There are people who come in your life for a short while and leave an imprint of a lifetime. Years pass and memory fades, but some linger on as if those were fragments of a distant dream. This post took me 2 years to finish, for a long time the apt words would just not come. However today, my parents have gone back home after a long stay in Pune. While the night grows older and loneliness engulfs my being, the pensive mood makes it easier to put the thoughts on paper.

This story is at least 20 years old when we (I and my sister) were school going children. Our tenant was a loner bachelor of about 50 years, who used to live with his servant. Everyone was of the opinion that he was the perfect gentleman in the neighbourhood; and rightly so, he would charm everyone with his pleasant demeanour and Lucknawi nafaasat. For us, he was simply our Mishra Uncle.

Every evening, we would assemble in his drawing-room and spend a couple of hours talking, singing, telling stories or just painting. The conversations used to have varied shades – school, films, music, literature, arts and even politics. He would play moderator in our debates and would diffuse flare-ups among competitive cousins. From time to time he would entertain us with his songs, not the peppy numbers of the 1990s but songs older than what most would listen. A song which used to play very often on his gramophone (yes he used to have records instead of cassettes!) was “Rasik Balma .. ” by Lata Ji. It was partly from him that I learnt to appreciate good music.

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Mishra Uncle’s Drawing Room, the music system, Lamps, Painting, a table with a small statue and even the Good Night machine :)…

Our parents would wonder how he never got irritated with us disturbing is peace every evening. But we knew that he genuinely loved us, and however noisy we were, he would open the doors at 7:30 every evening, a signal for us to invade his home. Sometimes he would tell us stories of Lucknow, of his childhood and their haveli and the life in the pre-independence era. He would talk about the British, and tell ghost stories, like a commotion which was often heard in their house at night, but never seen .. and two British officers playing badminton, with one’s head doubling up as the shuttle. The thoughts of those heads would keep me awake many for many nights…

When Sushmita Sen won the Miss Universe crown we were in a festive mood. We had a meeting held to analyze the happenings of the contest and what joy it meant to us. He would just not get tired of praising the “Suraahidaar” neck of Miss Sen in his typical Urdu.

Mishra Uncle’s home was as exotic as he was. He was an avid collector of antiques and it showed in the way the house was decorated. For the door knobs, there were two golden lion heads, similar to what I later saw in a palace in Kumbhalgarh. There were chandeliers, beautiful crockery from China, bronze status from faraway countries in Europe and even a giant Tiger head, its teeth a couple of inches long! It was a mini-museum of sorts and our very own wonderland. Every artefact had a story behind it, like three small figurines which turned out to be made of Ashtadhatu and were worth lakhs of rupees. My affair with history and archaeology started in that room.

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Another one with more details, a cupboard filled with curios, bronze status over it, deer skull and horns, table, another lamp, and an antique study table. On the wall is that small temple with three ahstadhatu figurines

In 1995, we went to a marriage in Delhi; around the same time, he had gone to visit his relatives in Lucknow and was supposed to come back before us. However, when we returned, we got to know that he was never coming back. Diabetes had already taken a heavy toll on his health he fell gravely ill and could never get up. Within a month, his relatives arrived, packed all his belongings and took everything back. Mishra Uncle’s majestic drawing-room now had only bare walls.

To say that I missed him would be an understatement. I remember sitting in his now empty room, recalling the moments spent with him. For a long time, I could feel the calming effect that his presence used to have in that room. Being alone there never scared me, there was nothing to fear about him. How I longed to talk to him just once more …

20 years have passed and much water has flown in the Ganga in these 2 decades. We did not have a camera in those days so there are no photographs of him, all I have are a few gifts from him and two childish sketched which I made of his drawing-room.  His living room is now our living room. Sometimes when alone, I sit there and let myself get transported back into the past. We are kids again, the room is stuffed with things from all eras of history, Geeta Dutt is crooning on the gramophone, and Mishra Uncle is about to tell us another story …