Reel Past (Bhopal Chapter)


Bhopal arrived at 2345 hours. The night air was chilly and all of us stepped down the train, bedraggled. I still had some night-cream on my face and my hair stuck out in impossible angles.  While the others scurried away into the bright and lively railway station for a cup of coffee or a warm samosa, I stood by the sign-post that read Bhopal in two different languages. A million memories reeled past me. A fragment of my childhood remained here. And it was high time I returned to, if not collect them, pay them some homage. 

I remember my sister being hardly an year old with just two milk teeth sticking out from the center. Dad was the Officer-in-command at that time and so we had a lush green garden behind our house. And I remember the swing with the floral-cushions; the summer evenings where I’d lay on my back and look up at the sky; collect rocks and leaves; cook at the servants’ quarters on the kerosene stove; the Diwali parties and this incident where some one set the tree on fire, hopefully by mistake. 

I used to be the ultimate Tom-boy or was I more of a solitary reaper who rode her cycle all around the place; enjoyed evening walks with her little sister and sahayak; acted like a bully to hide her loneliness, collected pennies to buy burgers in the canteen; spread Ghost stories about the convent we studied in and God-knows-what-all. 

This was also the phase where the entire family, besides Mum, got admitted with Malaria. Though Rhea’s became very serious and everything. Those were testing times but we triumphed them nevertheless.

I had a room of my own with all these fancy things my Grandparents sent for me. I remember a particularly strict Hindi teacher who smelled of lemons. And an infamous-hitler-like teacher…Mrs. Joy who later turned out to be amazing and wanted to adopt me. Yes, I can be adorable like that.

St. Josephs Convent, Idgah Hills, Bhopal houses some hilarious and precious memories from my childhood. 

My parents would come to see me during the sports day expecting me to be a front runner or athlete. Instead they’d find me in some funny-sports-costume in the Drill. I was never a runner.

Once an Owl and once a Robot, fancy dress competitions were a delight for my parents as they could experiment with my chubby self as they liked. And I was a pretty flexible child. As long as it didn’t prick, I’d wear anything.

This was also the time when Sister Mummy (a dear family friend) came to stay with us and she used to take me to the Sunday Mass every week. And that’s something I distinctly remember. We had to cross all these rural settlements to get their…bustling with kids and street-sellers.

VIP Road alongside the Lake was a great weekend spot and there were some continental restaurants we often visited. And then there was the Sanchi Stupa not too faraway from Bhopal. Even the Army mess was pretty Dapper. I remember bits of it. Dad had also helped build a temple within his office campus and I remember visiting his office quite a lot. Just images left in my head. He’s give me math problems to do while I checked out his stationery items. Kids.

So, I had my fair share of travelling and madness, in Bhopal.

And as the train left the station and I stood by the door…allowing the breeze to gush in, I released whatever feelings I still held back. I wanted to go back to that phase and experience it all, again. As a child.

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