Pearls of Wisdom: Pilgrimage to India-Part-1: Lauta do Bachchpan ka Saawan

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By Upendra Mishra

NEW DELHI—My recent trip to India was inspired by Jagjit Singh’s ghazal: Ye daulat bhi le lo, Ye shohrat bhi le lo, Bhale cheen lo muJhse meri Jawaani, Magar muJhko lauta do bachchpan ka saawan, wo kaagaz ki kasthi wo baarish ka paani.” We know nothing will bring back any of those things. So much water has flown under the bridge, and most importantly who has seen time coming back ever. None.

Upendra Mishra

I grew up with Jagjit Singh ghazals, and this particularly was my second most favorite after Baat Nikalegi toh Duur Talak Jayaegi.

I thought those childhood places were still there, those people were even there and I am still young enough to travel without any difficulty. I told my family—both in Boston and in India– that I want to make a solo trip to India—at my terms. No interference from anyone. I want to do what I want to do. I want to visit places that I want to.

Here is another thought that came to my mind as I was planning my trip: I thought my life as a 60-year-long movie still under production. I am the writer, actor, director and producer of this movie. When it is complete—if am lucky when I am 90 or 100—I want to enjoy this movie. I still have time to rewrite the script, change my role, character, dialogues and edit the movie to my complete satisfaction. So, when I watch it for the last time at when I am 90 or 100, I really want to enjoy my movie without any regret.

Since leaving India in 1984, I have visited India many times, met some old friends and even paid visit to easily reachable places where I grew up and studied. But there were some places I had never visited and often wondered how would those places would look now. What happened to those friends? Where will they be? I can still recall their names, faces and our close bond and friendships.

One school in Sitapur was always in my mind, especially its water tank where we woud often go to drink water and chat with friends. Luckily, the structure was still there after all these years. It was not working, but it gave me tremendous joy to see this structure. It was Sunday and the school was closed, but I was able to walk through the campus, those buildings and corridors–and oh those memories came in roaring back as if time had revered and I was a 13-year-old boy. Faces of our teaches, classrooms, our benches and desks and friends of those days flashed, and the Heaven came on earth.

My next stop was a street I used to visit everyday that led to shabzi mandi. In fact, a few years ago, I had seen this street in my dream. It was so surreal to be on that street after the dream and after childhood, decades later. Next stop was a tea shop where the father of one of my classmates used to sell tea. The shop was there but closed for the day. The neighboring shopkeeper connected me to my friend, and we both remembered everything so vividly.

I also wanted to visit the house where I used to live with my uncle and aunt. All my classmates knew them as my real father and mother. I was too embarrassed to tell them that I had no parents those days. Initially, I lived with my uncle. My aunt used to live in my village, but still I pretended that I lived with my mother. I would often visit my friends’ homes, read there, play and eat—always wished I had a mother too like those kids. I never invited my friends to my home because I felt embarrassed that I had no mother.

One day all my friends ganged up and said that they want to visit my home. In a way, I was preparing for that day—that it will happen some day. Finally, I said okay and invited them all to my home—knowing fully well that my uncle will be in his office and a lock will be hanging outside the door. I had already written the script in my mind that what I was going to tell them when they come.

Well, they all were excited one day that they finally were coming to my home for the first time and that they would meet my mother. I was also very excited because I had already prepared my script. As we reached my home, I knew there will be a big lock outside. I told my friends: “sorry, my mummy must have gone to the market, but we should wait for her to return.” They waited for 10 minutes, 20 minutes 30 minutes and I don’t know for how long. I, however, knew that my imaginary mother would never show up but I also pretended to wait for. Finally, they all left, disappointed. I was also disappointed at myself. I still wonder why I always pretended that I lived with my mother.

During my high school, my grandfather suggested that my aunt should come to Sitapur so that I could focus on my high school studies and prepare for the board exam. When my aunt came, it was a big relief for me as my uncle and I did not have to cook food, wash coal-tarnished pots and dishes. I was also excited to invite my friend to meet my mother. After that, my home became just like the home of my other friends.

Moreover, one of my friends lived only few blocks away from my home, and I decided to visit him. I had to visit my friend’s home where I had spent so much time reading and playing. Luckily, he was there. However, he did not recognize me. But as soon as I mentioned my name, he jumped and gave me a hug and we felt we were back in 8th grade. I still remembered his phone number of those days (422), and he went over the names of all our friends and how they all use to wonder where is Upendra. He remembered playing with our friends in my home and my mother as well. She was a mother like everyone’s. I left it there. I still pretended she was my mother.

(Mr. Mishra is managing partner of the Waltham, MA-based integrated inbound marketing and PR firm The Mishra Group. He writes about his three passions: marketing, scriptures and gardening.)

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