Wistful autumn evenings

Bhakra Nangal is a small town in the Punjab, famous for the first hydro-electric power generation plant set up in India.  Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru referred to is as a “new temple of a resurgent India”.  Nangal also has a Fertilizer Plant and Heavy Water Factory.  The town is located at the base of the Shivalik Hills on the banks of the river Sutlej.  The state of Punjab derives its name from “Punj Aab” (Five Waters/Rivers) comprising of Ravi, Beas, Chenab and Jhelum, in addition to Sutlej.

My father worked for many years at the fertilizer factory and our residence was located at the base of a hill that led down to the banks of the Sutlej.  It was a very picturesque location and several Bollywood movies (Heer Ranjha, Jheel Ke Us Paar etc.) were filmed in and around our house in the early 1970s.  Once, a very famous heroine had briefly rested in my bedroom between shots; many years later, my claim to fame in college was that the famous Bollywood star, M had lain in my bed!

One of my fondest memories of childhood in Nangal is sitting out on the lawn during the crisp autumn months, watching dusk fall.  As shadows lengthened, a silence would descend broken only by the gentle murmur of the river lapping against hidden rocks and rustling the reeds on its banks.  A mystical fog would slowly swirl up from the dark waters and together with the nip in the air, would give me goosebumps.  Somewhere, a cormorant, duck, papiha (hawk cuckoo) or another bird returning to its nest would call out to its mate, momentarily silencing the croaking frogs.  Occasionally, one could hear a distant splash as a passing egret, attracted by the silver flash of a mahseer (carp family) fish swooped down in one last attempt at grabbing dinner before retiring for the night.  The entire tableau was ethereal and sometimes even felt scary, especially if one imagined ghostly shapes in the swirling mist, just like in the Bollywood bhootiya (ghost) films.

My bhua (paternal aunt) would come over for a visit to celebrate Diwali with us.  A tandoor (clay oven) would be rolled out in the evening and fired up using kachha koyla (charcoal).  S bhua and her mother, my dadi (paternal grandmother) were experts at making parathas (flatbread).  They did not use a rolling pin, shaping the dough with their fingers and palms before deftly smacking the paratha against the glowing hot inner wall of the tandoor.  Keeping a watchful eye on the fiery oven, they would reach inside with their hand covered by a damp cloth and pluck a cooked paratha from the tandoor. A variety of stuffed alu (potato), gobhi (cauliflower), mooli (radish) and ajwain (carom seeds) or even plain lachha (multi-layered) parathas would be brought out, gently crushed using cupped palms, slathered with asli ghee (pure clarified butter) and served to each diner according to their preference.  Fascinated, we would try and crowd around the tandoor to counter the growing chill and take in the enticing flavors of glowing-hot charcoal that sputtered out tiny flames when drops of ghee dripped down, mixed with the aroma of baking dough and hot clay.  Invariably, the piece de resistance were the piping hot lachha parathas topped with fresh makhan (home churned white butter) and shakkar (powdered jaggery produced from sugarcane juice).

Satiated, everyone retired indoors as the temperature dropped and the embers in the tandoor were tamped down.  When I had “come of age” this was the time for me to sneak down to the edge of the river where, taking cover behind the foliage I would surreptitiously smoke a cigarette or two.  The older folks knew the drill but never let on!  I would try to hum a song from some Bollywood movie to settle my nerves, jumpy as a result of the eerie silence, ghostly mists, dark shadows and the fright of being caught out by a family member.

Today, this wistful song penned by Yogesh and sung by Mukesh for the 1970 movie Anand comes to mind:

Kahii.N duur jab din Dhal jaaye Somewhere far away, as the day draws to a close
saa.Njh kii dulhan badan churaaye chhupke se aaye Like a bride dusk sneaks up coyly
Mere khayaalo.N ke aa.Ngan mei.N In the courtyard of my thoughts
koii sapno.N ke diip jalaaye, diip jalaaye Someone lights up lamps of (my) dreams
Kabhii yuu.N hii, jab huii, bojhal saa.Nse.N Sometimes, unconsciously when breathing gets tiresome
bhar aayii baiThe baiThe, jab yuu.N hii aa.Nkhe.N (And) just sitting around, the eyes well up
Tabhii machal ke, pyaar se chal ke At that moment, with a flutter and moving in lovingly
chhue koii mujhe par nazar na aaye, nazar na aaye (I feel) a touch, by someone who cannot be seen
Kahii.N to yeh, dil kabhii, mil nahii.N paate Somewhere these (our) hearts are never able to come together
kahii.N se nikal aaye, janamo.N ke naate (Yet) on occasion a connection emerges that transcends lifetimes
Ghanii thii uljhan, bairii apnaa man The problem was deep with my own heart turning against me
apnaa hii hoke sahe dard paraaye, dard paraaye Although mine, it bears others’ pains
Dil jaane, mere saare, bhed yeh gahare The heart knows all my deep secrets
ho gaye kaise mere, sapane sunahare How my dreams became resplendent
Yeh mere sapne, yahii.N to hai.N apne My dreams, these alone are my own
mujh se judaa na ho.Nge inke yeh saaye, inke yeh saaye Even their shadows cannot be separated from me

2 Replies to “Wistful autumn evenings”

  1. How beautifully you segue from one event to another from half a century ago as if they happened yesterday and find a context in the present! “Eyes so transparent that through them the soul is seen,” said Gautier.

    Like

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