The Gwalior morning was bright and sunny. The much acclaimed winter had surely set in but sans the cold chill that normally defines it. We left the hotel at 9.00 am after a sumptuous breakfast of fresh Idlis and sambar (just like any Mumbai Udupi). Post salutations at the adjacent Hanuman temple, we took a tam tam (the six seater rickshaw). I was unsure of the map, hence just mentioned Jiwaji Gang and Ratan Colony in the same breath. The driver declared "80 rupees" with a poker face - maybe the cold was responsible for the lack of expression.
After a brief merry-go-round through the bustling streets of the old city, he stopped at a place. "where in Jiwaji Ganj" was all he asked for. I don't know why but I stepped out at that very location. Destiny or destination, it turned out to be the exact point where the gate to Ratan Colony was positioned. But I didn't bother to read the signboard at the top of the high archway and walked further away. Luckily, we bothered to ask a shop keeper and he advised a reverse gear.
After entering the colony, (or kalony as they would say)I floated aimlessly in pursuit of the building that was my rented home years ago. I simply knew the landlord's name - there was hardly any other clue...but thanks to the old-style architecture, I stopped at one structure that was crowned with a spacious terrace. The parapet gave it away - Fond memories of me flying kites flooded my mind in a jiffy and I asked a passerby for the landlord's name. My hunch was right - this was it.
We spent over two hours chatting with the inhabitants with whom I share a slice of history, nostalgia writ all over the place. The landlady, now in her late sixties, seemed to remember every detail. I was overwhelmed by her hospitality and she hugged me out of genuine warmth. For a second, I saw my mom in her frame. That moment was worth all the time. I am not the one for senseless romanticism but that moment was real. Cent per cent real.
Abhay Deo, her son and my childhood chum, is now a practicing chartered accountant in Gwalior. He narrated quite a few interesting tales of his profession. One of them was about an accounting problem faced by the celebrated Gwalior Zoo.
It so happened that the zoo had donated two lion cubs to the New Zealand government. But the NZ government made an electronic transfer of a sizeable amount to the Gwalior Nagar Nigam in return. Since it was receipt of money all right and not a counter donation (as it didn't accompany a gift deed), the Nigam was unsure about its accounting - how to record it in the Nigam's books was the quandary. Abhay sought help from both his own ICAI institute as well as the one in England and Wales but to no avail. Finally, he advised the Nigam to consider the cubs as fixed assets (and not inventory) and show the funds as a capital receipt. Although he claimed this to be a rare case, there's a lot of literature available on tricky situations concerning live stock accounting worldwide but his moot point had a lot of merit. For a country with agricultural roots, Indian accountants have done little to enure commensurate accounting of livestock and food grains except for the blind adoption of international standards. He also expressed the grave need for worldwide discussion on such dark money matters like how to collect tax from tabooed professionals like prostitutes or the rampant sand and brick merchants (Reti providers)who earn handsome income in hard cash and coolly escape all taxation nets. Makes sense! Imagine a whore claiming depreciation on her body deemed as a fixed asset.
His experiences were amusing, enlightening too, but all the same, he didn't seem too keen on unfolding our shared past. I wanted to recount our childhood tales but his professional pride refused to leave the present. He seemed to have moved on for good.
After Ratan Colony, our final destination was the old haveli at Jiwaji Ganj. This was my maternal grandfather's residence for many years. Unfortunately, the place is now sold off and worse, completely demolished and converted into something else. But I remembered the lane from memory, as also the neighboring buildings and two unforgettable monuments - Gangaram ki dukan - the barber's shop and Babulal's home - the horse cart driver who dropped us to school everyday (unfortunately both are no more) I still remember Babulal and his mouthful of choicest Hindi abuses showered on passing vehicles and pedestrians, en route school and home.
With no one around to relive memories for old time's sake, we did the usual Gajak and Petha shopping. My mission was kind of over, yet an undefined ache remained. How time flies, what seemed paramount yesterday becomes insignificant today...priorities change over time, perspectives undergo a transformation, yet something remains that draws you to it, if not pulls you back. One can relish the past without dwelling in it, at least that's what I would like to believe.
Precisely why I planned a hurricane trip merely for two elusive landmarks in the whole city of Gwalior. Foolish it may have been, but I am very happy to be a fulfilled and fun filled fool.
To be concluded...