Returning to a once loved place has its risks & rewards. Especially after a lapse of 40 years. It had been lovely. Would Deolali have changed?
It is a 3 – 4 drive along the national highway from Bombay to Nasik, cutting through the Sahyadri ranges & ghats.
Since change is in the order of things yes, it had changed but not in any ugly humongous way. The cantonment is as serene & laid back as ever but there are barricades – signs of the time perhaps. Recognizable old landmarks hark back. Temple Hill Institute, where tombola is played as a weekend ritual and Barnes the residential school that continues with what it calls the ‘Brothers’ Hour’ – a delightful euphemism for social inter mingling by young co eds.
That’ there was our house & ‘this’ Tinas’. And ‘that’ is where we had the crazy party when AAK jumped off the balcony.
The 70’s craze for foreign goods is over. The market, still bustling but not half as exciting. ‘Variety’ is but a shadow of its former self & ‘Empire’ has reinvented to become a store cum café.
The days continue warm, nights nippy. The great Banyans stand tall & wide in full regal splendour, gorgeous as before, inserting roots deeper & thicker into the air & soil. Banyans, Parsi sanitariums & stately homes, together all 3 make Deolali.
I checked out both Lamb & Dhondy roads, taking random photographs, delighted to find Mr Lamb’s old house standing. At one place a security guard admonished me for being diffident, told me to step inside & not take pictures from outside the gate. I entered the grounds marveling at the good luck & had just about started clicking when the owner appeared – not to evict but to invite me in.
What followed was a classic old ploy – to which I played along.
An age old opening line –
We’ve met before, haven’t we?
But, of course! I exclaimed. You are Mr ……..?
Ah yes. How nice to meet again. How are you?
A charming old gentleman. He led me into his home, a world of gracious living. Stain glass windows, Belgian chandeliers, Persian carpets, fine crystal, paintings & sculpture.
Perfetto! And he turns out to be a raconteur too.
Rewind to 1974 when my father had visited us. An old soldier, he fondly recalled his short stint in Deolai Camp during the great war. He remembered riding horseback from what is now Nasik Road to the camp, dropping in on a friend en route. A Mr Parikh who lived in the Bhatia sanitarium,* on Lamb road. Not sure if it still existed, we offered to take him there. Dad recognised the place instantly. There was a large banyan tree which rekindled memories as he pointed to the spot where Parikh & he had sat & talked. He walked around reminiscing & found a lone man under the tree. Would he have heard of Parikh or know of his whereabouts?
You may never believe this but believe it you must. The gentleman turned out to be the long-lost Parikh himself.
After 3 decades ! 1941 -1974.
Hail fellow, well met!
Fast forward to January 2018. In Deolali once again & there is another old soldier to be met.
Our friends have planned a Sula outing & want us to accompany them to the vineyards, a most happening place apparently. But it is our last day in Deolali & we’d much rather spend it in the company of a regiment buddy. Sula will have to wait.
At 82 Brig. J is frail of health but in cracking good mental condition. All dressed & ready, he is expecting us & makes a valiant effort to stand up as we enter. He has been in & out of hospital of late but stand up he will – for a lady, be it anyone.
He gets breathless as he speaks. Takes frequent pauses, laughs, jokes & talks of everything practically – not just the good old days. He always was a ‘cerebral’ one & continues fully in tune with the times. Big thanks to the internet. A ‘ most wonderful thing’ he calls it.
Does he miss company? Not really. He never was very social. As his generation passes on, he does not feel the need for new friendships. What could he possibly have to say to the young ? It would be boring.
J lives alone on the information highway – happy & content. He is well looked after by a family of old faithfuls, attendants who have served him long & to whom he has bequeathed his house – his everything. His situation no better or worse he says, than that of many of his friends & contemporaries who are alone or lonely because their children are settled abroad.
A morning well spent. Goodbye J. And thank you for your time .
*(Bhatia sanitarium stands. In a ramshackle condition however)