Displacement

The cold air of the AC
grazes my neck.
Our lattes arrive.
I glance at the frothy cream in my cup
and look at my father,
wondering if he misses the Irani restaurant
that has been replaced by this café.

He says he doesn’t.
He tells me the Irani place shut shop years ago.
He recollects the evenings at Café Cadell
where he would spend evenings with his friends,
sharing cups of chai,
one by two.
All this while, his face is lit up with a smile,
as if he is narrating a story from the last week,
as if that café has not vanished but has only moved to a parallel universe,
and he still has the key.

Perhaps, it is I who miss it the most.
I, who as a five-year-old,
locked in faint memories
of wooden chairs and tables.
Memories,
not sharp enough for me to recall with detail,
but which, even with their blurred silhouettes,
jolt me out of this café
with its glass table and cushioned chairs.

It is strange why I think of that restaurant
I have never stepped in,
why I try to reconstruct it
from these sparse bricks and pieces.
Is it a metaphor of a time
I wish I could remember in greater detail,
whose smells and sounds
I could pull out from memory,
and relive them again?

I wish I had pictures of those times.
What would they reveal?
Me, walking down Cadell Road,
Holding on to an adult’s hand?
Would those pictures remind me
of what I thought then?
Did I see the world as an open playground?
Or did I fear being lost in seas of people,
in avalanches of conversations,
like I sometimes do even now?

And I wonder if pictures help us fill in the missing pieces,
weaving fictional tidbits to connect memories,
in this quest for us to make sense
of our lives,
imagining it as one continuous film reel.

And is that why we keep photo albums?
Trapping memories between pictures
in black and white,
or in colour, for those of us who are younger.

Meanwhile, my father,
unaware of my aimless, rambing, time travel trip,
places his cup on the table.
It is half empty.
I realize I haven’t had a sip yet.
We need to leave,
so I glug down the coffee,
making mental notes about its texture and taste.
My eyes fixed on my father,
I notice how his back arches forward
just a little more than it did the last time I was in Mumbai.
I see the glint in his eyes
when he tells me about his childhood home
on the other side of the street.

I stitch up the details
as I take another sip of the coffee,
hoping I can hang on to the memories of this evening.
And even though I can click a picture now,
my cellphone stays face down on the table.

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