The other day I was drawing for Brandanew, and while those were drying out, I decided to draw out a memory- not mine but my mother’s. In several family gatherings and just personally to me, it’s been repeated a thousand times. I have no memory of it. No selfies to prove it. The garden of Peer Bagh is where I spent my childhood with grandmother and Tathu Maharaj. Somehow my memories of him are of grey suits and white kurta pajamas, nothing too colourful or fancy, unlike grandmother’s pinks. When he passed away, he didn’t have many individual and recent photographs for them to blow up large. So, they used a photo where he was in the background in my uncle’s wedding a few years earlier. It’s been 25 years since we ran to catch a local bus to go Jammu from Noida when he passed away suddenly, within a year of us losing our gardens and home.
Peer Bagh was located near Nadur Gaam (a village called Nadur or Lotus stem, which also was a joke considering the copious amounts of nadur our family can consume). There were a few – maybe less than ten families around in the area where we lived. Our part had a string of houses side by side, one belonging to my grandfather’s family and then the extended family on the side. I remember the garden of Peer bagh (which suddenly now sounds like Chai tea, considering Bagh means garden, but it was lost, so…) in flash memories. Mine are split into two distinct, with Apple tree and without Apple tree phases.
Grandfather was an expert gardner. He would get the local maali to our rose garden every winter and cover the rose roots with mud, so that they could survive the winter snow. The front garden did not have a wall but was circled with evergreens, just bushes that were tall for me. The back kitchen garden, with chillies, tomatoes also had Poplar trees in the background- maybe from the nearby fields. There was a black door on the side leading to a veranda before you entered the house. On the side of the steps leading up to the veranda, lay a solitary Mulberry tree that I was eating out of before anyone could see it. In winter time, the whole area would be in thick snow, so my mom would walk first and create big steps. In our winter rubber boots, we would follow only stepping into the feet marks she had created like a family of ducks.
In the spring and summer time, on a bright day like today, I was allowed to go out and play in the garden. The roses were pink, orange, yellow, white, black, red interspersed by pansies, wild berries, lush green grass and butterflies. Also occasional centipedes, spiders and earthworms. There was nothing not to like- being a child. In my colourful frocks that my mother bought especially from a downtown Srinagar shop called Blue Fox, I was on a hunt. Similar to today when I enjoy collecting everything, I was on a spree to collect roses. Poor Tathu Maharaj who had carefully waited all the winter months for the roses to flower, was running after me. My mother must have been embarrassed. Everyone else perhaps said, it’s a kid. Surely he gave me a punch and said, payi mushran (may the genie attack you!).
When my aunt went back, our home had been vandalized. The photographs that had been left behind because we left in a truck scared and in a hurry. They were cut into small pieces, that she put together with cello tape. I had no photographs of this incident or of Tathu Maharaj for that matter. I decided to draw it instead.
Many people have childhood memories and places they connect with even as grown ups. My childhood memories are broken so I like to reconstruct them, like Bashir. The garden of Peer Bagh was lost not to those who make noises and create propaganda on Whatsapp groups, but to those that felt the acute loss of childhoods and photographic memories.