On a return visit, memories are stirred of an idyllic childhood in India
Tucked away between the two relatively small Indian cities of Amritsar and Batala is a peaceful little village called Pakharpura. That’s where I grew up. In a humble little home erected with bricks and mud. And a lot of sweat and hard work. Each time I go to India, I try and get to my village. I visit my home there, greet the people who were part of my growing up and are always so proud and excited to see me.
Earlier this year I visited Pakharpura after a few years away. A 30 minute drive from Amritsar and I was standing outside the street leading to my ancestral home. I got out of the car and walked along the dusty little village lane. It seemed quite narrow. And tired. Nothing like the vibrant, busy lane it was during my youth. Back then, that street was always abuzz with life. All day, every day. Each step that I took through that street brought back memories. Abundant memories of a childhood spent playing in that street. In that village.
Half way down the street, on the left, stood the crumbling frame of a weary, old house. The house where I grew up. The house where I took my first steps. Where I spent the first 13 years of my life. For a moment I paused and looked at my house from a distance. And it seemed as if the house was squinting back at me as well. As if trying to spot the kid in me that once used to play in its yard. I moved closer as if to say, “Yes, it is me. I have come back. To see you”.
In a street full of homes inhabited and decorated by the people living in them, this house of mine looked deserted and desolate. The brick walls, now half deprived of the mud that once held them together, had started to sag away. Weeds sprouted out from little cracks.
I inched closer to the tall, wooden front door. It suddenly did not appear that ‘tall’ to my grown up self. I pushed at it gently. It welcomed me in with a tired, elderly squeak, as it opened.
As I stood in the front yard, I looked around at the entire house. It was silent, and barren. An empty old house with worn down rooms and crumbling walls. But somehow, as I glanced across, I could feel life flash back at me in every inch of that house. Right in the centre of the yard used to be the kitchen. Made of sun-dried clay. It had perished now but I could still see my granny trying to start the fire in that open kitchen, to cook supper.
I went inside and explored some of the rooms. In between the cob webs and dust being kicked around by the piercing sun rays, I could hear the laughter of two little kids running in and out. Me and my little sister.
I went around the whole place. Gently touching bits and pieces. And all those bits and pieces, I felt, talked back to me.
In a little while it was time for me to leave. So I stepped out to the front door once again. This time I sat down for a moment and glanced across to the far corner of the street. Just like I used to do every evening as a kid, to watch my dad come home after a day’s work in the city.
Before I left, I looked back at my house one last time. And I gently whispered to it that I still felt connected to it. That I loved coming back to it. That it may be lean and frail now, but it still sounds, and smells, like my childhood.