This was how the actors were laid out on that day, or it could have been just any other day. People were separated out depending on which half of the century they counted their age in. The right side, where the older buildings stood and less interesting women walked, had men in white dhoties and the traditional black Maharashtrian caps, pulling themselves slowly and carefully on the wide cement boundary that ensconced the park. Some rushed to sit behind the lemonade stalls, the young lad’s back providing a suitable screen to project their memories on. Another advantage was the lesser likelihood of people bumping into them past this commercial facade of liquids. Some had their wives accompany them and cluck their tongues at what happened at the other end, which really wasn’t an end, considering that Shivaji Park was circular in geometry and all ends either met or broke across the several gates of the park. The park itself was less of that and more of a playground with fine dust suspended in the air, giving it the feel of a slow motion picture.
Shivaji Park is a cauldron of nudges and they come in the form of alittle girl walking a tightrope, unperturbed by the bus that rumbles past her, in the form of a Gujarati lady who calls out to her daughter in a name that can only make me smile, in the form of the quaint pink bus ticket in my hands with the numbers adding up to 16 (that would mean that someone with their name starting with ‘P’ is thinking about me), in the form of that familiar smell although bouncing off an unfamiliar face. I sat where young people were supposed to sit and held my head between my hands. I loved this place but I hadn’t missed it till I arrived here, five minutes ago. I remembered the guy selling shengdana (peanuts) but I had bought his wares only once in the many years I had spent visiting Shivaji Park. The couples kissing each other were new too, and even if they weren’t to Shivaji Park, I wasn’t familiar with any of them. Friends who used to come here were all married and some even had kids. They never kissed in public and hence, this present sight didn’t remind me of them.
What troubled me was, nothing reminded me of them until I mouthed their names. I pressed my temples hoping to raise some feeling of yearning which a visit to a familiar place is known to flicker in people. Was I a lesser human being? Memories hung from the dried mucosa of sentiments long forgotten and cast into shapes like a taxidermist’s handiwork. Why did I have to recall the days of walking along the park, of the guffawing and the snickering that we shared, of the Rs. 2 shengdana which was now Rs. 5, of the flowers that dizzily spun down from the trees and whose fall on a person meant that their lover was thinking of them (in those days, just anything meant that)? Why did I have to look at the house which bore the year “1918” on the facade and strain to search in the labyrinths of my mind for any emotional incident that might ring with the flavour of those peeling plastered walls?
I looked down the walkway hoping to find something that would make me choke in my throat or smile at a memory stoked by ringing inaudible laughter. I saw college students hold hands and scratch trenches of nostalgia to be recalled at some later date in their lives. Older men and woman walked dogs and seemed to share anecdotes from years which never had me around. Everyone had memories. So did I, but their memories made them miss things. I didn’t. I returned my head to the cradle of my palms hoping to whip myself enough to absolve my soul of being inhuman. How could someone not miss something or someone else? I loved them all dearly, I loved my college and school, my books and pens, my clothes, which I have outgrown, and the jokes, which I won’t ever. I am still in touch with each and every one of my friends, I still remember their birth dates and their exam result dates or the birth of their children, I still remember what each of them wore on eventful days and how one friend asked a close friend of mine “You fell in love with this guy? Gosh!” and she was embarrassed when I turned around and smiled at her, the pranks we played, and every minute of the parting, of everything… but why wasn’t I missing anything, anyone? Why did it not matter to me? Or did it? As I pressed my hands to my thighs and my eyes against the rush of images inside, I heard a young guy’s voice say, “See? Every day someone or the other comes here and spends hours missing something or someone. Shivaji Park has more memories than grains of sand.” I cried then because I missed missing anyone.