My parents had known them ever since my father had settled down in Siliguri and the Johnsons had lived near our para. Baba even knew Miss Honey's mother. I was in the phase when I took my little world as eponymous -- everything was there since inception, and although I would move on, nothing could possibly change about the place and the people. I often passed by their house while going to the church, which was also our favourite playground, and I had never given their house much thought, until tormented by carbon cycles I'd taken refuge in that patient man's only free afternoons. That phase has also been special for me because it was then, at 17, that I was slowly becoming alive to the beauty of what was around me, and giving some serious (though often wrong and romantic) thought to life. It was in those afternoons that I would discover the lovely avenue that linked our house to the Johnsons. Baba would drive me sometimes and I would cram my nascent notions and thoughts into those two minutes I had alone with him. On very few occasions I would walk there alone and those walks would eventually be the prelude to the long winding walks I so love to take now. I can now see before me that road, those empty fields, before it bent along Mr. Moongraty's nursery (where everyone was welcome to just visit and would inevitably end up in his sprawling but neglected mansion, sipping tea and listening to him talk about his fascination with the Vedas) and the bustling trees offering a never-ending tranquil shade as the road went straight ahead like a neat ribbon carefully placed. None of the beauty remains now, as my parents tell me, but that is another matter. The Johnsons lived just beyond the nursery. During the time I used to frequent that place, their sons were studying in Bangalore and their large house was empty.
Honey Miss talked, oh she did that so well! She would instantly make one feel at home, and only someone as shy as me could be tongue-tied in front of her warm and homely presence. Now when I think about it, I liked the Saturdays best. Sir would often come home late, having had to take some practical classes at school (or maybe not; the facts get muddled up in my mind now) and I would spend priceless moments chatting with Miss Honey. It was one of those days that she showed me her library and confessed that she was a voracious reader. She would narrate stories of how Sir would procure books for her whenever he went out of station. I loved her yarns, and though I often found myself too inarticulate to reciprocate in equal measure, I'm sure I held a jubilant smile throughout. She'd tell me tales of her childhood, how things (such as our para) came to be as I saw it, the oldest bookstore in town and its loving proprietor who'd bring a rare title from other cities if a dedicated reader wanted it, of the church in "our parish" (as she called it and I found it funny 'cause I could not equate a full-blown parish with our humble neighbourhood); in other words, of people and places as they once were and which I'd never seen or would see, but would love to dream about. One of those days, as we were lounging in the sofa, she said, "What do you think about these crochet and cross-stitches?" I said that they were intricate and beautiful and looked resplendent in the white linen. She smiled and replied, "I made all of them." She confided in me, saying that as she was always alone during the day-time, she would read and stitch to her heart's content.
I remember making a phone call late one evening, and Miss Honey answering the phone and saying Sir wasn't at home. She said, "I'm baking a cake and reading a book" and it is that image of her that has lived on in my mind, of her sitting alone in their beautiful dining room, absorbed in a book till the ting of the oven reminds her of the baking to do. During my last days that winter before my ISC, I remember the afternoons when I would walk back home with Maa, and Miss Honey would be standing in her terrace and waving at us till the road bent and we couldn't see her anymore. My memories from that winter are the warmest, and I remember coming home, curling inside my blanket for a siesta and imagining that once I "grow up", I'd be exactly like Miss Honey. I would read books and bake tarts, and through French windows that open to my garden, I would sit outside and pour out my contentment in white crochet. The journey hasn't been quite as I expected it, and for a prolonged period of time I had forgotten about the tranquility I dreamt about at the end. I cannot yet see the end of the road, and though the Anne Shirley inside me refuses to get excited by the bend anymore, I still haven't given up hope, especially in this "dolce far niente" phase of my life. Ten years from now I might be a Honey and spread sweetness, or just be an incorrigible Raka with my inherent traits coupled with a dollop of sunshine. Nonetheless, whosoever I turn out to be, I'm determined to be happy.
I haven't met the Johnsons since I left Siliguri. I have seldom been back, and though each time a part of me would crave to open that garden gate and knock on that familiar door, something kept me away. Now I fear that perhaps after all these years they might not be able to recognise me, and if that happens, that would hurt me a bit too much. Someday I hope to have the courage to walk down that old road, familiar but changed, walk out of this mundane life and into a past of younger people and beautiful conversations. That day I will know that time has passed, but it's not altogether a bad thing.