Meaningless Story 4: Places that exist only in memories
I looked around. Nothing looked familiar. It should have been. But it wasn't. I had been to this place a dozen times. But the last visit was a dozen years ago. I couldn't seem to find the familiar path. It used to be cobblestoned that too half heartedly. After a few brilliant yards the cobblestones used to disappear and a dirt path remained half covered with grass. During the rainy season, the sides of the path used to get converted into muddy ponds, just knee deep. Buffaloes used to wallow in the muddy waters. There used to be a dilapidated disintegrating boat at the edge of this make shift pond. The path didn't lead any where in particular. It somehow used to get transformed into a large ground. That's where the buffaloes used to be tied to short wooden stump. There was a large house with a wicket gate by the side of this half heartedly cobblestoned path that lead to nowhere in particular. It was our house. It was so big and prominent that it was not possible to miss it. It did not require any house number or street name. It was simply our house. In fact if you were anywhere in this place far enough not to walk back to our house, you could hail a rickshaw and tell him to take to "our house" and he would take you. Pronto. No questions asked. No fare to be haggled. No directions to be given. Just board the rickshaw and soon enough you would be on the half hearted cobble stoned path by the wicket gate. One often wondered what purpose did the dilapidated disintegrating boat would have served in its hey day. The pond was seasonal and for the better part of the year, it was just lying caked in the crusted semi solid mud. Even in the rainy months when it appeared to float, it didn't seem to have any destination. After all if one was determined, one could cross the pond in half a dozen big leaps although it would mean walking back home with knee deep mud. But no one was ever interested in crossing the pond that way. It was possible to just skirt it by the side. The only creatures interested in crossing the pond were the buffaloes. And even they were more interested in wallowing in the mud than actually crossing the pond. There was a boy seen sometimes herding the buffaloes. Mostly he would be riding one of the buffaloes than actually herding them. Sometimes he had an improvised stick which he never seemed to use on the buffaloes. He was happy going wherever the Buffalo wanted to take him which was usually the centre of the pond during the rainy season. He was usually clad in a dirty blue shorts that must have been the uniform of sone non decrepit school. A torn rag for a shirt. Sometimes he was smoking a bidi. The boy must have been of about my age but to me he always seemed much elder. One day when the curiosity about the boat got the better of me, I gathered courage and asked the boy if he knew what the boat was for. He just gaped at me. I repeated my question hesitantly. I realised he must not be understanding my hindi. After all my hindi was derived from NCERT textbooks, which I presumed was spoken by people in Delhi. Later in life I was shocked to discover that people in Delhi spoke hindi that was nothing like that of the NCERT textbooks. It was almost like a betrayal realising that no one spoke the hindi that I spoke. But that was much later in life. In that moment, determined as I was to know about the boat, I began mentally translating my NCERT hindi to what I thought was Maithili. I blurted out my question in what I thought was Maithili. This time gape on the boys face grew wider and wider till he broke into a smile and then a small laugh. He spoke something which I couldn't understand. By now the Buffalo whom this boy was riding had decided that enough was enough and strutted away to the ground to munch. Along with the Buffalo went the non committal boy. This incident scarred me and left me with a serious lack of confidence. It had taken me a few days to muster up enough courage to ask the boy and all of it came to such an insignificant conclusion. I decided to ask my aunt about the boat. She must be knowing everything about this place. After all she lives here. I only come here during holidays. She smiled her encouraging smile which immediately led me to realise that I can never get the answer. "What boat!? The boats are near the river! And the river is very far away from here. You must have seen them while you were coming by train!" This undermined my confidence even more than the gaping - smile - laugh response of the Buffalo - boy. Had I been hallucinating? Since my aunt seemed friendly, I told her that I couldn't get an answer to my question from the Buffalo - boy. It was a big mistake. She immediately called out to my mother. "Seems like your son is keen on making friends with urchins!" My mother didn't like the idea of me asking about make believe boats in my NCERT hindi to bidi smoking shirtless urchins. That was the end of my research on the possibly make believe dilapidated disintegrating boat.
But now as I stood where I was, not only the boat seemed make believe, the entire place that I remembered seemed imaginary. Had I been dreaming? Where was the wide half heartedly cobblestoned path? How did the road become so narrow? There was no sign of the pond or the buffaloes. The concrete road seemed cloistered with houses on both the edges. There was no wicket gate either. There was a large metal gate, securely padlocked.