By Nishi Pulugurtha
I see more of the sky these days. A beautiful blue sky, some clouds here and there. I try to figure the shapes in my head, something that I did as a child. I see the light from the rather dimmed sun endowing the clouds with some colour, at times bright, at others, dull and dim. There seems to be some play at work, the sun, the sky and the clouds. I used to walk in the gated compound that houses my apartment only to be largely disturbed by mosquitoes and other insects. As these creepy crawlies cause an allergic reaction on my skin, I decided that I had to find some other place to walk. A climb up some stairs to the terrace and the discovery of a small, restricted place to walk and an open, sprawling space around me (beyond the walls) and above me — this is where I walk most evenings now.
The other terraces around me also seem to have some activity. Just beyond the compound wall are two buildings, yellow and green. I see people there — an old gentleman leisurely walking alone. After some time, a lady joins in on a brisker walk. The old gentleman moves to one side and looks at children playing on the opposite terrace. He has a toy in his hand which he throws. It is caught by the little girl who is out at play. She runs, hops, jumps, and plays. At times she has company, another small one. But mostly, she is there with her father. I see her learning to ride a bicycle. He is there holding on, trying to teach her, reaching out to lend a hand if he thinks she needs help. I am sure she will learn it soon.
The red house next door is usually quiet. As I was looking around, I heard someone calling out my name. I turned to see a young girl of about eight. There was another little one behind here, about two years old. And then I saw their mother and we start catching up. She decided to visit her mother and that is the reason why the quiet house has so much activity now. Moreover, she said that kids were getting restless. She had come for a week, she said. A small break for the kids. Well, not much of a break for the older one, though – online classes were still on. The kids moved on to play. They were not playing among themselves.
Right opposite the red house was another pink one with a terrace adjacent to rooms on the first floor. Two small boys played there each evening – riding a small car, playing with plastic cricket bats, running about and the like. Their mother is a nurse and has long hectic hours. I hear their voices every day, they wave to me when I look out too. I noticed a new game these days with the kids talking across buildings, not just talking but playing as well – the girls in the verandah of the red building and the boys just opposite. I hear their voices, I notice their games too. It is mostly a kind of a dumb charade – the eight year girl mostly deciding on the nature of the game. She is the oldest of the lot. The girl in the red house enacts a scene and the boys have to guess what it is all about and vice versa. As I look at them at their ‘game’ I find it sad, I smile too. They have managed to find a way to ‘play’. Sad, because their ‘play’ reveals the situation we are in at the present times, stuck in our respective homes, trying to deal with the present scenario.
I am reminded of our games and play too. As kids we played on the road in front of our homes. We ran about, played ‘hide and side’, hiding in lanes, behind houses – we had a particular demarcated zone of play. We had our fights, our quarrels too. Those were days when there were not too many cars on the streets and hence it was safe playing on the street.
We had spectators then too. There would be Pishima* sitting on her tall stool upstairs, her afternoon nap done, with a cup of tea and a biscuit in hand. There would be Bubun’s mother who took an active interest in all what we did, at times even interfering in our play — Bubun was one of our playmates. There would be the Dida* in the opposite house, alone in that big house, looking out and delighting in our play. We played every day, after we got back from school, after our homework was done. As we went on to middle school, we played only on Wednesdays and Thursdays (school was off on Thursdays) and on the weekends.
There would be some weekends when there was no company to play outside, my playmates were off to their grandparents’ place. However, my sister and I played at home, in our long verandah. We managed to keep ourselves busy. Yes, we did complain that all our playmates were away. It was not possible for us to travel to Ammamma’s place on weekends, she was in Kakinada and later moved to Hyderabad. We had to wait for our vacations to visit her – and we longed for that, looked forward to it with so much excitement and anticipation. That excitement of going to Hyderabad still persists in both of us even today.
As I climb the stairs this evening and come into the open, there I see a long cloud, fluffy, a bit dark just behind that skyscraper, almost as if holding it up, supporting it. It remained like that for quite some time. A languid, beautiful scene that filled my senses for quite some time, filling me with a Wordsworthian sense of delight in the simple things of nature. I rest for a while after my walk is done, mostly to take a few photographs of what the city offers me. Tall buildings in the distance, familiar buildings I am able to identify, houses, water tanks, pipes and crows on them, many buildings I am unable to identify. I try to locate the directions as I look around.
The birds seem to be pausing for a while, catching up with their conversations, before heading home, the day done. I notice a few pigeons on a maze of pipes, perched away from each other, almost as if in keeping with the times. The play of the little children continues. I can hear their laughter and talk as I move indoors. As we approach another 15th August, another Independence Day, I just hope that we are able to create a place where these young ones are able to think freely, to give voice to their thoughts freely, to live the way they want to, in a place where “their head is held high”.
*Pishima – Aunt
*Dida – Grandmother
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.
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