Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Childhood- a generation ago
I remember my mother saying that the generation gap between her and me was much more than what she had felt between her dad and herself and that in turn was more than what her parents felt with her grandparents.
As the years go by this phenomenon becomes more pronounced and I remember looking at freshers, when we were in final year of Medical College and thinking that they seemed a generation apart, by the way they walked, talked, dressed….and their worldly wisdom, their knowledge about red or blue films, X or Y rating etc simply amazed us seniors.
Now I see my children growing up in this virtual world of computer, television and mobile screens and I wonder whether they will be prepared for the real world when they face it. My experiences from my childhood are so different and so real!
If I wanted to visit my classmate, Roopa, who stayed in another neighbourhood in Dhanbad, I had to be extra nice to my all powerful elder brother, who owned this vaahan or mode of transport- the bicycle. If I played my cards right, requested him, made nimbupani for him, pressed his feet and managed a court injunction from my parents, I would be lucky enough to sit in front of him on the rod connecting the seat to the handle of the cycle. I would be transported to play with my friend but only amidst countless comments on how heavy I was, giving rise to numerous nicknames, which included baby elephant, potato, football and the like.
There were strict rules though. “Mummy please tell her that as soon as I suggest it is time to go home, it is. I don’t want to stand foolishly and listen to pleas for more time from her friend. Otherwise, I am never ever, and I mean it, going to take her around….” Well, little sisters will know that big brothers are like khuda- vahi hota jo manzoore khuda hota hai.
Life was simple, going to school, reading and exchanging comics, Tintins, Enid Blytons and watching my brothers come home from school to find a reason to fight like they would kill each other. Evenings were spent playing home or teacher teacher with my friend and then as darkness descended and the street lights came on, our journeys back and forth started. I would first offer to walk Jona (my friend) to her house, then she would offer to come halfway to mine and then this would go on until somebody shouted a warning from one of our homes and we would run in different directions, painfully separated everyday.
Then there was homework to be done. Electricity was elusive and inverters and generators were luxuries only few people could afford. We managed very well with candles. The senior most i.e big brother was allowed a kerosene lamp, which did not go off with a gust of wind. A storm and the presence of electricity in the house were mutually exclusive. As soon as the thunder clapped, wind velocity increased, clouds darkened, the lights would go off. I was told, it was to prevent short circuits.
Coming back to the all important status symbol, the lamp, the flame could be reduced to allow it burn throughout the evening. Wow! The naked flame of the candle was crude in comparison, getting the candle to stand upright on the candle stand was such a struggle and carrying it around was sure to get hot wax on your fingers.
The humid heat and pouring sweat were the least of our worries; the biting pests who hid under furniture, mosquitoes were our worst enemies. If you closed the windows, you nearly died of heat and suffocation and if you opened them they attacked with a distinctive war cry as they closed in, near your ears. I can never get rid of that musical sound from my head for as long as I live. Closing of the windows had to coincide with the dawn and dusk, which is the time for a community song and dance routine for the mosquitoes who all seem to be in Brownian motion at the time.
It was in the winter holidays, that one of our memorable projects, Project Badminton was undertaken. Encyclopaedias were consulted, blueprints were drawn and taut ropes were used to dig out straight lines of the badminton court. Holes were dug and poles were positioned to hang up the net. The challenge, however, was to be able to play in the late evening, because the days were short in winter and by 6PM it was dark.
One of the dads, the encouraging and resourceful Dutta uncle provided the wooden boards, wiring and bulb holders and they were used by our industrious brothers to create a lighted badminton court. I wonder if I have ever felt so proud and good to be out in the crisp winter watching people in hand knitted sweaters play badminton as they shouted in joy or disappointment, threw rackets, examined feathers, all in the yellow artificial light.
Similar creativity was shown on the days preceding Saraswati Puja at Dutta uncle’s house. There were cutouts for decoration, coloured paper banners and saris as backdrops but then there had to be a lamp with a rotating cut out cardboard on which different coloured cellophane paper was stuck to create what was, a primitive set of disco lights. We felt great pride in doing what we could, to make our Saraswatiji the best in the neighbourhood.
All of us pitched in to get dry sticks and dried paddy stems for the bonfire on Holika. One of us would make a doll to signify Holika, who would burn in the bonfire. There was always a slight struggle to get the fire going but when it did, we pranced around and sang in Bangla- “Ajke holo nadapoda, kalke hobe dol, poornima te chand uthechhe, bolo hori bol” i.e. Today is the bonfire and tomorrow will be the festival of colours, the full moon has risen, praise the Lord.
Holi or the festival of colours meant looking like black, silver, green and pink monsters with shining white teeth. Armed with coloured water and lots of gulal (coloured powders) we would accompany the elders as they knocked on each door, all religions included and dragged everybody out to play Holi. The procession became bigger as the neighbourhood was combed for any defaulters and then we all met at the boss’s house. Drinking herbal intoxicants, dunking people in tanks and tearing clothes continued followed by a tasty lunch, eaten with dirty hands while drying ourselves in the sun.
Thank you God for such a wonderful childhood, hope my children remember theirs with the same fondness!