it Cinematic, The Vistara Air inflight magazine a Good Book on the Shelf, the Sakaal times says its ‘sheer brilliance in storytelling’ while the Bangalore Mirror calls it an unforgettable story. It is available in leading bookstores and online here


ADK said...

It was nice to have you over Gaurav. I have started reading your book. It's quite captivating.
Next time do stop by for a longer time at the house. Am sure my mother can treat you with some good home made food. :)

Aditi C said...

As a fellow Army brat ( erstwhile Kid) and someone who inhabited Belgaum, I totally get you. I only dream of our house at Maharaja Land Officers quarters Kota where I grew from a pre-teen to adolescence. You captured it spot on!
I am also a fellow infoscian who does follow your blog, but doesn't comment as I access it on my cell while at work. Today your post compelled me to log on in the browser and comment. :) Cheers!