We got off Toofan express at Kanpur central. It was a misty winter morning. My uncle received us at the station. My father has been transferred from Balasore in Odisha to Kanpur in UP. Born and raised in eastern part of India, my world, and I guess my mothers too, used to revolve around Howrah and Balasore. Kanpur in heartland of UP was way beyond our radar. My mother started teaching me Hindi alphabets, soon she learnt about imminent transfer. As if, the moment we reached Kanpur, I should be able to converse in Hindi dialect.
We loaded our stuff on a rickshaw and started our journey in a new city. Our luggage was to arrive late by goods train. My father’s bicycle had arrived with us in the same train. My father rode his cycle with my uncle. We moved towards Chakeri, a suburb of Kanpur city. Road to Chakeri ran past military Cantonment and ended at HAL factory and Air Force base. Lal Bangla, where my uncle stayed fell in between. Lal Bangla was an urban village. There few pucca houses and many hutments.
Uncle was renting a two room house. House had its privacy once the main door was closed. Being sun facing, it was nice and warm in winter but unbearable in summer. Rooftop of the house was accessible through stairs. One could see far. One could see trains running between Howrah Delhi main line. There was a sense of of freedom, a sense of openness from rooftop. House had no running water . Water was drawn from a well to fill a tank. Manual scavenging was still prevalent in that part of Kanpur.
Uncle was an ex airman. He had retired from airforce and joined HAL or Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. My father was transferred to the defence accounts department of HAL. One day, uncle arranged a visit to the shop floor of HAL. The factory was building aircrafts. Uncle was proudly showing aircrafts. But my fascination with train continued. When I saw a train line, probably meant for a goods train, I asked, “mama ji when will train come?” Obviously, my uncle got more than a little annoyed at this nephew asking about a train in an aircraft factory.
My mother was keen to start her own establishment. After a few days, we moved out into a rented accommodation in J K Colony. Colony was created by J K Textile mill owners for their employees. Quarters ended up being rented out to employees of HAL and Air Force. In the morning one could see air men in their blue uniform riding their bicycle to work. Compared to Lal Bangla, J K Colony was planned and organised. There were two rows of quarters in each block with a road searing each block. Each block of buildings had mostly two stories. Quarters on the ground floor had a front yard for gardening purpose and a backyard. I remember changing three accommodations in J K Colony. All rented places, one room quarters with hall and kitchen.
I was admitted to New Light school. The school was situated on the junction between road that bifurcates from road to HAL and moves towards Lucknow. Friends and neighbours who heard name of my school, claimed it was a stable. It was very bruising to my young ego. But there was no denying school was small housed in a run down building. Students were from a different strata of society. One day I was hit by a stone while sitting on school stair. I used to walk to school and back. That day, I wanted to hire a rickshaw. I wanted to blend in with fellow students. So I asked, “kiloni chaloge?” Rickshaw puller looked at me and asked “where?” I said “kiloni.” He asked “where is kiloni?” I said ” have you not heard of J. K. Colony“. Why don’t you say “colony? You are getting educated. Why do you say kiloni to colony?” I was speechless.