CoffeeShop Blues: 2015 Traveler's Edition - Page 109

Jeremy Frost home. I’m not talking about the westernized elite in the big cities, but about the middle class, especially in the hinterland.” I had not really understood what he meant until now. Little did I suspect that four years later I would step into this same house as a daughter-in-law; and that, two years after that, I would return to put my first son into his grandmother’s arms. Nor could I have anticipated Zafar’s frantic attempts to reach his parents from our Belgian home in December 1984, after hearing the news that a toxic gas cloud had escaped from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, killing thousands and sickening many more. Fortunately, the family was unharmed. And finally, even in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined that Zafar and I, after many more years and visits, would acquire a house of our own in Bhopal, so that we would be able to enjoy the proximity of the khaandaan [clan] and the charms of the city in our retirement. The Bhopal of today is very different from that of the seventies. The population, less than 500,000 in the early seventies, is now rapidly approaching two million. Despite the tragic events of 1984, the town has grown not only in a demographic and geographical sense, but also in prosperity. The old bazaars are busier than ever, even with the advent of western style malls. New housing developments, new schools and colleges now dot the suburban landscape. The block housing the landmark “Lily Talkies” has been demolished to make room for a “shopping and entertainment complex.” This evolution is a mixed blessing. After Zafar’s parents passed away, his siblings have taken great liberties with the ancestral home, adding floors to not only accommodate their own growing families, but also to rent out as student digs. This is entirely understandable, an economic necessity even. Yet, every time I behold the old courtyard, now diminished in size and receiving ever less sunlight, I grow nostalgic for the way it was when I first set eyes on it. 109