I have always believed that our brain has been hardwired to compare. Be it objects, emotions or scenarios, our mind constantly compares. We are able to distinguish good from bad, black from white, shiny from rusty; and I feel this is where lies the basis of our intelligence. In short, I think that the human race is this intelligent because it can compare things better than any other group of organisms we know.
Since I am a part of this human race, and I am what can be safely called ‘normal’, I also have this quality to compare, especially to distinguish between things I saw during my childhood and those that exist now. And I dare say, I am really good at it! Now there are some places that really don’t seem different with respect to time, until the difference is no longer possible to overlook. Mumbra, where I have spent a decent part of my childhood, is one such place… The streets are still as dirty as they were, 15 years ago; the people still quarrel like they did, back then; and the roads there still resemble the moon’s surface. The one remarkable change that one would easily notice now is the presence of a huge number buildings now. In a short while, many residential structures have sprung up. It is jarring for the eyes, really. I mean, would you not be startled to discover a building that didn’t exist on your last visit, about three and a half month ago? To many, this is ‘rapid development.’
Mumbra is not that bad, as far as scenic beauty is concerned. Beautiful hills adorn one side of the town, a creek and mangroves on another. As a child, I enjoyed watching these hills while sitting on the windowsill of my Grandmother’s house on the first floor of Bhoora Mahal, though it is not really the best place to allow the creek’s view. The hills had something that had me gazing at them for apparently no reason. I enjoyed the way they turned green after a few rains, sometimes enveloped by clouds. And when it was summer, their hue would turn more and more earthern, till they were almost barren. My cousins and I would watch people (who looked no larger than ants from such a distance) climb up a long flight of stairs that reached all the way till the Mumbradevi temple, situated at the side of a steep cliff. It was a great time-killer, especially during summer vacations, when time-killing had to be ‘great’ by compulsion.
Soon, a ‘rapid development’, like those mentioned before, happened right beside my grandmother’s building. Not only did it block the view of the beautiful hills entirely, it also barred most of the natural light from entering grandmom’s house. It was a shocking change. No more sitting on the sill, no more watching the hills covered in clouds. It could well be the most shocking change I experienced till that age (I was around 12 years old, I guess).
After that, lights in Bhoora Mahal had to be kept on 16-hours-a-day (considering 8 hours of sleep). Meanwhile, more buildings got constructed, engulfing little huts and trees in the locality. The air lost some of its freshness each day. As time passed, some of my brain cells, that remembered the view from that window, died every moment. Only a picture clicked by my elder sister, from a borrowed film camera, back in 1999, kept the memory alive somehow. I had somehow stopped missing that view because I gave in to the fact that it could no longer be a possibility. True, I could view it from other places (such as building terraces), but it certainly never felt like how it felt from the sill. And one day, the ‘rapid development’ that stood beside a much-older Bhoora Mahal, crumbled and gave away.
Three people died, from what I heard, and many people lost everything they had. Too busy with my own life (no time left to be killed, anymore), I only went to meet my grandmom after a few weeks i.e. after Bhoora Mahal was declared safe. It was a sunny afternoon, the characteristic of the day I remember because I realized it was too bright the moment I reached the first floor. My steps hurried, taking me faster in the direction of my destination. They hurried because I started to realize what awaited me. The moment, when I stepped into the house, was special. It felt as if I was re-entering my childhood. The moment was bright, like the fresh sunlight that embellished the room I was in. My joy was at a constant ascent. And each single spec of time that had settled on my life’s own window, began to disappear, allowing me to view those moments of my past vividly. Some memory triggers are nature’s own time machines. I relived my moment, standing on the window sill and gazing at my beloved hills in the same way as I did as a child. I did so one eyeful at a time, because it was choking me with emotions. My oscillating mind began to compare two images of the same scene, images separated by a period of about eight years. As tears began forming in my myopic eyes, I looked away uneagerly. I came back to the sill many times during the few hours I spent there. In the little amount of time I spent there, I understood the true meaning of nostalgia. It is good that some things don’t change.