Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My first steps in India

I was four years old then. Baba had got his transfer orders, & we were to shift from Nepal to India. My first steps out of my birthplace & into our country. (Incidentally, by birth, I can claim citizenship of Nepal). It was’nt so crowded those days, & neither the security measures so tight. It was a delegation of six families returning to India. I remember, we were five kids in all. The flight from Kathmandu to Patna was exhilarating for us, to say the least; unbound with wonder & joy. While the elders kept serious (as usual), & of course were busy overseeing that everything was in order, we kids were running around & yelling at every instance, squealing at every new thing that we saw, jaws dropping at the sight of the aeroplane…..it was complete chaos. On board the aircraft & airborne, we would rush into the cockpit & gape at the sky ahead, the foamy clouds forming a bed below….soft & white….in various shapes & sizes. All our childhood imagination of various images came to life in the white canvas. A very patient pilot was trying his best to explain to us all the functions at his controls, while the elderly airhostess, had a hard time coping with our enthusiasm……it must’ve been her first tryst with real brats.

Once we landed at Patna, it suddenly felt so alien. Gone were all the towering mountains, the snow, the small winding mountain roads, the yaks, the Nepalese, the chill of the Himalayas. Instead, it was grimy, sultry & dry heat. However, we kids were too occupied by what our eyes could lay sight on. Large buildings, so many people, a much larger airport, large trees……. We had finally landed on the soil of the mystical India, our own India. Baba & other men got busy with managing our luggage (it was a whole lot), the customs, the regulations etc, while Maa along with other ladies were managing us…the brats. Since the govt regulations were taking quite long, Baba being the head of the delegation, decided that he will stay back along with Maa & a couple of others, while the rest would take the airport transfer bus to the Govt guest house. I came to know later that, Baba had instructed an uncle to take care of me. Maa told him to be patient with me & make me have my lunch with the other kids. Maa also fondled me lovingly & told me to listen to the uncle & be good. Guess she was a little worried for me. It was a new place & I could not be trusted with my pranks & ideas. However, I was too excited with all that was happening around & did not notice, while getting into the bus that Maa was staying back. Someone told me that Maa was sitting behind & I need to behave & be quiet, else she will get down from the bus. So I sulked & sat quietly for a while. But the moment the bus started, we kids forgot everything about being quiet, & were squealing besides the driver, egging him to race. We started counting the number of cars & vans that we overtook. The roads were huge & different. Having come to India for the first time, we were totally at awe with whatever we saw, even for a small city like Patna.

When we got down at the guest house, everyone got busy with their belongings & their children. I was left alone & suddenly I felt vulnerable….suddenly I missed being with Maa. So I started asking for my Maa. Everyone was busy, & just told me to wait quietly. They could not bear my anxiety & one of the aunt, scolded me & told me to just shut up. She told me that because I have been so naughty, a goblin had thrown Maa off the bus , & now she will be able to come only if I behave & kept quiet. She thought this will make me shut up & sit quietly, but just the opposite happened. I bottled up for a brief while. I was scared for my Maa. How is she ?? Where is She?? Is she hurt?? She does’nt speak Hindi well at all. How will she ask for directions ???..... I had questions hitting me like arrows. Suddenly, turning around, I started walking back towards the main road. I had to bring my Maa back. Nobody realized that I slipped away.
In my mind, I was thinking. I felt I knew the road. It has to be one straight road (what else??...that’s how it was in Nepal). So I walked straight, and I walked & walked & walked till I could walk no longer. I was feeling hungry & thirsty & lost. Vehicles kept going by, people looking at me curiously, the heat getting to me….I felt quite dizzy. On top of everything, there was no sign of Maa. Where is she….how is she?? I started asking all passerby about her. I started telling them that we had just come this morning from Nepal, & Maa has been thrown off the bus by a goblin. Tears welled in my eyes…… I was worried, Maa was lost. Imagine my audacity, I did not know where I was, & here I was wondering that Maa was lost somewhere. I felt totally helpless. I could not check my emotions. Why did I play with my friends,…… I should have taken care of Maa. I was so angry with myself.
I stopped at a junction, not knowing where to go now, & started crying. Guess, I must’ve created quite a scene. I suddenly realized being surrounded by a crowd, not knowing what to do with me. From nowhere, a young boy(probably in his teens) emerged from the crowd & held my hand. He was very soft with me. Gasping between my breaths & managing my tears, I narrated the whole story. I told them all to help me find my Maa. Not once did I realize that it was me who was lost (ignorance is indeed bliss). That boy took me to a traffic policeman & they spoke something between themselves. Later, he put me up on a cycle rickshaw & took me to the Police Station. On the way, he kept me busy with stories. I vaguely remember it now. At the Police Station, I was given to eat some pakoras & sweets. I also had lassi. Food put me in good spirits. The police men probably found a playmate in me & were busy keeping me happy & occupied. They showed me a rifle & a pistol and I got busy playing ‘Chor – Police’… I don’t know how time went by. The elderly Policeman (must’ve been the Station in charge), told me lovingly that I should not worry, & Maa & Baba would be coming in soon. Suddenly, I saw Baba running in towards me, tears all over his face. I did not know what to say. All I could muster up was, “ why are you crying. See I am fine. Where is Maa??..... have you found her??? Is she ok???...has she eaten??” I was still not aware of the huge chaos I had created. Baba could only smile & wrap me up in his arms so very lovingly.

Meanwhile, at the other end, those people realized that I was missing, & the panicked. Baba was known for his short fuse & they were scared. I was nowhere to be found. Guess they somehow mustered up courage to contact him & tell him. Baba was simply livid. He screamed & was almost out of control with anger. They broke into a few groups & spread across the city looking for me. Those days, communication system was as primitive as one can imagine, & one had to depend on relaying messages through people. They went to various public places, various hospitals, various police stations. I was nowhere to be found. Imagine their plight !!! around late afternoon, a passerby told Baba that he had seen a man taking a small boy in a rickshaw. I matched the description of the boy he had seen. Those days child lifting was rampant, & Baba felt numb with fear. He believed that I had been taken away by a child lifter. He had lost his son. It was towards late evening that they got the message of a boy been found at a Police Station, near the Railway Station. They rushed to the spot, praying all through the way. And there I was sitting & playing Chor Police, giggling & running around. Later Maa, with tears in her eyes, just hugged me, and would not leave me for a second. As if she had got back her life. It was a scene full of drama….complete blockbuster of a movie. Both of us hugging & asking each other, “Where did you get lost??? Did you get hurt ???

To this day, I don’t know who the young man was who brought me to the Police Station safely & left me there. Baba tried his best to trace the person, but no one could find him. People described him as a young boy in his teens, who spoke very less, who was very soft in words & was always smiling. He had left giving me a hug & a kiss on my forehead, & had told the police men to feed me & keep me busy with stories. (Any guesses???) I believe it was GOD (Guruji on Duty), who did His bit to protect me.
Probably it was Providence saying that I would always be footloose & full of adventure!!!!.