I turned 80 this year and my mind went back to the days when I began my long journey along Sunset Boulevard with a spring in my step amid the warm glow of having close friends all around me. During my childhood my trusted companions were Abdullah, Jeetu, Jagir. After I crossed the threshold of adolescence, I formed more enduring bonds with Janardhan, Bharat Mittar and I becoming an inseparable trio who marched in step merrily enjoying every moment of togetherness. Alas, all of them are no more!
Abdullah became a victim of the violence that preceded the bloody partition of Punjab in 1947. The lives of Jeetu and Jagir were tragically cut short in their prime. Blood cancer struck Janardhan when he was only forty. Bharat Mittar, my college chum, too passed away a few year ago. I look back nostalgically upon the time we spent together.
I miss the sights and sounds that once gave me great joy but have long since vanished. Sleeping on the rooftop at night during the summer, spending hours gazing at the stars and dreaming of a bright future, is now just faded memory. So is listening to wedding songs and looking forward to the gala event that used to be an occasion for celebration for the entire village, enjoying the warmth of a bonfire listening to tales of romance and valour and sucking a stick of sugarcane in winter. Such scenes of communal harmony are no longer an integral part of village life but for me they remain a perennial source of joy.
The jingle of bells strapped around the necks of bullocks and the full-throated folksongs of the plowman as he tilled the fields still echo in my ears. So does the sound of cows mooing when they return home in the evenings, sparrows chirping from their nests, doves cooing on the mulberry trees and peacocks ‘meowing’ in the ‘sheesham’ trees along the canal.
In old age one cherishes childhood memories. As a child, sitting on the highest sand dune in our field, I would watch the setting sun as it paints the sky red. Its disappearance saddened me but I knew it would rise again the next morning. The thought that soon I would disappear never to rise again doesn’t scare me because I hope to leave behind some ray of light somewhere in somebody’s heart.