Monday, 13 May 2013

The innocent cauliflower

Looking at the innocent cauliflower in the supermarket takes me down the memory lane.

The schools in Asansol did not have a school bus of their own. Children came by private cars or students from the collieries came in Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) buses. We unfortunately, were a class apart, we were a bunch of kids mostly children of doctors, nurses, radiographers and technicians who worked in the Central Hospital Kalla. Kalla was a good few kilometres away from the city and had nothing else to call its own, except the hospital and a remote village.

The vehicle earmarked for us, schoolchildren, was a big military style lorry, with a very worn out canvas covering the metal framework at the back where we all climbed in. The good thing was that the driver and his assistant sat in the protected cubicle in front, leaving us all girls and boys from neighbouring schools to do as we liked around the back.

The way the canvas rested on the metal framework, it would after a night of rains, in its numerous depressions collect puddles of water. There were many holes in the canvas and the boys would strategically poke one of these depressions from under the surface of the canvas, from inside the lorry, to enable the water to drain into one of the holes inside the lorry and it would invariably result in a screaming girl shaking her shirt to get rid of the unexpected stream of water down her back, which would amuse the boys no end.

Apart from that, it was a very comfortable and airy journey for all of us. It was open at the front and the back so protected very little from the elements. But the lorry broke down very regularly and once its brakes failed. We found out after we reached home to crying hugging parents, that had we not been stopped by crashing into the oncoming vehicle, we would have been hurtled over the precarious rusty iron bridge which was one way and was built few hundred feet above the rocky bed of a river.

Anyway, when this lorry was not in working order, the ambulance would have to make two trips but better still when the ambulance broke down, we would be packed into a Mahindra jeep which would in turn make three trips.

Naturally everybody wanted to get into the jeep, so little children were first packed inside systematically, the older boy had his throne marked, he sat on the bonnet, on the opposite side of the driver. One young hero who used to sing in those days the hit song from Yaraana- "Tere jaisa yaar kahan..." would hang out of the jeep while standing on the the step, holding on to the side. I would try to get the best seat which was sitting on the spare wheel which was attached to the rear door, with torso and head outside the jeep, enjoying the breeze. If that seat was taken the girls would stand on the back step hanging on with one foot inside. Worries about a flying skirt would mean one hand on the iron rods of the jeep frame and one pulling the skirt in place.

Being able to drive now myself, I wonder how Hussain chacha, as the driver was called lovingly by all of us, could see anything except a tunnel view in front of him. Mother used to say he had an alcohol problem, but we never noticed anything except a half empty bottle in the glove compartment. We loved him. He was not as strict as the lorry driver and used to be so much fun.

In winters when there would be vegetable venders walking on the roads, with baskets full of neatly stacked hill shaped mounds of cauliflowers, he would slow the jeep down, go really close and those of us hanging out of the jeep, standing on the steps, would outstretch their arms and steal a cauliflower for Hussain chacha (May God Bless him!). Sometimes we were able to get the top one and sometimes we toppled the basket and an infuriated farmer/vender would then throw stones at us.(girls being at the back were more likely to get hit)

My father used to travel out of Kalla each day and could have easily dropped us, my brother and I to the school, but he never ever offered. Health and safety??? Well!!! He was such a worrier, I am sure he must have worried about his daughter hanging out of a jeep driven by somebody who had an alcohol problem but I guess it would not have been fair on the rest of the children, whose parents did not have the means and who needed an education as much as us.

Needless to say, I think about it now as a parent but back then it was a lot of fun. Kalla was a close knit community where everybody knew everybody and my dad would always stop the car and give a lift to anybody waiting at the bus stop towards Kalla, who looked vaguely familiar and wanted to go to Kalla.

My love for Bengal, Bangla and Bengalis stems from my stay there, where I watched Jatras, Baul gaans and enjoyed the four day long festivities of Durga Puja (my best memories being of the aarti competitions, I can smell the dhoop and hear the sounds as I write this).  I attended the weddings, where brides were dressed in Rajnigandha flower tiaras and sandalwood paste face decorations, where friends and family lovingly served food, one course at a time. The tomato chutney, the roshogullas, the luchi and the fish....yuuuummmyy.

Ofcourse not everything was traditional, even in those days. There was the orchestra which belted out popular Bollywood and Bangla numbers and there was the open air cinema.

We would all make our way to the ground with modhas, chairs etc. Vendors selling peanuts would collect as well and then we waited for the sound of the train, which was supposedly bringing in the "Boi" followed by the sound of the guys shrieking jubilantly on the two wheeler. Then the reels would be loaded and we would watch, enraptured, on the white screen.

I couldn't have imagined then that there would be 24 hour cinema channels on television. I wonder if we are the generation who has seen the most change, or maybe the more rapid change is yet to come.
Change is inevitable, but values are important.
Hope these values will stand the test of time!