Shiba was anxious. It was getting late for school, and the traffic wasn’t moving. “It’s is a nightmare,” frowned an elderly man clutching a well-worn blue pouch. The bus was packed to the brim, and half-a-dozen commuters were dangerously clinging onto the window bars with barely a toehold on the footboard.
With three rows of peoplecrammingthe aisle, Shiba couldn’t see the other side of the road where her favourite clock tower once stood. It was almost a month since the 35-ft tall structure was brought down. “I miss the clock tower,” she said gently, as her father, standing by her side, looked on dotingly.
It was 11 years ago when she first saw the newly built clock tower while grandpa took her out for a walk. It was the morning after herfourth birthday party. She remembered wearing the candy pink whistle shoes her aunt had presented her and demanding that grandpa take her out. “Grandpa took me till the end of our street and stopped. He thought a short walk was enough for a kid with messy steps and an annoying squeaky sound to boot! But I wanted to go further and swung out my right hand in the direction of the main road. He wanted to carry me, but I insisted on walking.”
So squeak, squeak, squeak, they went. At 8 a.m., the road was still sleepy. A few vehicles passed by. A bunch of hawkers were sorting their wares on the pavement.
With a faraway look, Shiba recalled, “Grandpa showed me an empty bus shelter, a smoky tea stall and the department store that was yet to roll open its shutter. As we walked towards the signal, a tall structure captured my attention. “This is the clock tower, a famouslandmarkin our locality,” grandpa said.
Shiba remembered every detail of the clock tower. It was animposingbrick-coloured freestanding structure with delicate floral engravings. The face of the clock was large, and the numbers were clear. The minutes hand in stark black was ticking away. There was a small window on top of the tower on one side, and a long, winding staircase that seemed to point to eternity at the rear. Simple chain fencing lent the tower a sense of exclusivity.
Grandpa read out the numbers on the clock. That was my introduction to time. From then on, we started going out on walks frequently. Our destination was the clock tower. Soon, I learned to tell the time. Grandpa would make me sit on a pedestal meant for the traffic cops and teach me all about the small and big hands of the clock. It was a new experience. I feel sad the clock tower has gone, Pa.”
Shiba’s father understood how much his daughter missed the clock tower. It kindled his memories too of the time it was built and inaugurated with fanfare by politicians who burst firecrackers and mademeanderingspeeches.
That was many years ago. Today, the unhurried city hadburgeonedinto a bustling metropolis. The once broad roads were not enough to support the exploding population and booming vehicular traffic.
The buslumberedon once again. As it navigated its way through mounds of construction debris, Shiba continued, “But Pa, why did they bring the clock tower down?”
“It was in the way of the flyover that is coming up,” dad replied. “Besides, this was a relatively new one. If it was old with adistinctivearchitectural style, probably the government and those sensitive to the city’s heritage would have protected it.”
Shiba looked glum. Her thoughts went back to a newspaper article on thedemolitionof landmarks. “I know dad, our traffic-choked roads need to breathe and people in the cities need to savecommutingtime, but still, I cannot get over my favourite clock tower.”
Shiba’s dad put his hands on her shoulder comfortingly. “Needs change, my dear. You were in awe of your eighth grade teacher, but had to let her go when you stepped into your ninth grade. You know very well your favourite teacher could not handle your lessons any more. You loved your grandma’s house for itsquaintcourtyard, but today it has become a modern commercial complex. People and cities evolve according to changing needs.”
As dad and daughter made a mental list of things that had changed in their personal lives and in the city, the bus inched its way to the school stop. Shiba waved to her dad and got off. She walked towards the school gate and was greeted by a bunch of happy children with bulging bags.
Inside the school, it was quitechaotic. Heaps of prefabricated brick panels, cement mixers and mounds of sand blocked the path tothe assembly ground. Construction workers were shouting out instructions to each other. A curious Shiba couldn’t hold back, “Sadhana ma’am, Sadhana ma’am, good morning. What’s going on?”Looking up, Sadhana ma’am smiled warmly and spoke in a sweet voice, “Morning Shiba, our school is going to have a beautiful clocktower soon. Can’t wait to hear it chime…”
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