The 26th of January is here and has been a source of expectation and excitement for my mother. She is bravely, facing the fairly severe January weather – her first in over 3 decades. She has spent 2 earlier stints in Delhi – 1955 to 71 (with a 4 year break in London) and again 1976-81; 71 to 76 were spent in Hyderabad. Post-81, she spent a decade in Bangalore, where my father built his retirement house and she has spent the last 3 decades in Chennai. Of the 5 major cities she has lived in, Delhi is the one that evokes the most nostalgia in her.
She was a young 25 year old mother of 3, when she reached Delhi. It was the first time she was living as a single unit family – my grandparents having always lived with us in Kerala. And, suddenly she was boss of her own home, and so far away from the ‘family’ (in Chennai and Kerala) that only occasional visits from any of them was possible. The adjustments would have been tough, as we children were still young (Ananth was just 6 months). But I try to imagine her efforts to understand the Hindi spoken by the workers and salespeople who brought all the daily needs to the door in those days. She would have met people from various parts of the country, another first, as we lived in sarkari colonies (South Avenue, West Kidwai Nagar, known as Safdarjung Enclave then and then Satya Marg) which had an all India flavor. Her English would have been non-existent then and most of the close friends with whom we socialized were other civil servants from Southern States. When did she learn English I wonder – she has no clear answers – but, mostly self taught I am guessing.
And part of the life of a ‘sarkari’ family of the time was to attend the Republic Day parade and Beating Retreat. We went every year for the first few years – Pandit Nehru, accompanied by Lady Mountbatten on a couple of occasions, used to get down from the car and walk along Raj Path meeting the children sitting on the durries. I can still remember her bright red dress and black stylish hat with a half net veil – the likes of which was quite a novelty for us children. These were social outings, as almost everyone you knew was also there.
And then a few years later, television arrived. One of my father’s friends got a set – and suddenly it became blase to go to see the parade live. All friends gathered together around this TV, and this allowed the beer and talk to flow more easily. Over the years, as we moved form B and W to color, and form DD to multiple channels, this broadcast is something that always went on in her house. In my own house, we were very late converts to TV, and I don’t remember going elsewhere to watch the parade. So, she waited anxiously for today’s broadcast and was happy watching it till the very last of the flypast – full of nostalgia for the times that she had watched it live and amazed that while so much has changed, somethings are still the same. It took her back to those days – the good days, which made her happy. The power of nostalgia…..