Dad’s job as a railway engineer constantly took him, and us, to new places. My brother Siddharth and I happily changed schools, made new friends and enjoyed the changes of scenery. Dad took it as part of his job and mummy, I suppose, accepted it as a railway officer’s wife’s fortune. Every time a new transfer order arrived, she’d sigh, but not say a word. The brunt of the constant packing fell on her: there were no professional packers in some of the small places we were sent to. The railway personnel would see to the loading and unloading of our stuff, but on reaching the new place, mummy’d have to do things in reverse – unpack and put stuff in its place.
My story begins in Badalpur, a small town where a big railway yard was to be set up. Dad was to oversee this and also see to the start up. He consoled mummy saying, “We’ll probably stay here for a longer time.” Did I hear mummy’s sigh of relief...?”
Our school admissions were completed. Next year would be Sid’s final school year but I would have three years of school left. Just before the term started, a family shifted into the railway bungalow just down the road. We were glad: railway folk have much in common. In the evening dad asked mummy to prepare a simple meal and send it across to the Chopras. Mr Chopra would be working with dad on the same project. Sid delivered the tiffin carrier but returned looking downcast. “What’s up, Sid?” I asked. “Only one child – a girl,” he said dejectedly.
The next day Mrs Chopra asked if her daughter could accompany us to school. “Of course,” mummy answered for us. And so the delicate, pretty Uma became our companion and my classmate. Clever but timid, she made no friends in school. But she came over in the evenings and we’d sit on a bench in our garden full of shady trees including fruit trees. Sid would be leaping from one tree to another with so much ease, it amazed me. I’d jokingly tell him, “If you don’t get through in your finals, you can join a circus! Or find out if there’s a new Spider-man movie being made!” Mummy called him lovingly, “My monkey!”
Time sped ‘on winged feet’. Sid finished school and higher secondary with creditable results and opted for engineering. But our small town didn’t boast of an engineering college. The nearest good college was in Pune – and that’s where Sid landed. Later, I followed him there to do my graduation in science, and Uma’s parents sent her too to get her BA. While she stayed with an aunt, I lived in the college hostel. Twice a month Sid would come and meet me and sometimes we made a trio for a movie and dinner. continued...