Growing Up


Well, I grew up in villages..

I was born in a small village called Datrana, which is some 20 Kms away from Junagadh, the nearest big town and the district HQ. The earliest memory I have of Datrana is our quarters in the government public health center. The campus was on the outskirts of the village and we (along with two other families, who used to stay in the campus; the others would do a daily 'up-down' from the city) would spend  evenings, sitting in the front yard. We would play a game of guessing the next vehicle on a highway that used to be visible from the campus.  The highway had trees lined along the sides and the vehicles would be preceded by a mysterious play of light and shadow created by the headlights beaming on the trees. I do not know how the game could have stayed interesting as the only vehicle that used pass through Datrana were the state travel buses and occasional trucks and cargo rickshaws (or chhakdas), but it did, enough to leave memories behind.

Another distinct memory I have are the lion roars that we used to hear in the nights, which because of the receding jungles you don't hear anymore. The roars would be heard late in the night and then the following morning the village would be abuzz in gossips around the sightings of lions, the missing domestic cow or buffalo. 

The stories are endless and I could go on and on. About the handed-down white color UN cars, and how the hospital staff used to tour nearby villages with gujarati movies (the movies used to be followed by health awareness programs), about when the nearby river got flooded and brought mud into our house (my parents tell me they spent a day on the terrace), when a tourist bus toppled over and the hospital was flooded with casualties. I could go on about how Bachhu, the hospital janitor, tricked my parents into planting a small marijuana plantation in our backyard in the pretext that it was a flowering plant, about when I broke my legs, our picnic trips to Godhampur and how we would gorge ourselves with wild berries and thorn scratches all over our hands, the stories around the small banyan tree in front of our house (which is all grown up now), how I got my name 'Sminkal' and my first day at school, my little sister and the birth of my kid brother,  yes I could write about all that but it would take forever .. 

My parents got transferred to another village called Vadal, which was just 15 minutes from Junagadh when I was 7 years old.


Vadal was the place where I discovered a lot of things or rather remember having discovered a lot of things; my first set of friends, learning to ride a bicycle, endless childhood games like blind man's bluff, gulli danda, marbles, and chor-police. It was in Vadal and during Navaratri festival season, when I would try unsuccessfully to learn garba dance to my mother's great disappointment; year after year. (This is one thing that I'll always repent, not being able to dance. The closest I ever get to dancing is when I'm drunk and throw my hands and legs around in a vain attempt at bhangra).

If it was lions in Datrana, in Vadal it was the trains. I used to wait everyday after school for the evening trains to come. Those meter-gauge, steam engine ones that move with a big cigarette in their black mouth. We could tell a lot about what was happening by looking at the passing trains, that were visible from campus right across the fields. For example, during Shivaratris the trains would be so full with people travelling to Junagadh for the Shivratri Mela (a smaller version of Kumbh Mela but with all the fanfare and naga bawas (naked sadhus) taking a dip in holy waters of Girnar where even mythical ashwasthama is supposed to visit every year). The Sadhus would sit on top of the moving train and hang from doors and windows dotting the train in a saffron color. During political rallies the train color would change to white or how the harvest season would paint the train with a distinct specks of greens around windows as the farmers carry their produce in passenger wagons. I think the trains were as conscious as people (if not more) about what was happening at that time. As for me; I was just too busy trying to grow out of childhood. I wish I knew better and had not tried too hard.

We had an old, small railway station, which was built in English style and the only time you could see any life around it was when the trains used to come (some 3 times a day), otherwise it was quiet and serene throughout the day. we children used to spend a lot of time around the station building. We would take rented tiny bicycles to the asphalt ground by the station, play hide-n-seek or plan adventures of how we can cross the tracks and go to the other side to pluck sheturs (a quintessential gujju wild fruit). Evenings and weekends my dad would take us for walks starting the station, along the tracks and back to campus through the fields.  

Till date small railway stations give me the most beautiful feelings. Growing up, it was no surprise that I would take to movies like Ijazat (by Gulzar about one night in a waiting room of a small station) or Sadma where Kamal Hassan is left alone on the railway station in the end. This infatuation of mine with small railway stations will never die I guess.....

Another thing I distinctly remember from Vadal is a hindi song, "Ankhiyon ke Zaronkho se". After all these years, this song never fails to bring the memories flooding... that lazy afternoon, slight drizzle of a rain outside, a noisy ceiling fan that did more to keep the flies away than help with the heat, and slow lazy songs on All India Radio on my dad's prize possession (at that time), a Japanese two-in-one (radio plus tape).

I've never tried to own that song, fearing if I listen to it too often, the nostalgia and the warm feeling it brings will fade away..

Goodbye to my life in villages

It was because of the education standard in the village primary schools and my parents' strong belief in education as the foundation for life, that made them send me to Sainik School Balachadi, a residential school. With that decisions went my simple carefree life in villages. No more there was mom or home to come back to at the end of the day...... I was 11 years old then.

I will remember Vadal through my friends (Krishna, Bhupath, Jayesh, Meena, Bitu, Tinu, Paresh and Rajesh), my first fist fight, my first pet and how its murdered (by a friend), my teacher Meenaben,  my first set of drawings, the endless afternoons I spent reading Phulwadi, Chandamama, Niranjan and other children's magazines, six months when my mom went to Rajkot for higher studies,  the diwali and navaratri festivities as can be observed only in small villages, the english movies with my dad during weekend trips to Junagadh, through the trains and yes the railway station......... small...  silent...    a slow witness to the passing of time..