I first saw it in the stories of my husband’s boyhood: when he told me about fishing in the local river with his bare hands and when he described the tough climb of the adjoining hills. When he told me about the ghost that changed shapes and the tortoise that came home. There were also times when my imagination failed me: how could I, a girl born and bred in cities, imagine wild elephants walking into paddy fields, or a pair of dead twins appearing on the river bank? Does the place even exist or is he making it up? I would often wonder.
I got my answer soon after, when I first reached there on a cold winter night, as a new bride. With only the headlights of our cars illuminating the dark serpent of a road slithering between hills and forests, the hour long drive from the station seemed endless and eerie. The bright rays of the sun next morning finally showed me what I had only imagined until now — lush hills and fluorescent fields, huge trees and thin rivulets, and among them a neat little town – my husband’s home — Jamshedpur.
Jamshedpur became home quickly. For a design aficionado who grew up in haphazard and dusty towns of Uttar Pradesh, the order here was godsend. I revelled at the town planning that incorporated local elements much before it was fashionable to do so. The low row-houses in Kadma, the large colonial buildings in Bishtupur, the clean lines, open spaces, and minimalistic bungalows of Circuit House area and Europe inspired Jubilee Park were all out of my dream. It was like I had lived here forever. Just that I could not live here forever, I had to go back to my big city life. As a daughter in law of Jamshedpur, however, I had the options to return whenever I wanted and for the past two decades I have made sure that I return every year.
And every year I do the same things. I start my mornings listening to the chorus of the birds of the large jamun tree in the front yard and follow it up with a trip to Madrasi Hotel. At Madrasi I am fed with the most glorious dosas by Gayatri and Sharan, the owners who have, over the years, become friends. On the way back, I stop at the haat and pick up the most luscious fresh vegetables — the chillies, potol, and jhinge being my favourite.
The afternoons are spent cooking and eating things that I do not have time for in Delhi, lazing on the cool grey mosaic in the hall and catching the latest gossip with parents in law. In the evenings we stroll to the local market for our fill of chops, puchkas, rolls and litti and usually end up at Regal Café, the vantage point of the town. As a friend of Varun, the man behind the cafe, I have access to one of the most iconic buildings in the city — something I am equally smug and grateful for. Incidentally even though Jamshedpur is my husband’s town, I have more friends here than him.
When we are bored (its not easy for city dwellers to live the laid-back life of a small town), we drive to a quaint railway station called Rakha Mines, a few miles away from home, beyond a small barrage on Suvarnarekha. Set among paddy fields and hutments, with only a ticket window and a tin roof, the tiny station is transports me to a Satyajit Ray film where I become the protagonist. It is strange how even though I have never lived here, I feel like I belong here.
On our way back, on the same slithering road that once introduced me to Jamshedpur, I often wonder if we can ever move back and live this life forever. I only hope I can.