October 17, 2004

Never Be This Young Again

This thing called nostalgia. A week ago in Hyderabad, I had an afternoon free. Coughed my way through intense traffic and over Chandrababu Naidu's innumerable flyovers to a little haven I once called home. Twenty-three years ago I called it that, over half my life ago. Took me that long to come home, this home.

Walked in from the gate thinking, I'll spend a few minutes just poking around, then I'll be on my way. But then the whispers began. The stones, the whitewashed walls of the enormous building, the ground level windows looking into the library, the green grass itself: suddenly there was memory in each of them. Something almost achingly romantic -- no romance here, but still romantic, yes -- started weaving through the lush leaves above and into my thoughts.

In 23 years, I have forgotten just how attached I had once been to this place.

Off the road and through the grass, I stroll to the tennis courts. From the gutter around the edge to the fraying nets to the brown of the clay, it all comes back in a whoosh. This is where I first got any good at this game, but more than that, this is where it first came to matter to me so much. Where I first even understood that a game can matter. Borg played McEnroe at Wimbledon through our staticky shortwave radio, and afterwards I'd run down here to play the shots I could only imagine they -- well, McEnroe -- had rocketed off that rich turf. Here on this court. Even through the time my pa, watching from the terrace above, had this gentle tease: With all your shots, those nets are going to need repairing.

Around to the front of the building, I come upon the vaulting portico that once was ours. Fittingly, there's now a car here. In our time, it housed a spotless, gleaming ... autorickshaw. Yes: the common, garden variety black and yellow, not quite what you'd expect in this spot. This once was, after all, a Turkish princess's home. An autorickshaw?

Hesitantly, I walk up the broad stairs to the Turkish princess's flat that once was, after all, my home as well. And now there's one final memory. Walking up these same stairs those 23 years ago, my ma said quietly: when you first came here, you had the body of a boy. Now, after these few months, you're a man.

She meant physically, of course. The tennis, I must have filled out, broadened. Still, as I walk up one week ago, I'm thinking. Sure I became a man. But I can never be a boy again.


ak said...

Beuatiful. I think I know what you mean. But this was really well written.

Shanti Mangala said...

I am usually caught by surprise when nostalgia sneaks up on me. I could be listening to music and suddenly a song come up that reminds me of some crazy thing I did when the movie the song was from released. I could be reading something and then I see a name - a name that belonged to someone I knew a long time ago.

It is weird sometimes but mostly just makes you feel young and foolish again for a few minutes :)