In the Eighties, as a ten-year-old, I accompanied my parents to Kaduna, a small and peaceful city tucked away in the northern part of Nigeria. My father got a three-year teaching assignment at a polytechnic. He taught environment-related subjects there. We were allotted a bungalow with a beautiful garden. I was still missing Delhi and my school friends and, the feeling of strangeness in a new country refused to leave me for a couple of days.
The Beautiful Garden
The day after we reached Kaduna, my mother busied herself with unpacking the essentials and keeping things in order in all the rooms. Soon, the garden in our house became my favourite place which was a riot of colours. Its shade of “lovely green” offered tranquility and repose. The sheer variety of flowers was a sight to behold. Both my parents were green-fingered, they grew vegetables like tomatoes, beans, pumpkins, papaya and guava. They also planted eucalyptus and marigold along the hedges. The garden turned into a pure visual delight for everyone who walked into our house. It was like a retreat, to quote metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, to “Fair Quiet” and its sister “Innocence”, a sort of Biblical paradise.
Then there was the six-feet tall, young and sturdy Nigerian helper by the name of Sunday. He was in his mid-twenties, a bit garrulous, and, who, besides doing our household chores, spent time reading comic books. He also had a habit of breaking into a dance while humming a Hindi movie song. It was Sunday who once informed us that the word ‘Kaduna’ meant crocodiles in the local language.
The craze for Amitabh and Rishi Kapoor
I got admission to the fifth standard in a school near our house. I made lots of friends on my first day. My classmates were mostly Nigerians and they were thrilled to have me as a friend from India. We spoke in English which is their official language. These curious and wide-eyed friends were keen to know about my country and culture. They were also ardent Hindi movie buffs and would ask me whether I had met stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor. The local people there preferred to watch action-packed Bollywood thrillers on VCR. The movie Sholay was hugely popular in Nigeria. They loved everything about this movie even though they were not familiar with the language.
Leading simple, uncomplicated life
Life in Kaduna used to be so simple and stress-free. In the evenings, my father and his friends, mostly teachers of different nationalities, would take their ease in the garden, and engage in animated conversations over several rounds of tea and special dishes prepared by mom. Mother, who was an accomplished tabla player, would participate in cultural programmes which were organized regularly by the Indian community during festivals. I was happy to be included in a chorus group. My parents and I had started enjoying our stay in Kaduna.
There were always some surprises that awaited us. One fine morning, I spotted a white cat in the garden and got friendly with her. She became a permanent member of our family. We named her Milky. Mom fed her milk twice a day. But after a few months, she suddenly disappeared, never to return, leaving me and my mother dejected.
Living with Rock Pythons and Iguanas
Mother once had a strange encounter with a reptile. One afternoon, she was busy tending to the flowers in the garden when she spotted a huge snake near our verandah. She didn’t go into a tizzy; she immediately raised an alarm. Sunday, our helper, who was luckily around, shooed the reptile away with a stick. He identified it as an African Rock Python and said these reptiles don’t attack human beings unless provoked.
Then there were those repulsive Iguanas (types of lizards) with their big shiny orange heads and metallic blue bodies who were often seen crawling around in our garden. We used to tread cautiously to avoid stepping on their tails. But it was a peaceful co-existence as these Iguanas never harmed humans.
Visits to neighbouring towns and cities
There were many family friends who resided in neigbhouring cities like Zaria, Bauchi and Jos. We frequently used to visit them just as they would come to visit Kaduna. Travelling by road to these places was a popular choice. Since the distance to these cities was quite long, we would often halt at small roadside stalls to tuck into some refreshments and soft drinks. In the morning, we could feel a fresh bracing quality in the air and the sky was mostly dappled with fleecy clouds.
How time flies! A day came when we had to bid adieu to Kaduna. I had turned thirteen by then. A certain melancholy fell upon us. The city had grown on us all these years and the very thought of leaving it tugged at our heartstrings. On my last day at school, I received a lot of small gifts from my friends and felt overwhelmed. Before leaving for the airport, I cast a wistful glance upon the garden which had become an integral part of our lives all these years, making us discover the beauty of nature. Indeed, our senses hold our most truthful memories.