It is a bit hard to tell. Let may say it! My sunken eyes, withering cheeks, and the deepening wrinkles on my once moonlike forehead are a grim reminder of -----. As Yeats says:
“No boughs have withered because of the wintry wind;
The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams.”
It was the other day. Yes! the other day, pacing through desolate streets, debris around greeting eyes, heritage houses crumbled and crumbling in once upon a time busy, bustling and boisterous part of the city, I was reminded that like cut flowers in a vase losing their fragrance and wilting my memories that I believe are my treasure are also imperiled.
Walking through this part of the city during my childhood to my Masi’s (aunt’s) house in Gow Kadal amidst clip clopping of horses pulling the chariots and strident catcalls and whistles of the chariot drivers and the bevies of damsels giggling at their lingo like fairies in dreams was like pacing through big museums. Every shop on the two and half-kilometer tract had its own attraction for me- the old Pandit making woolen socks on his tiny machine made me suddenly stop and ‘stand at ease’ as if commanded by our school drill master Naranajan Nath - who incidentally lived in same Mohalla. I loved watching socks maker working on his antique circular socks machine- I was excited to see him feeding the machine from the top and bit by bit a socks coming from down below. I remember there were a couple of these socks making shops on the street - but the yellow turbaned Pandit working on the machine looked like a mythical character to me. I remember stopping at a shop near the second bridge and watching the huge metal plates roaring and enthusiastically hugging each other inside a printing press. The press operator quickly and dexterously putting a sheet of paper between the two plates and removing the same with speed and precision of a hawk was thrilling. Excited at the press operator’s speed and accuracy, I often dreamt of working on the machine for some time.
On this our own Oxford Street, for my friends and me the second-hand bookshop owned by stub nosed twin brothers was an important destination. For boys the shop was a great treasure of old, extant and out of print books-, you needed patience to look for a good valuable book in the shop. More than that of looking for some old good second hand book or a mathematics guide in the shop, we enjoyed playing pranks with the booksellers- sometimes out of annoyance; the elder one of the two chased us away from his shop by boo-booing or sprinkling water.
This part of city that once woke up to life with the lilting tones of ringing of bells of bicycles of the office goers today looks like an old widow with tears having dried up from her withered face. Strolling through these streets was like writing an elegy- with every shop living in my memory coming to life. The trinket and cosmetics kiosks and wool shops filled with laughter of girls. The photo-studios the Radix, the College Studio and the Wattan Studio- with those antique cameras on tripods draped like beauties in black tunics in front of the shops and people sitting on stools being photographed often attracted me. On way to ‘Masi’s House’, I often stopped at photo frame maker and photo and poster sellers shop in front of an ancient temple on the river bank with a small wicket gate opening towards the road. Every bit of space inside the dark and dingy shop was covered with pictures of pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses in big and small frames and posters alongside pictures of various deities the walls were also decorated with pictures Indian leaders- Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Subash Chander Bose and many other heroes of Indian Freedom struggle. On the wooden shutters of the shop hanged massive pictures of matinee idols. Moreover, what amazed me, the vendor sold no pictures of leaders like Sheikh Abdullah, Molvi Yusuf Shah, Chaudary Gulam Abbass and Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad who had fought heroic battle against autocracy.
Little did I then understand that the photo frame maker’s shop on this streets and those in my birth burg were subtle manifestations of two different political narratives- the frame makers in our part sold a different set of pictures.