Source : Google photo of Gothic style cathedral in my home town
Synopsis : The connection we feel to our birth place is universal but this connection depends on the link we maintained with the people we knew there. When this link is broken due to reasons beyond our control, the connection weakens and in some cases disappears. Still a feeling for our roots persists even after a long time.
We all belong somewhere and have our roots in our ville natale that we can never forget. It is in our home town we grew up, played with our childhood friends, went to school with them and later started to diverge when we went to college. The college, its classmates, its teachers and the librarian, its ambiance, its diverse students who came from all parts of the country, its celebrations, its charm and finally the day we graduated and left it forever are reminders of how we grew up to prepare ourselves for the wider world that was still unknown to us including its promises and its challenges.
Thus little by little we develop our roots in our home town that we come to love and a feeling that we belong here in a way no one belongs who is just a visitor. We come to know its delights, its charms, its numerous historical places and the food. We come to know all the streets and its markets, its hidden places that sell what others do not. We knew exactly where to go when we needed something no matter how trivial or special.
We come to love our home town because it is where we spent our best years growing up and getting ready with education that would someday open up the wider world to us that we could only imagine or read in the books. Most people I knew stayed and got jobs after their education, married, raised their families and got old. Some died and others count their days after retirement. Some moved away and settled somewhere else just like I did but the roots to our home town cannot be ignored. It is still there whether we live there or not.
There were some trees near our place that bloomed during the onset of the rainy season and spread an intoxicating scent that I still cannot forget. The hot and dry soil spread its scent when the first rains came and that too I can’t forget.
The beautiful dolphins playing in the river, the gorgeous peacocks spreading their wings and dancing when the sky got dark with clouds, the cackling sound of hyenas at night, the howl of wolves all bring back the nostalgia I still feel. I mourn when I see no more dolphins that were killed by the poachers. The hyenas and wolves have retreated back to forested areas because the city has grown and pushed them out but the peacocks still remain.
So little by little the hometown undergoes changes that must come as the government pushes development. The roads are widened, new bridges and highways link it to other cities. New airport where gleaming jets land and take you to all parts of the country, new colleges and universities where the next generation of students in smart uniforms get their education, new streets lights, new markets bulging with alluring things to buy, new communication system that connects you to the whole world instantly are too many things that have happened to my once sleepy home town that have changed it forever.
Gone are the days when we could walk in the near empty streets in the evening and feel the cool summer breeze. Now no one can safely cross the streets due to heavy traffic. No one can breathe the pure air because the air is polluted and no one can enjoy the quiet evenings because of the noise of vehicles. There were hardly any cars or scooters on the road when we were young but now people find it hard to find a parking place.
The change is inevitable as the whole country is on a fast track to develop its infrastructure at breakneck speed. The new technology, the new way of on line government services, the new high speed trains, the new outlook of the whole country as it wakes up like a giant who was asleep for a long time has not left my home town untouched.
It has changed the people who live there. It has changed the way people have become disconnected to each other claiming that they have no time or other such trivial excuses so they have become more isolated.
It has impacted the next generation in a way no one had foreseen. Now the kids do not play together in parks like we used to but just watch nonstop cartoons on their flat screen TV or play video games on their PlayStations. They will never know the joy we felt playing in the park and making all sorts of mischief. We even caught very nasty hornets and tied a string in its belly to make it fly like a kite. How we caught them will remain a secret with us.
Now almost everyone has a cell phone so they spend more time looking at the tiny screen for new messages or hoping for one. Yet they have no time to say hello to their neighbors the way we used to. They do not now know the joy of playing carrom or Ludo with friends because they have no time. We had ivory or ebony strikers and had a soap stone that we scratched to get silky powder to play carrom with.
So I found this video that shows my home town the way it is now. Its growth and facility is impressive so anyone who returns after a long time will find it much changed. The people grow old, they die and the next generation moves away selling their houses so they cut their roots effectively. When you cut your roots this way, your feeling for your home town also dies because you do not find anyone you knew and grew up with. Everyone becomes a stranger to you.
The college I went to has changed so drastically that I cannot recognize it now. There are new buildings, new big trees, new everything. My professors have died or retired and left. My classmates scattered to all parts in India and some went abroad after graduation leaving no trace. The alumni association is weak but they still want you to contribute money to them so that they can continue their association activities.
Now you should watch this video of my home town to see and know how beautiful it still is. May be it was a good thing to shut down the city due to covid virus for a while that has cut down the emissions and purified the air but the pollution will definitely come back when the restrictions are lifted.
Source : U Tube video. It should have read Abode of God but the maker of the video was poor in English .
This video shows my home town and birth place in all its glory using the drone view. It shows the Kamala Nehru hospital where I was born and where our daughter was also born. It shows the bridge that I used to cross every day to go to college. It is a beautiful city, a green city with trees, parks, museum, planetarium and many historical places like the tomb of Moghul prince Khusro. It produced 4 prime ministers to rule the country for many years. The university was called the Oxford of the East with the words quot rami tot arbores on the main gate. Now there are many more universities where the students learn about the modern day technologies and new subjects.
But it is changing. It is no longer called Allahabad, a name given by the Emperor Akbar in 15th century who built the fort and laid the foundation of the city he called The city of Gods. Now it has been renamed as Prayagraj which was its ancient name. In India ancient means several thousands of years.
It now has a modern jet airport, new bridge on the river Yamuna, new highways, overpasses and a new metro under construction. Massive modern housings are coming up in the outskirts.
But as a friend told me many years ago in Washington.. you can always leave but never go back .. so that has happened with me as well. Still I can reminisce and wander in my mind the streets and parks of Allahabad that I knew so well.
I miss the winter, summer and fall there and the fruits each season brought. I miss the festivals and circus shows. I miss fishing in the river and the park where I played with my playmates when we were children. Many are dead now.
But my home town is still there, growing and showing off modern amenities, high speed trains, internet, fiber optic phone lines, FM stations, jets landing and taking you away to all parts of India. Only the people have changed.
Allahabad is really a very historic city where people fought the British tooth and nail to get freedom and paid for it with their lives. Their bodies were hung from the trees by the British and our heroes died in the gun battles in many parts of the city. The main park bigger than the central park of New York is renamed after the hero Chandra Shekhar Ajad who died there fighting the British.
But the world believed the lies of Gandhi and in his so called nonviolent movement that won our independence. It was a propaganda of the Congress party of massive proportion beating even Joseph Goebbels of the Nazi party. Gandhi was a pedophile and caused the partition of India that caused the death of a million people but the propagandist call him Mahatma. My home town fought in 1857 uprising against the British and has remained a political wellspring of dissent in India. It was Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army that chased the British out.
The streets look empty now due to Covid restrictions but slowly life is returning to normal. It is a beautiful city and with the most tree lined streets. From the air it looks like a garden with a massive park in the middle.
Source : Google photo of Sangam where two rivers meet in Prayagraj
The two rivers Ganga and Yamuna meet in Allahabad but the blue water of Yamuna and the white water of Ganga do not mix but make an irregular line where they meet called Sangam where Hindus take a dip to get nirvana.
There used to be plenty of dolphins always playing in the river near the fort but they have all been killed by the poachers. I had seen the dolphins when I was a kid. But you can still see the peacocks in the parks.
My mother’s house has been sold so I do not go back to Allahabad anymore. There is no one there whom I knew. The city has changed dramatically because progress has come but it has also changed people in a negative way.
A friend in Europe wrote :
“Thanks for forwarding this video and your notes. it is a beautiful place. You had the good fortune of being born in a good time, place and circumstances to properly start a good life!
I was surprised how few people and little traffic were shown in the video of the city. My only experience of India was when I went to a wedding of a girl, who was the daughter of Taiwanese Canadian friends of Chinese ancestry in Chennai, a very crowded city teeming with people. She married a Chennai born man in a Hindu ceremony carried out in the southern Brahmin tradition.
I also feel I was born under a lucky star starting in humble circumstances in a small provincial city, Halifax, which, non the less, was the capital city and the largest and wealthiest city of its sparsely populated region with an important Atlantic port which made it a vital link in times of conflict and war. I was born at the Grace Maternity Hospital
I did not realize your daughter was born in your home town and hospital in India as well. I am thinking of birth and passage at this moment as my son was born at this hour 38 years ago at the Grace Maternity Hospital in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
It was a really colorful and exotic event for the twelve of us who came from North America and Europe to help them celebrate, dressing in local costumes to participate. Our out of country group then did a ten day tour with the sister of the bride to the west and south through the Southern Ghat mountains and the Kerala coast to the southern tip of India, giving a hint of the incredible cultural diversity, history and prehistory of your subcontinent homeland.“
Another friend wrote :
“Prayagraj is a beautiful city with many features I did not expect such as the planetarium, Christian institutions, colleges. I have never been to India, but the impression of your city is different than the impression I have of India.”
Allahabad now known as Prayagraj is where the world’s largest congregation of pilgrims occurs every 12th year when millions of Hindus gather to celebrate the Maha Kumbha Mela . They come from all parts of India and the world to participate in the dip at the Sangam meaning at the confluence of the two mighty rivers Ganga and Yamuna. They believe that a dip there on a holy day frees their soul and they will get Nirvana. They set up a tent city complete with street lights, toilet facilities, police stations, CCTV cameras everywhere for security, food stores, movie screening places, lost and found office etc. There are field hospitals, information centers, communication centers and other such facilities so that the pilgrims do not face any difficulty.
They set up numerous stores to sell anything one can desire and put up 15 or 20 pontoon bridges on the Ganga river for people to cross. It is a massive undertaking to set up a tent city for so many people but they do it in a well organized way every 12th year. They even set up train stations so that the pilgrims can reach the site no matter where they come from. They set up landing strips where small planes can land and take you for a joy ride for a fee.
Then like magic, the whole tent city disappears when the fair is over after 2 months. I always admired the management of the fair grounds that does such a splendid job of setting it all up and then dismantling it later.
I will always remember my home town the way it used to be but that city is disappearing under massive development although some parts like the old city still remain. I will always remember the pranks we played on each other, the mischief we made together like the time a kid sucked the milk out of a goat in our lane while we tried to keep the goat still with tender grass. Her owner cursed the kids when the goat returned with no milk . Such were the joys of childhood that one cannot forget. It is hard to sever the roots even after such a long time.
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