Nirad's Neighborhood

Nirad's Neighborhood

The cork ball rocketed off his bat and whacked the quartzite wall of the fortress-tomb again and again.
Nirad's Neighborhood

c. 1973 Amar’s birthday party built up with a game of passing the parcel. His family had an Indian restaurant in Amsterdam. He had a bicycle with München and the five Olympic rings printed on the seat. It was easy to sit on the soft dense grass of Lodhi Gardens, cross-legged, as we played.

c. 1976 We floated the inflatable raft on the lake. We clambered on it. It tipped and sank. It was made for one, not two, and for a benign swimming pool. Made in Italy.

c. 1978 We peered into the archway under the tomb. It was dark black, with no end in sight. “Can you go into the Gardens at night?” “Maybe, just in an out of the gate.” My cousin lived just outside the walls, across the road, in a government bungalow. His father was in the foreign service. We mused the possibility several times at night from his well-lit home. We never even crossed the road.

c. 1981 Eugene said he’d teach me tae kwon do. I wanted to be tough. We found a secluded spot on a knoll, sheltered by trees. The class of one ran twice before it was discontinued. Short, muscular, cheerful Eugene Rodrigues, of Portuguese descent, son of an air force officer, brother of the comely Tania. I wonder where he is now.

c. 1984 On the same knoll, they shot a Bollywood love song. In the movie, it looked like a Swiss mountainside in summer.

c. 1986 The Alstonia scent was heavy in the air. Batting with the tree as his wicket, Sameer plundered 64 off four overs. The cork ball rocketed off his bat and whacked the quartzite wall of the fortress-tomb again and again. We were in shock. He was in awe. Of himself. He rarely ever got into double figures. He rarely ever lasted more than six balls. Never did he come remotely close to this performance again. He lived in North Delhi. Still does.

c. 1991 In the half-light of dusk, I carved my name on a silver oak. It was visible for two years until that part of the trunk grew higher than my eyes could see.

c. 1995 I stormed out of office, got onto my bike, went there, sat on a bench and drank coconut water. Later, Virat told me he was going to come looking for me in the Gardens. He was sure I’d be there. Yeah, like I had nowhere else to go to. He’d studied in Cyprus, smoked with Lebanese Forces, made money in Sharjah, and now jogs in the Garden. He was my business partner. He’s still my friend.

c. 2001 I rediscovered history. I read my father’s books and understood Indo-Islamic architecture. The cube, the drum, the dome. The mathematics of fours, eights and sixteens. The true arch versus the corbelled arch. Fluted columns, turreted minars. It was all there in the tombs of the Sultans. They had come to my neighborhood garden from Central Asia. Six hundred years ago.

c. 2005 He could recognize them in books. We looked for them in leafy canopies. Together for the first time. Hornbills, barbets, koels and egrets. He was six years old. He came from my wife’s womb.

c. 2011 Mesquite seeds were scattered on Delhi’s ridge to vegetate it in the 1920s. The hardy tree belongs to Latin America. Now it is all over northern India. I learnt that Native Americans ground its pods and ate the nutritious flour. I picked up one under a gnarled old tree and chewed the seeds. Nutty, nice.

c. 2015 The history of Delhi narrated in half an hour to a writers’ group from New Zealand regarding one small monument on the southern fringe of the undulating vegetation. I thought I pulled it off.

c. 2019 Sunny, winter Sundays buzzed with handsome men, their beautiful wives, and spirited children. There are hundreds of Afghan refugees in Delhi. It’s been good to see their laughter.

c. 2020 Barricades were on all the gates. It had never happened before. But I slipped in once. It was as lovely as ever.
February, 2022 Garden, creature, Neighborhood, old dog, live on. I know you’ll outlast me. Will you remember me when I’m gone?