Monday, September 10, 2012

PHAGWARA : Back to Roots

What? Phagwara?

We are going to Phagwara? But why?

What on earth will we do there?

Who goes to Phagwara?

What will we do there?make tea?

These are some of the reactions of my daughters when i told them i was planning a trip to Phagwara in Punjab.

'Exactly', i said.  'We are going to make tea there.  Punjabi tea.  Like you have never tasted before.

'Enough of frolicking in Malls.  It is time to connect with  your roots,' i said

Phagwara  because your mother was born there.

Phagwara because your Masi did her graduation from there.

Phagwara because your Nani grew up there.

Phagwara because your Great grandmother lived all her life alone , in defiance of social norm of staying with your son.

And last but no the least, because

Your Great grand father retired as the Station Master of Phagwara Railway station.

And with that ended the discussion.  It was time to pack.

We set off at 4 a.m.  Seven hours later we checked into our hotel which i had booked online.  The online pictures lived up to  reality and our resort was a decent, comfortable place

 where we were given every possible amenity a traveller  could ask for.

I was visiting Phagwara after more than  two decades.  Don't ask me why. That is how life is .  we prioritize things.  But this once i made up my mind that it was absolutely necessary to visit the town which held so much significance  not just for me but my ancestors.  It was time to aquaint my daughters with their roots - of the Punjabi blood flowing in their veins.

I was born in my Nani's house in Satnam Pura area of Phagwara.  My mother studied in Ram Garhia college also in Satampura.  My elder sister  did her graduation from Kamla Nehru college for women.  My Nani who was popularly called ' Stionmasterni ( As her husband, my grand father was the Station master of Phagwara  Railway Station) a widow, long after all the children were married.  She could afford to do so as the front of the house was rented to three shops.  The rent gave her economic Independence and she   refused to leave her home and live with my two Mamas.  Except for the last couple of months when Mum brought her to Faridabad.  She passed away in Faridabad.

Besides being born there, i have happy memories of spending summer vacations in Phagwara.  My other cousins too would visit my Nani and we would have loads of fun.

The house besides having three rented shops, was spacious with huge aangan where there was a hand pump.  We would delight in energetically pushing the handle and making merry with buckets of water..  The second portion of the house was a huge long garden without any construction.

We would sleep on the roof top, liberally coating ourselves with odomos to escape the onslaught of mosquitoes.

And there would be trips to  Gandhi chowk, the centre of the town.

A quick  enquiry from my mother told me that the hose had been bought by two separate families.  Fortunately for me, both were well known.  One was the Gupta family who ran a Stationery shop.  They had  bought the built area of the house.  The garden portion was bought by the neighboring family, Dr Bagga who was well know in Satnam Pura.

When i shared with Mum my desire to  visit Phagwara, she was Skeptical.

'They must have broken down the old construction and built a new house/shop.

'Never mind', i said. the zameen is the same.

'I just want to stand on that land for five minutes.  And recollect all my memories of Phagwara.  And discover what it is today.

Lunch over, it was time to head to Satnam Purra, the first stop of  the day.

We drove to the G T Karnal Road from our Resort and took a right turn.  Having crossed the fly over , we had driven just a little distance when  we spotted the Ram Garhia College.


I could hardly contain my excitement.  We got down form the car and walked towards the college.  This was where my mother had studied.  Taking permission from the guard i walked inside and clicked a few pictures.  It was past 4 in the evening and the college had closed for  the day.  I spent a few minutes and before leaving asked the peon, 'Is there anything interesting about this college?'

'Come tomorrow morning', he replied. 'The students will be inside'

Sure.  Ill do that, i assured him and left the college.

We stopped by at the grocery shop and i enquired, ' Where is Dr  Bagga's house?'

'Take the road beneath the flyover , and turn right'

We followed the instructions and five minutes later we saw the clinic.

Once again i stepped out here i stood in  front of the clinic where i ad been treated by my grand mother's neighbor.

There was a narrow lane  between Dr Bagga's Clinic and my Nani;s house.  A few steps ahead and sure enough there were three shops.

A Gupta Grocery Store,

 A Gupta Stationery shop

 and a third  shop which was shut down.

Mum had told me that the house had been bought by Gupta stationery.  This  was the moment of truth.

I walked up to the young woman seated at the shop  and introduced myself.  A few  minutes later her  husband joined us.

'Of course i remember your grand mother.  I have grow up on this shop'.

Your elder Mamaji was a homeopath doctor.  and the younger one was in  Air force.

And your cousin has an Optical shop in  Gandhi Chowk

'Exactly'.  i said.  'Manohar Opticals'

'Can i just visit the house?

Mr Gupta looked at me for a moment and then said, 'sure come this way'.

Here? through the  shop?

'Yes',  he  replied.  we never broke down the  old  construction except for the common wall.   The old house we bought from your grand mother serves as our godown.

I stood there rooted.

Next five seconds, i walked towards the godown which was lined up with shelves

 overflowing with books.

Understanding my dilemma, Mr Gupta quietly walked out to the shop and left us alone.

I stood there transfixed staring at the  walls which stood testimony to my birth more than four decades ago.   I requested my  daughter  to click pictures as a memory.

I kept moving form one area of the godown  to the next , in a trance till slowly normalcy returned.   It was now time to click pictures with the  gracious owners of he shop,

Mr and Mrs Gupta.

I thanked them profusely and then headed for the second stop of the day, my cousin  who lived in Har Gobind  Nagar.

With help from the   locals we soon reached  Hargobind  nagar .  I was to meet my cousin after two decades.  She had last seen me when she had visited Fridabad for out Nani's last rites.

My cousin is a warm Punjabi and soon regaled us with stories.

Her two young and sweet daughters -in- law served us a variety of snacks.

My cousins had  five grand children and all of them went to  DPS Jallandhar every day to study.

 This was a revelation to me.  I had known that many people commuted on daily basis between Jallandhar and Phagwara which is at a distance of about 30 kms,  but little children doing the same came as a big  surprise. I realized times had indeed changed.

Leaving my cousins home we next headed to hotel Cabana, after having received instructions form my daughter's  friend who commuted to Phagwara every day from Jallandhar.

Hotel Cabana is an elegant up market resort and we spent some relaxing time before  finally calling it a day at our hotel.

The day had been special.. I had succeeded   to trace the place of my birth, right to the exact room and had made contact with my cousin who had lived there for more than six decades.

I now felt a part of  the town.  Phagwara  was no longer a hazy faded memory in my mind, but  a  sweet reality now.

Now that the daunting task had been done, the second day was left to explore the town at a holidayer's pace and that is exactly what we did.

Read about this in Part 2.

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