The train began chugging exactly at quarter past five. Diwali eve. India’s greatest festival. Luckily, no one came to occupy the two vacant seats next to mine in the Shatabdi -- dubbed one of India’s swiftest passenger coaches. I was alone on my three-hour trip to Panchkula, Chandigarh’s twin township. Home to my friend – Jitz.
Earlier in the day, I’d loaded my apple I-pod with the latest I-tunes. With ‘The Zahir’ by the mystic Brazilian Paulo Coehlo for company and Ajnabee Shehar (Strange city) soothing my acoustic senses, I knew I was in for a delectable trip. Enjoyable as it was, the entire route to Chandigarh was lambent. Lit up, as if some royal carriage was scheduled to pass by. Chandeliers glowed on naked trees. Old houses wore a luminescent look. Every time I gazed out of the ac-gilded windowpane, a band of boys and gals would smile their best smiles. Everything was bathed in a strange mirthful hue. Festive airs!
Punjabi’s are known for their heartiness. Jatin's entire family stood at the belvedere -- of the train station -- to receive me. I felt touched in my soul. It was hospitality standing along with gladness. Such beautiful-warm people. I hadn’t expected this! I was led to Panchkula, a five-minute drive from Chandigarh. Surrounded by the valleys of Himachal and the air-force runways of Ambala, Panchkula is an exotic, historic place with an overall laid-back feel. The roads are wide, clean and everyone seems hell scared of the traffic cops. Law is followed to the last little detail. I learn’t that Panchkula is prone to unreliable rainfall and has a great variation in temperature. It actually rained on Day-2. The place was true to its form.
Night-1 was Diwali. The carnival of lights. We quickly gobbled a rather finger-licking dinner. They are too good at it. Sanso da sagh aur makki di roti (No English equivalent, no translation – at least I don’t want to attempt). It was a sumptuous meal with dollops of ghee. Normally – in Delhi – I shriek at the sight of extra oil. Here in the middle of an effervescent place, with a magical family surrounding to feed you, I simply gave up. It is better to indulge once-in-a-blue-moon.
We burst crackers. We lit candles. We fired rockets. We toggled little atomic bombs, with no fear of a reprimand from Prez Bush. We set aglow a few dozen fuses. I’ve never allowed myself to be absorbed to such daring, on any previous occasion. I admit, however that I do love fireworks, and I have missed them before, and I couldn’t miss them again-oh! It was a little team-effort. Jatin, his naughty nephew – Aman, his sis Meenu di and me. Together we added some more decibels to the myriad booms, which rented the usually tranquil evenings of Panchkula. Uncle and Aunty clapped on the porch. The stars twinkled. It felt relaxing. Homely.
Day-2 began on a rainy note. It poured. A cold morning and hot bed-tea is always a terrific idea. The tea smelled of ginger and nectar. Balmy. After a rocking night – fireworks continued long into the morning – it came as an elixir. The rain stopped towards afternoon. In the meantime, we sat – a brainstorm – to create a small poem for Aman, for his fancy dress competition. I wish the witty master wins.
I drove to the Rock Garden in Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh. I was amazed. They say the lotus blooms in the mire. Built of industrial waste and thrown-away items, the garden is perhaps the world's most poignant and subtle statement of a possibility of finding beauty in the unexpected and accidental. It expresses so elegantly -- fragility of the environment, need for conservation and importance of balancing industrial development. I loved the architecture, conceptualization and art of the garden. Replete with imagery and layers of meaning, it offers you lots.
We gadded about in Sector-17, Chandigarh’s fashionable shopping street. The Punjabis enjoy life with a shade of humor, which I truly admire. I laughed out loud with them.
A moment lasts all of a second, but the memory lives on forever.