Our grandfather lived in Siliguri which he called the Terai (plains). He believed it was good for his bones, unlike the hills of Sikkim which he said was beautiful but his bones creaked with cold. So he had built a house in the plains, apparently when he still had strength he said. He seemed strong enough when he chased after us with his walking stick if we so much as touched his pan (betel leaf & coconuts), or stole the coins, whichever we could lay our hands on first.
During our school holidays we would visit him for a month, especially during winters.
My brother and I enjoyed our stay in Siliguri for it was a wonderful place with a river that meandered nearby and was pleasantly warm. It did not cut into your skin with icy cold waters. There was a railway track that passed the neighbourhood where our grandfather’s house lay. Trains chugged at all odd hours and the house rumbled just a wee bit whenever one passed during the night. It was a fascinating place by all accounts.
As eight and ten year olds what were we to do but explore? The adults disagreed with our definition of wise searching and experimenting and tagged it as mischief, but we disagreed back. Hence our dynamics with the adults were at existential loggerheads most of the time which excluded meal times, mother always made good food so we were in unison at least three times a day.
The house was a colossal one with huge cylindrical pillars on the ground level and a wooden first floor with ceilings that reached the skies. Sometimes it felt like the Natural History Museum that we had visited in England, even the buffalo horn that adorned the main door resembled the Museum. Although there it wasn’t on the main door but inside, where an embellished wall of horns was on display.
Our grandfather’s house wasn’t very different though in many respect. There was a room that my brother agreed to explore with me, this was the room of trophies; Animal skin and horns saddled with books among other things. It was a curious sort of a room, scary at nights and interesting during the day. However, our attention was mainly focussed on a glass cabinet high up on one of the wooden walls just beneath the lamp. It encased a gun.
It was an actual gun. We verified it standing, lying and crawling underneath it at different angles. This was the singular point of our attention and efforts during the days when it was too hot to play outside.
We had not yet gotten a clear view of the inscription. We tried hard enough though; a chair on top of a table, a chair on top of a chair, a table on top of a table with books on it and a long pole that did nothing worthwhile to the lock or the cabinet but managed to break the lamp which we quickly collected and put away behind the thick curtains.
The lock on the cabinet would not yield, but it did manage to give us a couple of bumps and bruises whenever our angle of propping ourselves did not adhere to some mathematical rule of the universe. Nonetheless, it was not a futile exercise for we had managed to read M 1 Garand so far. We did not lose heart nor hope.
Asking grandfather never crossed our minds.