We grow old, the world stays young. Or so I thought.
Every summer, we’d pack our bags and head for my grandparents’ beautiful home in Karnataka. Half an hour from the nearest city, it boasts of a solitary railway track on the horizon, breezes in the courtyard, a garden out back and green hills over the way. Every evening, my father and I would lace our shoes and head for these hills.
Trudging up a gravelly road with bungalows on one side and grassy mounds on the other, we would swing ourselves atop the water tank that rests on the first hillock and admire the landscape. With the wind in our backs, we’d then take the flower-lined path that passes through a small knoll of evergreens, before ending at the old abandoned police quarters that straddles the tallest hill, like a Maratha fort in the Sahyadris. What followed was a mad dash down the other face, which had me stumbling and my knees grumbling.
To the left lay a good-sized pond, across which my father taught me to send stones skipping. What stood ahead was the purpose of our trek.
What stood ahead was another hill. My hill.
Tracing a zigzag path over this pathless hill, we’d circle around birds’ nests and snakes’ holes till we reached the simple metal cross that marked the summit. Here we would sit for an hour, with me companionable and my dad silent. As I grew older, I grew silent too.
Once a year I would visit my kingdom and once a year would I climb my hill.
It’s been three years since I was here last.
On a cloudy evening last month, I set off by myself down the same road. The tank was still there and still taller than me. I watched goats chew their way across the verdant hillside and a lone schoolboy walk his way home. The knoll of trees was no less towering and the police quarters were as deserted as ever. I was approaching the seat of my realm.
But I turned a corner and couldn’t find my hill.
The trail down from the derelict buildings had disappeared. Another familiar path had become a two-lane highway. My rippling pond had turned into a large puddle that was used for washing the backsides of rickshaws and squatters. A steel-and-glass building for an IT firm had sprung up nearby and the State Bank of India had deputed a branch to encroach upon my kingdom.
I was lost. If I knew the language and was a woman, I’d have asked for directions.
As it turned out, the hill next to mine had been excavated to build a factory. I was relieved to see my hill intact. As I skirted the birds’ nests and snakes’ holes while climbing up, my anticipation grew. In a quarter of an hour, I reached the top.
Someone had eaten the back of my hill away.
I knew I was growing older but I didn’t expect the world to grow older with me.
Two eagles circled overhead, looking for something they had lost. I smiled a sad smile and started back down the hill that wasn’t mine anymore.
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