By Nishi Pulugurtha
Ma, Baba and me walked into a big building. It was grey in colour. There were small plants outside. Little flowers on them – red, yellow, violet. They looked so nice. The flowers were smiling and dancing. I felt cold. Ma put on a blue sweater on me. It had two little red birds on it. Ma had made this sweater. She would sit in the afternoon and knit. I liked to see her sitting in the corner, near the window, balls of coloured wool near her. I liked to take the balls of wool in my hand and play with them. Ma said, “Don’t do it. The wool will get spoilt.” I used to sit beside her and play. Mini liked to play with it. She made noises whenever she pulled them. Ma used to get angry with Mini. Mini was white and black. Ma gave her milk everyday in the morning. Ma gave me milk too, in a big glass. I did not like to drink milk but ma scolded me so I had to drink it up.
Baba went off in the morning. He came back when light was less. I waited for him to come back. He played with me. I liked to talk to him. Baba also told me stories. One day he told me that someone new would be coming to our house. I was very happy – “Who is it, Baba? I asked”. Baba smiled and told me to wait. He did not tell me who. I went to Ma and asked her slowly. She did not answer. Ma was cooking. I stood for sometime. She did not say anything. I did not want to ask her again. Ma would get angry. I did not like it when Ma got angry. Her face became different. I liked it when she sang songs. She would make me write, A, B, C. I did not like to write. I liked to play, to sing and dance. Ma would say that I had to be quiet. I had to learn a lot of things. I did not like it when Ma said all of this.
After some days, Ma was crying. Her stomach was paining, Mani told me. Baba and Mama took Ma somewhere. Mani was at home. She made me happy. She told me stories of the blue god and showed me pictures, I loved eating butter too. Ma came back. She was carrying a small bundle. I saw two small legs from the bundle. The bundle began to cry. Everyone was happy. I went close to the bed. Ma was sitting on it with the bundle. I saw a small thing, it looked like my doll. Baba said that was my brother and that he would call me Didi. Ma called him Khokon. He looked so small. Will he play with me? But he was always crying or sleeping. He did nothing else. Ma did not get time to teach me. I was playing with my toys. I had a doll, I played with her. Mini used to sit beside me when I played.
That day inside the grey building, I saw another Mini. It was not our Mini. Baba and Ma took me inside the building. There were many rooms in that building. A lady was there in a room. She had chalk in her hands and was writing on a big black board. Many many girls were sitting in front and listening to her, they were also writing something. We walked along the long space and sat down in front of a room. The door opened and a man asked us to go in. We went in. I was asked the colour of the sky, what I liked to eat. I began to say “Twinkle Twinkle, little star,” I liked to sing it and I moved my hands. The lady smiled. She asked me my name and gave me a toffee. I was happy. Ma and Baba spoke to her. Then we climbed up a big bus and went home. Mani was with Khokon. I sang and Khokon smiled.
Baba was quiet. He did not say much. Ma was busy, she was putting my clothes in a box. In the morning Baba took me with the box to that big grey building. There was another big building, it was grey too. A lady came and spoke to Baba. Baba said that this is where I would stay now. This is my hostel. When Baba went away, I started to cry. I wanted to go home. I wanted Ma, I wanted Baba, I wanted Khokon, I wanted Mini. The lady told me that they would come to see me. She said I will go home after some days. I had to be a good girl and stay. This grey building was now my home. The lady took me to a big room. There were so many beds in that room. She put my box there and took me to another room. There were girls in that room. This was my class. I had to sit with them and read. I wanted to cry. A little girl looked at me and smiled. “My name is Rita”, she said. She gave me her book. Rita became my best friend.
Day after day we had to read. We played, we sang, we danced. We went to a big room to eat, we slept in that room with so many beds. I wanted to go home. In the evenings, I wanted to talk to Baba. Ma and Baba came to see me. Khokon came with them too. Khokon was not that small. He called me Didi. I had many friends in school now. They made me happy. We shared secrets, we shared treats which our parents got us. The mashis in the hostel were nice. They scolded us at times. We had to listen to them. I liked my friends – Rita, Ananya, Suhasi, Binita, Radhika, Priyanjali.
Fifty four years passed before my eyes in a whirl of a moment. Life at boarding had been fun. Yes, we missed home. This was home to all of us. We spent more time with each other, sharing our joys and sorrows. The building looks different now, it is done in brighter colours, the hostel building looks different too. The décor has changed, the furniture is different, the gardens are still well maintained. As I walk along the corridors, looking into the classrooms, so much of the past comes back to me. Binita has bid us goodbye a few years back. Radhika is in the US, Rita and Priyanjali could not make it to the reunion. Ananya and Suhasi are here. We had been in touch all these years. We were a family, we have always been there to support each other – in happiness and in pain. Today, at the reunion, I meet many others who had moved away, about whom I had no clue. I met Raka and her sister who was a class junior to us. Raka was a mischievous girl and always had antics up her sleeves. There was Reema, she looked so different now. Yes, time had taken its toll on each of us. I went home after my school board examinations and moved to college in another city, another hostel. Ma and Baba have moved on to another world. They did see me and my brother doing well in life. Khokhon has greyed too, and is expecting a grandchild any day now.
On the day of the school reunion, we school mates looked different, we were different, but that day when we met and spoke, we became school girls all over again – those giggles, that laughter, those stories, it was as if that time in between had not wrought much change. Life moves on, amidst all the change. Certain things do remain unchanged. I am glad they do.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor, Department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College, Kolkata. She is an academic with varied interests and writes on travel, too. Twitter: @nishipulu
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