The 9/11 terrorist attacks from the sky In America marked a turning point in my life. I thought the television was showing a film about world wars. In the same year, in 2001, I came to Kolkata to pursue higher education after completion of high school. Well settled now at 35 as a Civil Engineer, working with labor, sand, brick, and cement. It is a strange transformation. Deep In the concrete jungle and a part of the universal rat race, I cannot help remember my greenery-filled days. When I was a child in the remote Himalayan foothills, surrounded by the serenity of nature, I wondered how people lived in megacities! Little did I know then that times and circumstances change so quickly. How I yearn for those days of village peace amidst the silence of eternity. I do look forward fondly to my annual vacation back home at the Indo-Bhutan border.
Parent and teacher role models
Am I not lucky to have been blessed with hallowed parents in an undisturbed home environment? Since both parents worked full-time, I had lots of time to myself. I admired their dedication to duty, and each day passed just like any other day. With military precision, my mother and father attended their offices punctually and sometimes carried work home. In a middle-class home, we had no luxuries, not even a landline phone or fridge. Mobile phones had just emerged and were rather costly then. Yet, nothing was lacking, and the four of us, along with my younger sister, felt quite satisfied with life.
The teachers in school did inspire me no end. I could see my future adult years in them. I wished I could copy the dress styles of some smart, stylish teachers like the biology guy with his shining suits. Intense personalities made a significant mark upon my tender soul. Being a co-educational school, I got friendly with a few boys too, who appeared like angels. When a chemistry teacher married a girl in the same school, it was too much of a shock.
My wavering fear of the caves
Villages at the border along International frontiers are ridden with poaching, smuggling, terrorists, violence, and politics. I did not get it then, but I understand better now. Lawlessness ruled the air. Ample forests surrounded the settlement in the upper reaches of the romantic foothills. It was usually pinned drop silence except during festivals and ceremonial occasions like marriages, harvests, and shop inaugurations. This microcosm of humanity lived in quietude except that many hassles existed beneath the surface. Blue river waters and green forests similarly contained hazards like crocodiles and tigers, respectively.
Not far away from the village, the rising and falling land got steeper, and the silhouettes of the increasing mountains became sharply visible. I wondered what beasts and monsters resided up there amidst the dark outlines. On one occasion, my father carried me to a distant village far up the slopes. I got slightly sick and dreaded going to higher altitudes again. Growing up at a restful, airy, and pollution-free 1100 feet above sea level, I wondered what 8000 and 14000-foot altitudes would mean. Maybe the heart and soul would burst, I thought, when I read such stories. I loved everything but dreaded some phenomena when I was a child! Little did I know then that I was fated to visit many Himalayan countries at those divine heights.
Don’t you think that I am a fortunate girl?
God blessed me. When I say ‘God’, I mean the spiritual powers that are common to all faiths. The mosque, church, and temple stood almost next to each other all along. Religion seemed quite a mystery as it appears even now amidst the global controversies and struggles. I consider myself blessed that I did not witness parental separation or emotional or physical abuse. I dread to think of such possibilities. Substance abuse or domestic violence mercifully did not occur, and I experienced sustained school education all along.
I was reading my way to glory!
Enid Blyton provided many thrilling incidents of adventure. Everything seemed so real because the surroundings outside carried enough mystery. It was not hard to imagine the forest hideouts, and the real gardens and orange orchards told delightful tales. It appeared as if real life was supplementing what I read in the books. I could hardly imagine oceans and islands, but rivers and ponds, lakes, and fishing lay very much within the weekend experiences. Sometimes, it was trout, and at other times a deer or rabbit that resulted from the Sunday outing and a feast followed. Yet, I never lost the fear of the bears that roamed the thickets.
Talking of wildlife, they were everywhere in books and the actual surroundings. Jim Corbett's books about hunting may appear cruel now, but they seemed so full of adventure then. I found excitement in hunting adventures and the daring required to stare big cats In the eye and approach within shooting range.
I miss the freedom of my childhood dreams
I walked up and down to school in a group. Moving through fields, the dirt track, and the shallow river, it was a winding route. Aware of hidden dangers, luck favored us. Nobody scolded us or told us what to do and what not to do. Dressing, washing, eating, and study were all done without a second thought as if we lived in a dream. The fantasy world continued for perpetuity and has not quite ended yet. As soon as I begin to ponder, mostly based on the family album pictures in monochrome and color, tears emerge. Some have departed too soon, perhaps, like my parents. Other grandparents continue to suffer in ripe old age.
Professional and family duties endure
Ruled by karmic forces, I wish to make a difference. My father wanted me to become an administrative officer. I hope I have realized his dream as a civil engineer. It is challenging to witness buildings rise story after story and shoulder heavy responsibility. Standing by the family in these tricky times, duty is the final word I cherish. I dreamt vividly when I was a child. I dream no more in a world of harsh reality. Some things haven’t changed, though. I loved exotic orchids and fairy tale tea gardens then as I do now.