Rainawari Chowk always seemed a little queer to me. Being part of the old city downtown, where more or less the narrow alleys can confuse one- such is the similarity, Rainawari stands out. May be it has to do with the large ancient Mulberry tree that so distinctly sets it apart or may be its the Hospital, which used to be colored in red in old times; times from which I carry its memories.
I parked my car near the Hospital- for want of space partly, and partly because I wanted to take a walk through the whole area: Cross paths along those metallic roads, that may have been macadamized in many layers, since those early summer mornings, when she must have ran to catch the school bus; in tied up hair, school bag jostling left and right. I had the address- Kralyaar, Dr. Mantoo. I looked around and chose to ask an elderly person. He must have been in his early 70s, carrying an aluminum jar, a very downtown thing, filled with yoghurt from the local 'Goor'. He very politely directed me towards Kralyaar. ' Take first left, walk all the way down, in the corner alley the Mantoo's lived. While walking, I was aware many things must have changed since she lived here. Yet she was everywhere. Spooky no. Strings of my heart attached to her, yes. Hearts are silly.
The old man was right, the corner alley was there. But how to find the house? At around 11 in the morning not many people venture outside. The summer sun was unrelentingly beating down. It was hot by Kashmiri standards. I kept looking through the houses, trying to guess which one is it. A white Koshur skull cap wearing man with thick mustaches came out from one of the houses. 'That one belongs to Dr. Mantoo' , pointing with his finger, the thumb carrying the bead thread.
A shimmering marble plate near the main Iron gate, freshly painted in rust red, read 'Mir House': the current owners. I reluctantly pushed the gate. The activity inside the compound was surprisingly brisk. Open empty boxes, visibly meant to carry fruit, had filled the small garden facing the Mantoo house. Is this a fruit traders house now, I wondered. Manzoor firmly shook my hand. What can I do for you? I explained. He asked few questions again, well meaning questions. Perhaps he was taken aback by what I told him. I was a friend of Dr Mantoo's daughter who has come to take pictures of Kralyaar and their house.
Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart, Murakami writes in Kafka on the Shore. Manzoor carried on. Still taking pictures, Manzoor explained to me that the two houses in ruins still belong to Mantoo's. 'They have not sold them yet. Their ancestors lived in them’. Built in slender Maharaji bricks with intricate wood work on window panes, the structures looked in wretched state. Years of dust had piled on them, perhaps, muzzling the many echoes from far off years. Time didn't stand still here. It had taken its toll. "It may cause the family more anguish looking at the state of the house." Little bemused, I asked Manzoor what makes him think on such lines.
"See there's was an educated family. Well read. We are merchants who deal with dry fruits. The state of the house gives you a good indication." Manzoor spoke with utmost earnesty. In this land of Sufis and Reshis everything may not be transparent, but there is no place to hide a dark heart. On a balmy June day, it felt good to be in this compound.
Manzoor was kind enough to escort me till the main road. Largely overwhelmed, he confessed though he wasn’t very educated yet appreciated the effort I was taking. We again warmly shook hands and bid good byes.
My tryst with her or Kralyaar wasn’t over yet. The air may have been humid, the streets largely forlorn, but her thought gave color to everything around.
Her eyes must have seen this all, that I am seeing now. The smell, the sight and she: all laid in front of me. I felt and kept on walking. The roads were hard, wind came at my back; understatement is a crime now.
One of the many well known and frequently spoken structures in the old city is the Vishwa Bharti school. A visit to Rainawari was incomplete without it. Clicking pictures all around the locality, a bakers shop caught my lens. It was placed in an narrow alley with smoke emanating out through the chimney at top. It had a very nostalgic feel to it. A mad-man passed along, incessantly talking to himself- pointing to the sky, where few crows had gathered, breaking the mid day lull.
While standing at the entrance of Kralyaar, I was now walking back to my car, many thoughts pulled me in different directions. I’d gathered many memories of her, which will stay with me forever now. Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.