Her friends called her crazy.
Who takes leave at the financial year end to go visit a house that was home thirty years ago? But word had come from her school alumni association that Pindari Berth had been served demolition notice. Pachmarhi, the Queen of the Satpuras, was coming into its own as a tourist destination and frenetic construction work was in progress. She winced at the thought of a greasy crane flattening a lifetime of memories into dust. She had to say goodbye.
Pindari Berth! Named after a glacier in the upper Kumaon Himalayas, the white structure seeped into her view as she stared out of the car at the ghats swishing by in a green blur. She inhaled the air deeply, letting the pungent scent of mahua wash over her lungs. The mango trees were laden at Panarpani where her cab stopped for a tea break. She wandered away from the hissing kerosene stove to reach for a raw green fruit, holding it to her nose…..it whispered of her childhood, of bicycle rides, frilly frocks, birthday bashes and family picnics. A quick nick and her teeth stung with the tangy juice. Urgency took hold of her to reach Pindari Berth.
Dusk had fallen when they sailed into the claustrophobic hush typical of hill stations. The car wheeled into peeling green gates, door banging shut. She slowed at the shadow of a young girl, swinging on freshly painted rails. With a shake of her head, she turned to the cottage, “Phantasm!” A lantern was coming into view, swinging eerily and slowly. It was Mr. Devasher, he was hobbling with age! They embraced and she drew back in alarm at his smallness. He felt papery, wispy and light, a far cry from the gregariously avuncular neighbour she remembered. She peered at him, reluctant to let go the sleeve of his brown Burberry . He disengaged himself gently, “Let us go inside, I have brought the keys. I cannot fathom a hotel coming up here.”
The two shuffled through the rooms, the air thick with reminiscences. There was dust and cobwebs, door hinges creaked and groaned. Her host held up the lantern to significant points, “You see here, your Dad had his bar set up in this corner. And there, beyond that is the area your Mum used as her studio.” She felt drawn to her room. It was just a space, she told herself, concrete and bricks and stone and mortar. But it was coming alive to her, right there as they looked on at nothing.
She heard sibling bickering, all huffy and irate. She smelt childish hurt mixed with disappointment. She sensed her own laboured metamorphosis. A hundred emotions waltzed in the air and there was more! In that window glass besides the bed was her Dad’s concerned watchfulness. On the mantle was her Mom’s nurture. Near the steps outside lay her sister’s cautious affection! Her ears rang with laughter, screams, and shouts. Her nose twitched with smells from her growing years; the Ponds cream whiff, the merest zephyr of Fluffy, wafts of fresh baking. She wanted to spread out her arms and hug Pindari Berth close.
“Shall we go home for dinner? Your aunt will be waiting for us. The builders are coming at 9.00 am,” the voice was tentative. She turned to pick up the lantern Mr Devasher had left on the portico ledge. He shook his head, taking it from her and leading by the hand.
She nearly missed a step at the sight outside. The lawn trees were alight, a thousand fireflies twinkling in their lush leaves, like twines of X-Mas lights.
She stood gripping the wrinkled hand, tears rolling down her face. “Goodbye Pindari Berth,” she whispered to herself.
All photo credits to Shashi Nayagam
All photo credits to Shashi Nayagam