The Hug

I was just five, still fiddling around with putting up my shoe laces, packing my school bag, racking my books, doing my school tie, tidying up my hair and completing my homework on time. Still, my tiny little brain would be rather more amused by those fantasy cartoon shows, featuring a super hero flaunting a rugged muscular figure clad in garish bizarre outfits, running and flying over the cities and saving the world just in time. Still, reading the newspaper was no business for me, except for the Sunday magazine, that included those fancy fairy tales and the many a no-brainer puzzles like joining the dots to shape it into some figure, finding the way through the maze and discovering differences in the two almost identical pictures. Still, crosswords and the Sudokus made absolutely no sense to me.

So I was still a kid, a regular school going boy, devoid of any intellectual upbringing as yet. I scored good grades at the school but despite of that, like all the other kids on earth, I loved to play and utilise any opportunity to refrain from studies. 

It was the summer vacation, the books were all racked up in the closet, and like past few years we were going to spend holidays at my father’s native, a small town spread within a few kilometers where our paternal ancestors had been living for more than a century. It was an overnight journey and with the light of the morning the pictures of the last few vacations were going to come to life again. I was excited.

It was eight in the morning we reached the place, an old house with battered walls, wooden creaky hinged doors. We spiralled through the narrow, almost standing, staircase to reach the dwelling of the progenitors of my progenitors. The uncles, aunties (bua), the grandmother, and the domestic help were all scattered around the narrow door to welcome us, as if we had returned from a foreign tour. Someone took the heavy bag from my father’s hands and the eldest of my uncles grabbed me and put over his shoulders, the aunts trying to snatch me from him, and after failing to do so attempting to pull and kiss my cheeks. Very soon the cheeks were all stretched and wet. We all went to sit in the living room. As soon as my uncle dropped me back to earth, I ran over to reach my grandfather’s room. But he was not there. 

“Where’s Baba gone?”, I came querying back to the living room, looking at the grandmother. She told me he had been out of the city for some work and would return in the evening. I ran back to the porch adjoining his room. Pictures from the last vacation ran through my mind. I remembered him sitting on the wooden rocking chair lying there, savouring the fresh morning tea with the newspaper in his hands, and me sitting over his lap asking all kinds of silly questions looking at the images in the newspaper.

One of the aunties suddenly came running, finding the oppurtunity to pick me up in her arms, offering me biscuits and other stuff to eat, again kissing my cheeks all wet. I wiped the moisture and reconfirmed from her when Baba would return home. She had almost the same response.

The day went on with all kind of pampering done to me. Uncles took me to the market picking me up in their arms. Being five, it had been quite unusual since a couple of years that I would be raised up in the arms and be transported. I, rather, walked on my feet now. Moreover, I was allowed to choose stuff to be bought for me – the sweets, the candies, the chocolates, the soft drinks, the cakes, the ice-creams, the toys and what not – a luxury that my parents had not allowed to me, atleast not to the same measure. Somehow, I loved every bit of it.

Later the grandmother took me to the cow house at the backyard of the house to milk the cows. I loved the smell of fresh cow milk. She brought a glassful of fresh milk sweetened with jaggery for my consumption. I remembered Baba doing the same for me with I sticking to his back while he milked the cows. I gulped down the milk with the thought in my mind. We came back from the cow house and she filled the bucket full of milk into a huge traditional pot shaped vessel and put it over an earthen chulha. She sat near it for a while to air the flame, occasionally letting me do the activity, a rather playful one for me. At times she would wave her hand through my hair spilling them onto my face.

The lunch had been done; the sun was losing its ferocity; the evening tea was on the cards. Porridge, one of my favourite, was being cooked separately on the earthen chulha, the domestic help was sitting nearby and constantly stirring it through a ladle. I looked at the sun and it told me it was evening, but Baba had not arrived yet. 

I went to stand at the iron grill at the balcony adjoining his room. It faced the market, and made the path to the home. I looked at the people passing by, examining each face if it was his, with the apprehension that the year-long mutations on his skin might have made it hard for me to recognise. Constant disappointment took toll of me and I came back to the living room. I felt as if he would never arrive, as if there was some conspiracy going on letting me know that he would be back by evening. The sun had died; the darkness was all around both outside and inside my heart and soul.

Baba did not arrive and the eyes, sleep deprived and desperation craved closed down for the night. 

The next morning, I was in the bed, and I could feel tickles in my stomach. I opened my eyes to see a grey haired moustached broad face talking to me. My eyes were still closed. But, at an instant I could make out the familiar voice. “Baba!!!”, I cried out. “Myyy son..” he replied back mocking my tune. Instantly I stood up afresh.

He took me into his arms and hugged me tight. He was a broad shouldered strong man, and the clasp was tight enough to partially choke me. It sent me waves all through my body. I could feel the warmth of his skin. He held me for a while patting my back, clasping me again and I felt all those cuisines tasteless and worthless.

I felt a sudden emotion, deep and vivid, the very emotion written in the numerous sagas of literature, expressed in the eternal harmony of music, rendered in the picturesque portraits of nature, observed in deep alleys of philosophy, analysed in sophisticated realms of psychology and deemed universal in the undulating values of spirituality, and yet I was a mere five year kid, devoid of any intellectual upbringing as yet. 

It was herculean for me to put the feelings into words at that age but deep inside, it was all penned down somewhere at a corner of my soul.

 

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