The moment I heard the story of a beginning from long ago, the city quickly transformed from a place of tourist interest to one deeply personal, imbuing the visit with poignancy I could only share from memories recounted by a tremulous voice and moist eyes, stories of beginnings that I’m told Allahabad once promised and delivered, of a persona it shaped long ago, of a personality it accepted as its very own, of a couple it introduced mutually, of a father’s force it helped gather strength from its early embrace of a vibrant youth who would later shelter many a dream of another and inspire a zest for life and lend their future a meaning.
Only the promise did not last, not from lack of trying or wanting but to vicissitudes of fate, of destiny, emerged today, many years ago.
I was only as aware of Allahabad’s significance as anyone who hasn’t seen or heard him would be, but in time I was drawn into it as another’s memories intertwined into mine to a point where Allahabad became my own pilgrimage as well, of a shared destiny, of shared loss.
Memories count not from the frequency of their telling but from the strength one draws from them to compensate for the loss of a loved one, more so today than other days though other days are not very different from today in some ways, for some reasons, for somebody, for everybody.
Memories are anchors left behind long after fate disengages the ship’s tenuous hold on the shore and steers it reluctantly away, away from the shore, away from those it anchored, away to the deep sea, to the great beyond from whence there’s no return.
This was my first time. This was the other’s first time. I could sense the silence, the pause, the apprehension of feelings that would inevitably surface as names from the past would finally materialise into tangible realities. Eyes would behold them finally even if as concrete signposts.
Even so as the streets emerged on our journeys through the old city, revealing buildings I had never seen before, it was as if I had always known them for, I had heard of them, of their association with the one whom fate led away, the role they once played in his life, and the potential his presence nurtured and promised.
As the wheels turned, and the rickshawallah pedalled away, the crisp morning air revealed familiar milestones from retellings of those times, his times. Chatham Lines.
As we turned off the road in Chatham Lines and walked through the gate of the Faculty of Law, Allahabad University, adjoining MONIRBA, Motilal Nehru Institute of Research and Business Administration, the shade of a tree beckoned.
On a raised platform that ran around the tree, students of Law had left their belongings behind while they answered their exams inside the brick and mortar building.
Many students milled around, some leaned against the platform. We sat in the shade. The head turned, the eyes took in the surroundings and trailed along the outlines of the building. I could only imagine the emotions building up, of the reality sinking in anew as the past, one the other hadn’t seen, only heard, came up face to face.
He will have walked these very corridors, sat under this very tree, mingled with friends and sipped chai.
I listened. I nodded. I followed the gaze, the face, the emotions, and sensed the reluctance to leave, drawn as the other was to the association the place had with the father.
And then we made our way to the Allahabad University, its majesty derived as much from the presence it commanded with its edifice as with the lives it shaped, the aspirations it nurtured, the ambitions it gave wing to, his among others.
We walked its grounds, lingered in its shade, glanced along its corridors, meandered along paths leading to its various blocks, made way to student agitators chanting slogans as they marched down a pathway, and paused by its gardens.
He cut his teeth here. Acquired the Allahabadi style and speak, and joie de vivre.
I listened. I nodded. I imagined. I felt. I shared. I lived.
Students walked through the gates, laughing away, sharing banter, carefree. It would’ve been the same back then.
Only faces change.
The afternoon was slipping away. Feet dragged. Pauses abounded. Silence hastened time, past and present.
A life lived. A time gone. An association renewed. A memory strengthened. A loss fathomed. A feeling plumbed.
He used to say 'Ae Shehar Ae Allahabad, Royega Tu Zaar Zaar Mere Jaane Ke Baad ...'