Memoir / Essays: LOST IN TIME SOMEWHERE NEAR PRAGUE

Piku Chowdhury

(Travel Memoir)

Piku Chowdhury


Like a dream in a dream, the winding vistas to the old graveyard rose in front of my eyes. I walked along the narrow winding trail with a vast stretch of verdant fields on one side and a few brightly painted log cabins on the other. One or two roosters stood petrified, like a rainbow-hued still life with strange dark pools of unfathomed depths in circular eyes…like puddles of rain that had collected in tiny spaces on the sidewalks after the hasty mountain shower, and turned into bottomless mysteries with slices of mountain sky reflected in them. The oaks stood as grand high minarets of tranquil green.

The log cabins soon made way for majestic rain-soaked beech forests on either way and suddenly a slope occurred on the left-hand side, separated from the winding trail by a low stone wall. Along the slope lay discoloured but sombre slabs with grey non-blatant, beautifully mellowed and drowsy tombstones with engraved Christian names of a bygone era. The thickening mist and the evening hush greeted by the parting dim light of the day transformed the old graveyard into a sacred sanctum of frozen memories beyond the dictates of temporality and spatial limits. The swishing branches grew stronger in their strangely synchronized symphony as one or two diffident stars appeared in the tranquil stage of a dusky, mist-clad splendour. The distant slopes were coming alive with sparse twinkling lights, red, yellow and one or two white specks twinkling amidst ethereal darkness.

I felt the piercing cold stab of the mountain wind in the eerie chill of the evening, penetrating my flimsy shawl, partly moist with a hasty downpour. I stood still at the gate of the secluded sleepy space of silent memories, numbed and listless. I was lost. The partially soaked map in hand was useless to the unaccustomed eye. A strange sedative lull pervaded my being as I shivered slightly, so near and yet so far from civilization. At this point, the listlessness was all pervading and remained like the eternal stillness of the eye in the heart of a chaotic cyclonic storm. A stillness that inundates the mind as you kneel in front of the pulpit, lighting a candle in a silent desperate prayer carrying your meddled sensibilities, releasing your perplexity at turn of events in the whimsical world around.

 

My fervent hope to get a hired vehicle on the way back to the city, did not go well with the extra hours spent in marvelling at the glass-paintings of an old forgotten church in central Europe that does not boast of tourist footfall. There I was, a day after an invited lecture at the Metropolitan University, Czech Republic, venturing in the outskirts on my own, with a map in hand and a naive inexperienced midlife view of facile urban navigation. As I stood alone in a partly drenched shawl and twelve yards of Murshidabadi silk obstinately hugging my shivering frame with nagging icy stabs of consciousness, moments of some other mountain mist and silence swirled in strange vividness. I could see us standing still on the steps of the desolate graveyard in Kurseong- just like it was yesterday, with aroma of piping hot samosas bought from a wayside old wrinkled Nepali fellow whom we called “daddu” and who bared his toothless gum with a smile like the fading twilight, creating a strange concoction in the fern-scented shady corner. In the whispering sound of rustling leaves, in the inaudible sigh of a falling dew, congealed sounds of our laughter remained as we raced down the slopes with childish competitiveness only to tumble into each other’s eager anticipating embrace, earlier in the day. In the twinkling gem like lights on the distant slopes, the smouldering breath of desire remained congealed, the desire that pierced every dark chilly night in the hills during our sojourn.

It’s strange that I had those frozen memories preserved only in the rustle of the obscure pines and ancient moss on the silent tombstones. You had forgotten your cheap Kodak camera in some park where we had returned hastily in a futile quest for the gadget that must have been picked up by some vagrant localite. But that moment knew no loss.  It’s strange how the buried moments return with such vividness and invade with incredible abruptness in the oddest of hours. It actually made me smile. The togetherness and unarticulated certitude of commitment had filled the sanctum of buried memories. We had no money to possess a DSLR or venture into the city with fine dining joints with chandeliers sparkling with crystal splendour and gentle tinkle of silver cutlery, creating a symphony with mild sizzling sound and aroma of piping hot sizzlers. Nor could we enjoy a faint melody crooned by some live artist in the hall, and yet, as your cold hand clasped a newspaper packet of hot cheap samosas, the moment knew no loss.

I could see the moment on the pavement outside the glass-walled eatery where we, hopelessly naive and young, had stopped with our wistful eyes, our smiling lips. The moment knew no loss. The rich vermillion on the forehead and the tinkle of the sankh with gold bangles on the hand spread the warmth of the sacred fire that had witnessed the holy union of souls, sans feeling of wealth or loss. The silent sighs of the pines carried the contentment of the beginners who would travel thousands of miles around the world with filmstrips of memories to return in the oddest of hours. How the vortex of time revolves! I was here with limited euros in purse, trudging in the same chilly mist, albeit in a distant shore, towards a destination craved, yet unclear. You had been in oblivion for years, each of us comfortably snuggling into our newly carved nooks of familial bliss, millions of miles away from midnight dreams of ethereal hush of a forgotten graveyard in the mountains ,the stupendous failures in form of miserable deflated puris fried together on Sunday mornings , the collaborative fiasco of donning twelve yards around an inexperienced eager frame in a one-room flat. Miles away from the dreams of the luxury of a two-room flat with interior decorations achieved with cheap clay pots or self-made paintings on the wall.  And yet the moments returned in a distant graveyard, like ethereal beings from their peaceful oblivion.

I smiled. A gas station emerged from the mist like a flickering wick in dark. The listless girl at the counter stared incomprehensibly as I asked for a cup of coffee in English. Our pride in communicative English melted into thin air as her visage reflected tremendous boredom and impatience at a tongue she failed to comprehend. 5 euros for a tiny cup of black, bitter brew gained through relentless exercise of non-verbal gestures and yet, the two free cookies seemed heavenly to the famished traveller lost in time. The cheap samosas and the free cookies blended in a supreme collage. The map shown to the lady elicited no enthusiasm and calls to the hotel reception were futile. In limited English the receptionist advised to stick to the map and I was in no position to specify my location. I decided to float on, along the winding vistas lined by magnificent oaks and an occasional lone wild horse in the field, with a heart mesmerised by a psychedelic play of moments across time and space.

Disturbing the organisers at that hour was not a good option. Passers-by shared the same courteous incomprehensibility as I tried to communicate in English and I smiled. Specks of stardust are we, so eternally lost and separated by Babel, by desires, by vested interests- lost in a magnificent mist where love, lust, vows all swirl elusive in the imaginative forays of the mind. We carry our lives in our fantasy, our memories in our dreams and they play strange games as we trudge on to find our way. One or two lonely shops were closing. As I approached one, an old Chinese gentleman was pulling down the shutter. Amidst the unfamiliar tall and lovely Caucasian people around, the shrivelled up stooping Chinese man seemed so familiar. He was poorly versed in English too and yet like the Nepali “daddu” smiling at us in Kurseong, a twilight toothless smile lit his wizened face as I stood bewildered at the surreal similarity. Like some magical play of frivolous moments in time, “daddu” seemed to have reappeared in the dark misty night.

He walked with me with a comforting silence absorbing the uncertainty of the moment, like the silent certitude that had wrapped us in the graveyard, despite our middle-class means. It seemed “daddu”, from the long-lost moment, walked with me till we spotted a distant tram stop. We waited till the tram arrived like a dreamy vessel through the yellow fog. His parting words spelled the name of the station where I should get off to reach my hotel. Just then I remembered with a start, you had not mentioned the name of my destination when you boarded the train to your distant goal forever.  

Bio: Piku Chowdhury is the Assistant Professor of Satyapriya Roy College of Education a Govt. aided Post Graduate College]. She is also an author of 9 books and many articles in international journals, a translator, editor, poet, state curriculum revision core committee member, project director, non-clinical mental health worker and research guide. 


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