Ch 5 - I began a lifelong affair with nostalgia
'Fun Munch' days
My long-lasting affair with nostalgia , this chapter is a musing into a timepiece called the 90's . An era when boys happily doodled spiky haired 'Fi-do-Dido' on backs of school copies, 'phantom sweet cigarettes' were what we smoked all day, the first analogue watch was our only timeless asset, when 'busyness' has not become synonymous with virtue,not getting born in a double-income household instead staying happy all day, 'happiness' was a state of being then. And so it is today : an era after all when people talk about being "cash-rich but time poor"- even 'care-less ' 'rising ups' shrug off their shoulders on 'coming to age' parents yet would not mind socializing with 'equals', for them only losers have time on their hands !! where are we landing wearing an 'apple watch' ,see through it how far we've fallen behind our schedules.That why i say 'Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they're here to stay.Oh, I believe in yesterday'.
That quaint looking corner of our roof, peeped into the girl slumbered in her thoughts, her room accommodating all her childhood friends whose thundering laughter still echoes over the floor, the graceful dressing table glaring those meaningless nothing smiles of hers, the lights in her rooms reading the ever questioning mind of a wannabe kid.
She lived on the residential neighbourhood of Jodhpur Park, where everyone knew everyone. Each day would pass in a routine contentment which includes; taking more interest of what is getting packed for tuck than actually packing her school bag, cooling her heels under the canopy of the ancient banyan tree waiting for her school bus, her deficit understanding of mathematical word problems making it sick to her stomach culminating in scalp gashing with pencil top or simply cramming down the core non-toxic part of the pencil.
One period she loved the most was the Library class where all the students were supposed to take a book for a week and study. The studious fellas kicked off with their home-works or hunted reference books for new lessons taught. She instead found a cosy corner deeply analysing how metallic lady was Miss Murdstone in David Copperfield, was enough to distract the girl of Miss Murdstone’s weird habit of sleeping keeping one eye open . Oft finding it so difficult to resist reading Wuthering Heights again and again the lines which echoed then in her innocent soft heart “ He is so myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
After 3.30 as the bell rang she was all prepared to go back home to her mother for vomiting the tales from school. Her favourite snacks was egg and chicken chowmein that she gobbled as fast as possible only to meet those childhood local pals. She could have noodles 3 times a meal, even in-between the meals she would twirl a noodle. At this her mother once pointed out someday a tree comprising of oodles of noodles hanging from the branches will be born inside her stomach. .
Occasionally her playtime extended from one hour to 2 hour. Her play area was in those parallel lanes of JP .In winters badminton was the only outdoor the gang preferred whereas summers were more fun screaming ‘colourman colourman’, the troop created a play after 1994’s gracious win of Sushmita Sen’s Miss Universe, where all the girls pull off a ramp walk and two studious girls amongst them were selected as the jury members. They answered ‘what do you think is the greatest environmental problem today? what skills do you have to serve the society? To which famous personality you find parallel with? And the famous what is the essence of a woman? with their midget brains. The odd ball happened when they came down the ‘JP universe pageant’ to their streets the passerby’s gazed thinking them as clog-headed !!
A game that continued for eternity (it seemed then) was a chase game of cops and the thieves. She thought it real challenging to fetch out houses or lanes or bizarre empty spaces to hide in JP locality. Many a times the residents were menaced by a poaching bunch of girls hiding in their much-treasured gardens. Once she took the game so seriously she managed to seek refuge in the pump room of 23 JP. After getting located by their caretaker (Kanjilal Babu) she got reported for her out of the way peculiar behaviour to the parents.
Weekends were mostly taking in lessons from her squawky vibrating toping up with a nasal tone singing teacher, whereas making her foot-in for Rinidi’s dance class, attracted the girl to this flamboyant flare of art though her debut stage performance was a disaster. The girl could not lift her legs instead stood like a dumb effigy with live tears rolling down watching dozens of co-dancers freely moving in postures. I actually never figured out when her stage fright vanished. Later gaining more confidence her parents decided she should learn the classical version of the art from the much reputed Mrs Kutty.
Weekend lunches was indeed elaborate with Mitra Bari specialities like Bhaja shukto, Sunday Mutton curry, Hilsa curry with jackfruit seeds and drumsticks, ‘Tapshe’ battered fish-fry, Moog dal with fried fish head, ‘Mocha r Ghonto’ or Banana blossom curry, pumpkin flower fritters or even juicy succulent ‘pui chingri’. At a very delicate age she used to wolf it down with no trouble. Her few pounds showing all over bear the testimony.
The word ‘Lunch’ opens for her a window into an era where 23 JP was technically a joint-family. The 12 seater saw those elaborate lunches and imposing diners. Invariably at the time of those elaborate eating few guests ‘unlooked-for’ might have arrived, all thanks to those skilful measuring hands of our cooks there were never shortage of servings for them. Of many visitors who showed up at weekend lunches, she could only think of ‘Kali da. (The tell-tale picked up ‘Kalida’ was their distant uncle their grandmother had once adopted). All this was fine- or at least fine enough- so long as uncle kali wasn’t eating. Whatever he ate turned into a light spray from his throat. He had to talk with his throat full of food; it was like dining with a spraying machine. When he was eating you really didn’t want to be in the same room or in the same house in that matter!!
Post-lunch was so comforting, blithering under the flashes of winter sun, the ornamental passiflora peeping through our white iron grills forming a visual effect of narrow beams of light reaching directly onto the girl’s face making her eye lashes bow down. Something she found alien in the street was shutting the doors and shutters. Distant clatter of utensils, chatter of tongues, tempering sputter of Bengali’s supreme spice ‘Panch Phoran’, despite the cacophony she found " upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude".
Some winter mornings, she heard the man passing by playing a wooden instrument with a strange sound and she was just not able to decide whether she actually like its tune or not! For the uninitiated, it is an instrument used to make razais (quilts) and commonly referred to as the taat or dhunki. An old occupation of cotton carder posting everyone to repair those threadbare beddings, air rending shrill call of the locksmiths alarming people to make new keys, the sing out call of the Pink candy man, even your ears might catch few vociferate voices far away space in our neighbourhood on these quiet afternoons.
Wrestling on lengthy holiday homeworks and school projects avoiding that danger zone, honestly she thought ,didn't have whatever clicks on ones brain to make them work (algebra, trigonometry geometry), labelling oneself as dyscalculia ( a student who has a fear for Maths).Oft breaking it up listening to ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music’ from a Philips cassette player. Learning the trick of mending an unspooled cassette tape by poking a ballpoint pen or in fact a finger in and turning it , occasionally taking dictations from her mother who fussed about the girl’s cursive writing. Her Summer afternoon were never hot enough to ‘scald the throat’ like nowadays, the girl would eagerly wait to get the smell of new session books and brown paper monograms, watermelon cut into small squares emerged in sugar and rosewater, summers meant more day and play time eventually ending up larger pal chatters
My first hollywood movie
Lost tunes of the cotton-carder
That neighbourliness long street
On a usual weekday morning rabindra sangeet wafting through neighbour’s windows in the early morning hours, people shuffled in and out of Jodhpur Park market with a satisfactory smile filling the bag with fish and vegetables, a person can be located going twice or thrice to the fish market, took their time about everything, few ambled across the square discussing politics of CPM led left front and the rise of ‘Mamata phenomenon’ in the 1990’s. The slogans of ‘cholbe na, cholbe na’ became part of her early Bengali vocabulary in the heydays of strikes.
There was no hurry for them, for there was nowhere to go beyond the limited boundaries of JP. The growing boys played weekend cricket taking on the street in an excessive spurt of high spirits. She waited for the 6p.m cosmic wheeling of the Doordarshan logo accompanied by a brooding tune; it was Doordarshan era studded with a universal truth when you were most engrossed in Chitrahaar/Mahabharata/any of your favourite show,the programming would be rudely replaced with colour bars and a terse note of apology. She grew tuning to Television watching Karamchand, Circus, Nukkad, Fauji, Malgudi days, Mungerilal ke haseen sapnein, then the epic Mahabaratha which made our locality look like curfewed mornings, also increasing the viewership for little intense ones that none watched in the house -Ravi Rai’s Sailaab, and Heena. Then there were nearly cheaply made, badly acted and largely incoherent hindi movies produced those times. But that didn’t matter she watched all those thrash as Saturday noons, were mostly her dominating the television rooms for no other reason, friendly matches and other accompaniments kept brothers away.
Waiting for the ice-cream call on those lazy Sunday afternoons, standing and staring at the lentil dumpling making proceedings by ladies of the house, the eye popping scene setting out drum dancing of mr & mrs monkeys on those lanes, during her summer vacations many a times sneaking to introduce her tongue with pickles made of tamarind, lemon and dried mango kept safely on white heavy ceramic jars for preservation. These were some of the favourite things of ‘Yesterday’ which pulled her to believe in ‘Yesterday’.
There were great myriad of characters residing in her neighbourhood. In her opposite window the duck swing pendulum ride of the medical student’s rote learning gave her the first ‘killing female complex, if 24 hrs makes a day long she felt ‘that studious neighbour’ would demand a 48 hrs to a day to impress words on her brain. Facing right hand door was a 2 floored house with a deep front porch and green shutters. The house was white once it seemed but had long ago darkened to the colour of slate-grey. There lived a girl who looked like a wholesome pumpkin. Of many devices that her mother used to scare the girl yet by predicting ‘you will someday blow up like your pumpkin friend’ would stir up the scare alarm.
As days and year passed she became lanky and tanned running by school errands, and other mounting-up hurry-scurry of life she noticed ‘her pumpkin friend ’ was still blobbing into a much whiter and obese pack. Their friendship was only limited to waving hands to each-other from veranda or the roof. There were many such breeds whose legs went extreme left and right during the annual faire of JP ie. Durga Puja nights, ridiculously funny Durga Puja adieu speeches by some ‘greats’ of JP, pointing out the 5 passed 6 walk of ‘that right-side bending girl ‘beky’ as she was called by JP thekers. The JP thekers comprise of my gang of brothers mentioned earlier in my space, most appropriate face of the neighbourhood of course.
The boys got so intrigued with beky’, they remarkably coined a tournament on her name’s honour, uproarious stories lay behind how they tackled her father Mr.P.D once he came to know the coinage behind the famous ‘beky beneficial’ match. Of all the patchy psyches one incarcerate in their cerebrum some characters stand out in their own odd, out of way streak. ‘Bitosta’ was one such grade. Like her name she can be described as a high-functioning bizarre lady who wore baby pink hair clips middle parting her hair. She had a super charged urgency to ask everyone on her strolling, few patent questions ranging from- ‘how r u?’ ‘what did you have for lunch’ ‘did you buy anything new’, once she detected my brother had got a new camera she pouched over on the street urging to take few clicks. If people located her from a distance, elders usually changed their walking route and the younger ones closed their eyes visualizing the scene ‘runnnn...forest runnn...’from the cult movie 'Forest Gump' therefore would replicate the same.
The girl says- ‘Bitosta’ had no clinical mental disorder (not that we heard off), but figured out one-day there was some problem. She noticed Bitosta calling her father subhas mama( uncle) when she was hardly 7-8 years younger to him, calling her mother Atasi ‘mami’(aunty) who looked 30 times younger to her, statistically same age( though no one knew her real age rather confusing ) as she called all middle age people in our locality uncle and aunty.
But she did well with her living by teaching Montessori kids.Though she enjoyed eating the tiffin’s of those ‘poor kids’ who everyday returned hungry. The parents have invariably got infuriated knowing the anomalous nature of this Montessori teacher. I don’t think the incident has overdone on her, she continued ‘that get some air walks’ down the JP lanes, wearing those baby clips and headbands ( which we have shunned in middle school itself) continuing her tale of ‘out of context questions.’ So what she has risen up alarmingly high; if we behave or talk weirdly our families say ‘you re becoming Bitosta’. So bitosta has become synonyms to words like weird or peculiar. She continued to be our ‘Bitosta.
The family Dr. Sinha has innumerable times inflicted her with stomach disorders, viral fever, fatigue, sore throat and others minor symptoms only to establish her school sick leaves. The girl has never thanked him enough. It is hard not to state what a genius, what an erudite, ebullient, charming, unfettered, contagiously enthusiastic spirited Professor Ranabir Bannerjee was!! I would hate myself for this sound like a eulogy; his presence was more like a celebration of a hero. Often the girl found breathlessly lost under the lovingly gigantic embrace of 'Professor Jethu' !!
As follows, only if you could hear the eloquent theatrically effective oratings of Tagore’s Shesher Kobita by our very own Pradeep uncle you would have known in what strong suit he was born. Moreover Pradeep uncle’s loving ‘tap and swipe’ pat will always remain in our mind’s celluloid!!. And then there were some Godly hearts, we do not have very many sages in this day and age; I felt such lavish puja lunches, our dance functions and overall ‘Puja fete’ would never had come up to our tables if sizable contributions of some infrequent souls like Ashoke uncle didn’t stood by.
In all those revels the girl can totally visualize one such momentum seeing Anjan Dutta who had heralded a new era in 90’s Bengali music by Jeebonmukhi (literally meaning songs towards life, concerned itself with the tough reality of Bengali middle class social life, in and around Kolkata), to perform live on JPCA ground. Perhaps for many of us it was a metamorphic feeling of joy then, surely a heavenly ride as Floyd says ‘I knew the moment has arrived...coming back to life’. The girl couldn’t ever imagine there had ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive than Jodhpur Park in the 90’s !!
My moment of entry !!
Once my mother spilled the beans of her germinating idea of having a girl in her life. In our extended family there lived a small little flower-like girl. She was a fairy looking eyed girl playing and running all over the house.
My mother told me how she wore red polka dots looking like ‘red riding hood’, she got the eyes of innocence, the face of an angel and the smile of a dreamer. Seeing this little angel around, my mom has several times nourished herself with the thought of bringing a baby girl into her life. One fine day her 6 year old younger one plugged in her eyes ‘ I want a sister' as if an angel opened for her the book of life wrote down the baby’s birth in 23 JP, then whispered as she closed the book ‘it will be a girl' that’s how a girl was born in the house of 4 brothers. Do you ever wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it! My mother may have waited for 9 months, after two sons for the arrival of her daughter.
My parents described her first breath on 1908 (19th Aug) has taken theirs away(I suppose not in the literally sense)!!.She came to 23 JP together with her Shantimashi, her much-loved nanny. She came for her and the house like ‘Peggotty’, the fictional character in ‘David Copperfield’.
Though she was her nanny, the house slowly pulled her in all other household chores. But she never asked for yearly bonus or sudden hike, even when rains came down in buckets she was always up with her only black umbrella to her job. As years passed by I realised 23 Jodhpur was no work place for her rather it became her life. I don’t even remember if she has taken a day off from work ever. Extremely headstrong, clever, swift, perfect grasping power for newer things, good judge of character: she stayed like a shield allowing no one to climb upstairs, be it sales people or any strangers. She has been with them in hard times as well, she became their family and for the house their best housekeep ever.
Unknowingly the girl had developed an ardent adoration for her peggoty’s many layered contributions especially to the third floor members of 23 JP. Her only and of course first grudge against humanity started in those toddler days on Shantimashi. She used to feed the girl with a gooey substance made with all sorts of tasteless vegetables smashed into a yellow looking ugly paste. The girl was stuffed everyday in her every meal with this food looked similar to a poop. One day when Shantimanshi attended to her mother’s call the tiny feet ran down the nearest verandah to abandon it. She looked down to notice even a procession of ants had detoured four feet to avoid the food. Now you know the grudge was reasonable. Its only when the father advised the mother that their girl has come up with full length teething therefore the 'yak' diet needs to changed.
As a girl kid she had an obsession for dolls. Everyone in the house was searching for the perfect baby doll for her? Of course, in today’s society, little girls play with practically everything little boys play with like play stations, Ipads and all expensive knick-knacks. But her favourite ones were those interactive baby dolls or life like dolls.she would enact making them go to sleep, oh the hell she at 4 played ‘mommy’!!.
Well one day this ‘baby doll mania’ vanished from her life when she developed her inclination to play with her brothers.Her brothers always considered her as a ‘ minor’ while playing the indoor games.As she was growing her ‘brothers’ unknowingly developed a huge super hero like of an image to her. She wanted to be like them. She started wearing their tees, waiting for ‘Bhai phota’ the day all brothers bless their sister grants her gifts from their saved pocket money. It was not bad at all to be among brothers she thought, though she always missed having a sister in the team of her brothers. She and her brothers have flown the air like birds and swam the sea like fishes, and in this mortal coil have learnt the simple act of walking the earth like brothers and sisters.
A phase cropped up for her finding those ‘soul friends’. “What is a friend?"A single soul dwelling in two bodies," She believed. Her friends occupied a larger part of her life then ,she had found her gang of girls, in a twirl of joy, giggles, few meaningless laughers, all those ‘legendary night stays’, enjoying the hoopla with friends on Durga Puja and many more such 'Godsome' things she found herself one-day standing at her 21. At this juncture she prepared herself self to leave Kolkata in 2005 thereby vacating the house left a lump on her throat. On the day of vacating she touched her study table, computer, wardrobe all those objects close to her. These worldly goods came alive that particular day giving her a tearful farewell.
Her first friend plus nearest neighbour called her asking for the last giggle. The six senses echoed within she is not returning back to this abode of her ever. As her trains gears for departure her phone tinkles receiving the heavy voice of that nappy-friend uttering why didn’t she come to see her as she stood waiting for her with a 5star bar. This time the dewy-eyed girl was unable to curb her tears rolling down .
Her mother accompanied her to Mumbai just to eye the roomies and scrutinising the film school she enrolled in. Leaving her watery eyed mom to the station making her way back to Kolkata the petite look girl surprisingly didn’t shed any water from her eyes. Walking down the lanes of Mumbai where every single curve seemed new, the shop and shopkeepers strange, first time without Ma, her family most importantly, without the shelter walls of 23Jodhpur park, felt more fearsome than forsaken, approaching cityscapes seeming to gulp her down. Since that restless day in Dadar station till today peacefully living in a comfortable residential society in the heart of Gurgaon’s millennium she had gone through plenty. But that petite looking girl has come out from her cocoon and woke up from her realm where she believed she had a little nut-tree, nothing would it bear but a golden nutmeg and a silver pear. In other words she no more lives in an illusory frame of mind rather began to absorb the mercenary world in her own way.
To all those who are wondering who is ‘she’ now in the story, she is none other than 'ME' . Few parts of me can never alter like spending hours together in Bandra bandstand doing nothing yet gazing those sea-face high rises, idyllic bungalows along Palli hills or the ‘costing unlimited crores’ Phoenix towers in south Mumbai pondering over ‘who are they’ riddle; I hope to overcome my fear of insects someday; I just do not like perfectionists, imperfections in a human being seems so natural and real to me than those competing to become a perfectionist ; If i am attracted to someone i am attracted too them period ; I can do anything for the people I care about…but I really have to care; Movies and books continue to be my life changing devices. Movies like Pather Pachali , Schindler's list, Life is beautiful and many on the list continues successfully to make me see things in a different perspective;Someday I will have a showcase full of souvenirs around the world;Often I end up being an agony aunt for others and my lastly everlasting longing to lose weight someday.
For all the fondness and nostalgia I share with ‘Calcutta’ and specially with Jodhpur park I never managed to plan a family holiday to return to the city in 10 years that I have departed.It is only last year I managed a one month stay to bring around my bypass surgery returned father.Most evenings I walked out to my neighbourhood in a surge to stumble on those lanes figuring out my childhood relics. To say that to reconcile my childhood memories with what the adult eye saw took a bit of a readjustment for nothing remains the same.
The happy garden houses are replaced with high tower buildings, those ‘Godly hearts’ have slipped away from life’s timeline, and yet some grand houses which had green creepers shrink into rickety balconies standing alone abandoned, no boys cheer high to have stumped the wicket, no gang of girls ‘ramping along’, in fact I was bolt from the blue to find a thinner version of my ‘pumpkin friend’ this time not recognising to exchange a wave and our ‘Bistosta’ walk no more in JP lanes. People say the mother and daughter shifted their ground to a different locale. As I am growing old it feels scary to think of her ploughing a lone furrow, I apologise for my facetiousness penning, depicting her to be dysfunctional.But by embarking on it I tried to open a window to all those who feels ashamed or consider misfit of the nest they took off.One must not forgot our self-hood is the sum of our memories it depends whether you use it as a throwaway ore or else embrace it as the precious metal !!
And yet a grand building, a bit tottering with age and peepul trees growing out of masonry cracks stood with dignity and pride for 40 years lay down in a heap of debris ,the fallen walls silent sentinels to an age of elegance.Their silence was like that of a dowager empress, wrinkled and unsteady on her feet but every inch as regal. This was my house 23 Jodhpur waving me a goodbye , I began to smile at her telling to come back soon into a handsome maker-over. That is when I fell in love again with my girlhood homestead of Jodhpur Park.