It was during the same period that father was transferred. I was so happy at the thought of seeing a new world that the prospect of separating from my play-mates did not sadden me. But father was unhappy since the present place offered him a good income; mother was unhappy because things were cheaper here, and she had made good friends with the neighbourhood women. But I was very happy. I boasted to my friends that the place where we were going had high-rise buildings; the teachers in the schools there did not dare to punish the pupils since they could be put into jails for doing that. My friends listened to me with wide believing eyes and I was elevated in their esteem by many degrees. Children have the ability to transform falsehood into truth and we adults, who cannot acknowledge even the truth, cannot understand that ability.
Twenty years have elapsed. I am an engineer now. While touring the district I happened to arrive at the same village. The place revived my sweet childhood memories, and I immediately set out since I was impatient to visit the playgrounds of my childhood days. Everything had changed; nothing was recognizable. Huge buildings had come up on the sites where there once had been ruins; there was a beautiful garden where only a banyan tree had stood before. There was a complete transformation; had I not known the name of the village and its location, I would never have recognized it. I was overcome with a feeling of nostalgia, and wished to embrace my childhood friends; but that world had changed. I wanted to go down on my knees, embrace the earth and cry out, "Have you forgotten me? I want to see your features of the past."
At that moment I saw two-three boys playing a game of tip-cat on an open space. For an instant I forgot my status - I forgot I was an officer whose attire smacked of panache and authority.
Going up to one of the boys I asked him, "Son, do you know any person by the name of Gaya?"
One boy, picking up the tipper and billet, asked meekly, "Gaya? Gaya, the cobbler?"
"Yes, yes. That's him. If there is a person by name Gaya, it is probably him," I said.
"Yes, there is a person by the name of Gaya," the boy replied.
"Can you bring him here?"
The boy ran and came back with a huge and dark man accompanying him. I recognized him from far, and wanted to spring forward and embrace him. But I restrained myself.
"Do you recognize me?" I asked.
Gaya saluted me and said, "Yes sir, why should I not recognize you? Are you fine?"
"I am fine. But tell me about yourself."
"I am the deputy saheb's groom."
"Where are Matai, Mohan, Durga? Do you know about them?"
"Matai has passed away. Durga and Mohan are postmen. What about you?"
"I am the district engineer."
"You were always destined for higher things, sir."
"Do you still play tip-cat?"
Gaya looked at me with a puzzled expression. "How can I play tip-cat now, sir? I don't get much free time from my work."
"Let's play today. You strike, and I will chase. I owe you a turn at striking," I told him.
Gaya agreed after much coaxing. He was an ordinary labourer; I was an officer. A gulf separated us. He was feeling very embarrassed. I was also feeling a bit embarrassed; not because I was about to play with Gaya but because people would find it a pantomime and gather around us. There would be no enjoyment while playing before a horde of spectators; but, then, it was impossible to stay without playing. We decided to go to a secluded spot away from the village and play. There would be no one to watch us; we could play to our heart's content and revel in childhood memories.