It’s been a moment since he first laid eyes on, 31 College Drive. Back in time College Drive had all of 31 brick houses with humble lawns and the occasional poodle. A few hundred meters from TK road, College Drive was an army settlement. This was not by design. Retired generals of the past had decided that the battlefield was not the only place for the company of honorable men. Their companionship extended to conversations from across sparsely fenced lawns. Sunday brunches and late evening drinks were all things the inhabitants of College Drive enjoyed.
But College Drive grew from strength to strength, from a small community of retired generals to an entire colony of generations of men and women who had, are and soon going to serve the tri-colored flag. 31 brick houses are now 134 strong and counting. But 31 College Drive hadn’t seen its master, the rightful heir to a humble thrown, for years.
He remembered it, each part. The potted roses his mother had planted when they had moved in were etched in his memory. It was the 2nd day they were there. He remembered breaking at least two of them during afternoon cricket. He had managed to evade the blame for one but the other had him caught red handed. The house was always painted in white, just as his father had desired. Old fashioned in his approach to life, the now deceased general was very important to him. He was the reason he wore the uniform.
His mother had done up the interiors. Simple yet elegant, was the way she operated. A large dining table, enough to seat a family of 4 and a few guests; a kitchen that was made to look twice its size with a comforting ever present aroma and all the rooms with wooden furniture and a single painting; the living room meant for pleasures like television and late evening drinks; this house was complete.
At 21, he had inherited 31 College Drive’s brick house. He had lost his father at 16, his brother at 18 and then his mother. But he was already a made man. He had his country as the old man said. The country is enough purpose a soldier needs. He missed his family but father time and the perils of war were not alien to him. He had learnt to mourn fallen soldiers with pride and those deceased due to time and illness with rationale. And now he had a new family. A beautiful wife, he still had a hard time believing was truly his woman. Despite a flurry of pursuers, she had chosen her man with uniform. They had kept the house much like the old general would have wanted and she had managed to retain the aroma his mother had left in the kitchen.
He often sat on his father’s couch in the living room and asked his wife to sit in between his legs. A kiss on the back of the neck would follow as she rested her head below his chin. A night of television and wine would be next. No children yet, they were still young.
She was the reason he had made it through the gruelling war and what had followed. Officer Prayag, hadn’t seen the brick house on 31 College Drive for 5 years. He was first a part of battle, then its victim. His commander and 14 of his men were all killed or presumed dead. In reality, only 12 men had the honor of dying for the flag. The remaining three had to satiate their appetite with belts that bruised their skin, urine that watered their dried eyes and words that were meant to puncture their souls. 2 had succumbed to what was meant to be torture. But one survived.
First, he scoffed at his enemies, then screamed and shouted, he even let out a tear or two and then had went numb. He felt the will of the men drop with each less scream and soon they stopped. They were as numb to the torture as he was. Some had also managed to utter a kind word or two.
But Alas! After years, and not lack of trying a friendship between captives and captors wasn’t meant to be. Discovered during a raid and then rescued, Prayag then 27 and now 32 inching ever closer to 33.
He was seated on the back seat of a Safari car. He was out of the system, a forgotten martyr. The numbers he remembered no longer answered his calls. But he remembered 31 College Drive. He remembered it’s white paint, the aroma of its kitchen and the long table on which he had dined for 23 long years. The vehicle drove through the Drive and Prayag tried to match what he remembered with what he saw.
Most of the houses seemed similar yet different. But the house on 31 College Drive was just the same. The white paint and the pots of roses, as he had last seen them. He had a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine. He was in uniform. The car door was opened for the wounded warrior. One hand supported by a cask and the other supported the bouquet and bottle of red bubbling liquid.
The army man gingerly made his way through a cemented path to a porch. He refused the support of his care taker as he climbed up the steps.
He knocked. It was a force of habit. And then patiently waited. This was what he had waited for. This sight, he had lived a thousand times before he was actually about to experience it. He heard footsteps. He had heard them before. She wore slippers at home. But wouldn’t step out in them. Simply meant for home as she would say.
Then the door opened. And she just stood there in all her glory. Her eyes not hidden by the glasses she wore. They always spoke to him. They always told him what he never heard. Her lips were tightly cussed against each other. They spoke and yet they didn’t. Her hair barely making it to her shoulders was wavering against the freshly exposed breeze. She looked at him and time froze or so he wished. Her visual with the backdrop of what his family home, was a moment where he wished, time would stop but not in its entirety. He still wanted to hear the breeze. He still wanted to feel warm on a cool summer day. 
He stepped in and placed the bottle of wine and bouquet of flowers on her feet. They could wait. He reached for the back of her neck with his one good hand and her lips with his. They embraced. He felt her tears slide in between their cheeks and then she pulled away, slumped down onto the ground knocking over the bottle of wine.
‘Honey, who’s that?’, called out a voice. The wine still flowing down the stairs; the sky bearing the effects of dusk. 

Picture by Scott Web (Unplash)

Through Change

The sky was a shade of orange. This could be the doing of either dawn or dusk. Irrespective, it wasn’t going to last for too long. But, it was dawn. The start of something old. Like the day before, it welcomed dew on the freshly mowed grass, carried the same summer breeze and hosted the same hustle and bustle that filled every other morning of this town amongst hills.
With streets made of bricks and houses drenched in sun light, the town boasted of sights literally from the skies. They called it heaven amidst the clouds and it gave people good reason to create this folklore. Keshavpur was no longer the sheepish hill station it once was. The hills, the valleys and Samrat lake, retained their mystique but what was once, well not even a dot on the map was now a dot on the map. The chai (tea) stalls still served ‘kadak’(strong) chai but they now had the company of cafes and restaurants.
Though the beating heart of this town, was still ‘Keshavnagri Bazaar’. From fresh apples, to woollen clothes and fried curry puffs (samosas), the town square boasted an entire laundry list of amenities and necessities. Kids ran past the different stalls, with their mothers following suit. The town elders, spent an extra minute or two before precariously placing fruit into their basket. A deep breath and the same old bargain would follow.
It was also the morning destination for one, Bholaram Shinde. He was 64 years of age and looked every bit of it. The old man had grown old with Keshavpur. He was born in the hills and had promised to call it day, right there. He was a retired civil servant living on a pension that sadly hadn’t aged as graciously as the town.
He had lost his wife to cancer a few years ago and his only daughter was married to a civil servant, much like himself. She currently resided in Mirzapur, a good 900 kilometers and 2 one-day long train journeys away. Daily phone calls that lasted exactly 7 minutes, followed with old Hindi songs was a part of Bholaram’s routine. He listened to Kishore Kumar and was a staunch believer that Mohammad Rafi didn’t come close to the talent Kumar had. This led to many a debate next to Raghuvar Ram’s tea stall.
Bholaram was headed there. Bholaram’s routine included tea and biscuits at the tea stall and every Monday the purchase of ‘Dainik Samachar’, a weekly newspaper cum magazine that hosted the events of the week and ghazals (poems) and short stories.
Bholaram’s father the late Prasad Sahab was a fruit seller in the bazaar. He lived for all of 55 years and worked hard for at least 50 of it. He had toiled to raise a family of 6 children, two parents and a dotting wife. Bholaram being somewhere in the middle of this line up of 6 Shinde children hadn’t spent much time with his old man. But, every Monday, without fail, Prasad Sahab would return home with a copy of ‘Dainik Samachar’ and read to his children the stories of ‘Vikram and Betal’ or ghazals from ‘Sriman Naik’ the poet of the hills.

‘Dainik Samachar’ had persisted through the generations. Kavya Shinde first heard the same stories and ghazals from her grandfather and then her father. Memories of growing up and patiently waiting for every Monday evening when Shinde Sahab would sit the children down and finally spend time with them, undisturbed yet unsatiated, was refreshed each time he went through the periodical. Flipping through its pages would bring back images of 4-year-old Kavya screaming ‘Baba again! Again’.  Bholaram lived years of happy memories every Monday morning.
Morning tea followed by banter on national politics, ensured the perpetuity of Monday mornings as Bholaram had come to expect. At exactly, 7:15 am he bid farewell to his companions of dawn and headed for the newspaper stand. He always tipped, 15-year-old Sangram exactly 2 rupees. He was the child of the late owner of the Bazaar’s only surviving newspaper stand. This happened to be the change left over after paying 20 rupees for the periodical worth 18. It once fetched only one rupee, as he would often remind Kavya when he complained about inflation.
‘Dainik’, he said as he approached the 15-year-old boy. He was a rather sheepish looking lad who was yet to find the growth spurts that puberty brings.
‘Nahi hai Babu! Band Hogayi (It’s not there! They have shut down.)’, said Sangram.
It was the same old morning. Like the day before, it welcomed dew on the freshly mowed grass, carried the same summer breeze and hosted the same hustle and bustle that filled every other morning of this town amongst hills.
But Bholaram was 64 again. Except this time, he didn’t merely look it.

By Anirudh Dalmia
Painting by Paul Lovering