On a blogging trip last month, we drove along the all-too-familiar roads leading to Corbett National Park. Memories of a childhood spent singing parodies to Bollywood songs with best friends came flooding back. There’s something so familiar about the wind, the turns, those gorgeous winding roads that echo our laughter, the silly fights between the boys and the girls in the car.. our Barbies and their G.I. Joes; the stories our aunts would read to us from Enid Blyton’s 4 o’ Clock Tales; the smell of soggy parathas and sandwiches that filled the car- packed for the journey and unanimously detested by us all; and a whole lot of mountain with the mountains present only in sight (if you were far-sighted enough, that too). Here’s a video from my most recent trip to Corbett, which was a very different experience from the childhood memories I carried with me.
As I sat there in the bus I thought to myself- maybe it just feels like home. Like returning to the place we were brought up, the place we spent our childhoods, the annual vacation where our parents (a group of best friends and their kids) would take to the road for 4 days every October. Every October when the forest was closed to visitors. Every October when we vowed to return the next year at a time when the forest would be open. Every October when there was nothing to do but dip our feet in the river all day. The grown ups would sip Breezers and the kids would collect pebbles from the river to take home. I remember sitting beside my best friend, wondering why the pebbles looked gorgeous in the water and so average out of it. By the time we were 15, we had accumulated quite a collection of pebbles.
We always stayed at Infinity Resort, and sometimes we went on Elephant safaris. We would hoist ourselves on Laxmi’s back (who was- and still is- the resident elephant at Infinity, and I heard recently that she now has a beautiful daughter named Albeli), the girls and boys on different trips. There was always a war raging between the sexes, and it often broke out when the boys yelled, “Girls not allowed” while playing table tennis in the evenings. This would be followed by the girls occupying one room for the evening and the boys occupying another; with a poster on our door that read, “Dogs, cats and boys not allowed” and one on their door that read, “Cows, monkeys and girls not allowed”
So on one of these trips with Laxmi, the boys decided to go first (I would say they bullied their way through, but it was mostly just whining). While we waited impatiently in the lobby, they returned 45 minutes later with these grand expressions of having one-upped us at something. We didn’t even have to ask before they began boasting. “We saw three deer on our safari” were the words; certainly enough to aggravate our already built-up annoyance. We walked over to Laxmi, seated ourselves on the back and jealously started at the guys who now had massive, vindictive grins on their faces. We ended up seeing a herd of barking deer, and we were overjoyed! We thanked the mahout, who was now just as excited, telling him that we were so grateful for his help in showing us more deer than the boys saw.
He looked at us, completely bewildered. When we didn’t catch on, he finally said, “What deer? They only saw butterfly!”
We were thrilled! We had won the jackpot and lived to tell every single person we encountered on that trip. The boys never heard the end of it after that. They had dug up their own grave, one they were destined to sit in for the rest of the trip. At the very mention of Corbett even today, they cringe at the memory of the way they were the laughing stock of the entire group after our merciless assassination of their made-up stories. We never let them get over, and to this day it remains one of my fondest memories.
Somewhere between all this, we grew up and the world around us changed. Now when we’re all grown up an in different parts of the world.. Sometimes when I miss them, I think about how I would do anything to bang the door shut on their faces once again in Tom and Jerry style and scratch their faces in a fit of rage- over that damned table tennis at Jim Corbett’s Infinity resort.