Thursday, June 29, 2017

A happy place called Khurda Road

At my Alma mater with classmates.
The house I called home.
Reliving the childhood days is like eating comfort food. The food that reminds us of home and one can never get over it in spite of eating it every single day. This post is long due. More than a year back I visited my alma mater in a town called Khurda Road, the place where I left a part of me while leaving two decades back.

For most, Khurda Road is a railway junction to board the next train. However, for me and most of us who lived there and studied at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Khurda Road, this was the only place where we felt belonged. Even today I keep saying that I grew up in a small town unaware of the hustle-bustle of the big cities. This was a place where everyone knew everyone. Be it pandal hopping during Ganesh Chaturthi or Dussera, or at a marriage reception or buying hot samosas or aloo chops at the street corner, it was impossible not to bump into your teachers or school mates. 

It became all the more difficult for me and my siblings as my father enjoyed almost a rockstar status. A teacher by profession; loved and respected by the students, colleagues and the people just because of his persona. My house witnessed a continuous flow of visitors including students, parents, teachers, my friends, my siblings’ friends, and mother’s friends. It was a small house with a beautiful garden in the front and at the back. However, it had enough space to accommodate everyone. We all had our own corners to spend time with our groups.

Our lives were centered around the school. We played with the same people at school and outside of it also. The only difference was at school we played in school uniforms and outside, in civil dresses. But I must confess we looked better in school uniforms. The roads on Sundays were deserted just during Ramayan and Mahabharat serials. After that we used to invade the playgrounds. The winter holidays were spent sitting on the portico basking in the winter sun chatting with our neighbours or at times chasing the butterflies. Our tanned bodies were further shone by the application of coconut oil. There were days when the mist wouldn’t lift for a long time and I remember riding into it on my bicycle singing a song or running gleefully with my siblings on the road outside my house. 

The junior and secondary sections of the school were located at two different places. While we waited for the school bus, we used to embark on little adventures – invade nearby houses for plucking guavas, Indian berries and raw mangoes, most of the time without their permission. The days we missed the school bus, we used to simply get back home walking either through ‘pahad rasta’ or ‘jungle rasta’. Our parents never panicked as they knew we would get back home in soiled uniforms and at times, barefoot with shoes in our hands. That only showed we climbed trees while on our way home; especially jungle rasta which had lot of mango trees. As if the days’ activities were not enough, whenever there was a power cut in the evening, we used to run out of the house and play ‘All India Radio Cuttack’ or ‘anthakshari’ under the moonlit sky. Friends from nearby streets used to join us within no time.

A decade passed in a jiffy between school and home. Days were spent finishing projects, preparing for CCAs, practicing dance sequences for annual functions and closing ceremonies of sports meets, and of course, the exams. Life seemed like a never ending picnic as we busied ourselves shifting from one activity to the other and yeah, in between studies happened too. Life was simple and stress-free.

It was a surreal feeling when I got down at the Khurda Road railway station a year back. Little seemed to have had changed from the inside though the entrance got a facelift. I was received by Rauf, a quiet guy with whom I interacted very little at school.  He took me through all the familiar places, asking me if I remembered this building or that place. Most of it had changed, there were too many houses, less of greenery, better roads and in between I saw few old buildings still held their ground like a trooper. All the efforts of holding back my tears failed when I stood in front of the house that witnessed my growing up years. Eyes welled up as I stood outside not knowing how to react or what to think. The fa├žade of the house was extended to build an extra room. Much of the garden space where my mother spent years nurturing the plants was gone. It was a far cry from the one it used to be. Yet, it didn’t matter. I resisted walking past the iron gate of the fencing.  Leena, my classmate from ‘B’ section kept calling me to check how far I’ve reached. Her mother, checked with me what would I like to have for breakfast and lunch. I never met her mother before but Leena’s (Sasmita Mohanty) parents knew my dad very well.  It was heartening to see Leena after so long and absolutely loved the way her mother received me.  A warm embrace and a peck on my cheek, a quick enquiry about my parents and the best part, “go freshen up. I made gogni (dry mutter) curry and poori.” Yeah, that’s how home feels like, right?

Later in the morning I met many of my classmates at the school.  Contours of expanding midriffs, a bit of flab here and there, grey sideburns, receding hairlines, spectacles – we met amid laughs, warm embraces and tight handshakes. Now, the entire school is housed at the same place. The erstwhile senior section had been converted to the junior section. It was a working day and the school was assembled for morning prayer; we had close to 15 minutes to ourselves when we walked from one classroom to other trying to remember who was our neighbor and where we sat.  The principal sir invited us to his chamber, where we had a brief interaction over a cup of tea and biscuits before we bid our goodbyes.

Traversing through our childhood in those forgotten alleys, this unassuming place called Khurda Road, taught us a very important life-hack - how to appreciate the simple things and light up a mundane life.