I had a huge smile on my face as I entered home. Dad says.. “See, no problem”. Errrr… there was, but yeah, I managed. As a 12 year old, I managed to go out into the big bad world and come back home after a 15 km round trip. So what if it was a lazy Sunday afternoon? 🙂
So here is the background to it. My dad had revived his stamp collection hobby in 1974. He had decided that he would collect only Indian stamps. Preferably new issues. So, he subscribed to a philately newsletter and started getting information about new stamp releases. I used to accompany him on his quest to collect First Day Covers and Stamps from the General Post Office, New Delhi.
Not sure why, but the stamps would be issued on Sundays, and my dad used to take me along on his scooter. Those of you who have seen this grand building – the GPO – will know that it is on Parliament Street, quite close to the Parliament building, and is right next to the Reserve Bank of India and close to All India Radio…all on the same street. My dad pointed them out to me, more than once. He would take a different route every now and then. I used to keenly follow his commentary on the various routes to get an understanding of which road led where, and try and remember the landmarks at the seemingly innumerable circles/junctions we passed through. I did manage to get the idea that there were a number of parallel roads cutting across Rajpath, by observing that the Rashtrapathi Bhavan and the India Gate seemed to be closer or farther, depending on the road we took. The last part of the journey to the GPO always used to be on the Parliament Street.
Once at the GPO, I had observed and picked up the process:
1. Stand in a line to buy the stamps and the First Day cover. Either give the exact change, or ensure that the proper change was returned.
2. Get the First Day cover cancelled – special stamping – by standing in another line
3. Put this safely into a pouch. The pouch into the shoulder bag
4. Check out what the stamp sellers had at the bottom of the steps of the GPO. Negotiate and buy anything of interest.
One Sunday in 1977, he asked me get to get ready to go to the GPO. Once I was ready, he asked me to go to the GPO alone and get the stamps and the First Day cover. By bus. I protested. I had no idea which bus to take. I had always gone with him by scooter. He asked me whether I knew Parliament Street. I did. So, he gave me the bus number to take, and Rs. 5/- more than what was enough for the stamp and the first day cover. That was more than sufficient for the return fare by bus.
I managed to board the correct bus at the Lajpat Nagar terminus. Now the bus route was not the same as my dad’s! I remember getting jittery when it got to India Gate. Started pestering the conductor about the GPO stop. Naturally, he got irritated and walked away. First, we went past Nirman Bhavan, where my dad worked. Then Udyog Bhavan, next Krishi Bhavan. I knew we had crossed Rajpath, but was no longer sure that the bus would really take the turn towards Parliament Street. I could not wait, and got down in front of Rail Bhavan. I asked someone for the GPO. Was told that it was 2-3 stops further. I was not sure of the fare, and whether I would have sufficient money to get back home. It was an irrational fear, given that Rs. 5 went a long way back then.
Anyway…I decided to walk to the GPO instead. Asked someone and the got the direction. This road did not go towards Parliament street. It was instead parallel to it. I was in unfamiliar territory now. So I asked again. And again. Finally, I approached the GPO from behind. Turned onto a street and came on to Parliament Street. Turned and saw the familiar GPO. Experienced immense relief. The rest was a breeze. On the way back, I knew that I had to walk towards RBI. The bus stand was close by. I waited for a long time to take the exact same bus back to Lajpat Nagar. Back home, I must have talked about my journey for quite some time.
Thanks to this episode, I lost my fear for traveling alone. In 1978, I changed school and with that the commute mode. I used to walk to school earlier. Now I had to take the bus. Public Transport. The rough and tough DTC at peak hours! 🙂
Today, when I try to protect my kids, I wonder whether it is the right thing to do? Had my dad observed my fear of travelling alone, and forced that journey on me, to help overcome my fear? He succeeded. But, what if I had got lost? What if the strangers who helped me reach my destination had not done so? What if …and Buts ….Well. I will never know. Now, if only I could overcome my fear and send my kids out on a journey like this one… 🙂