So much has changed in the last few months that it seems as if I am a completely different person from the Diya who started this blog eons ago. As I write this from a corner of our new flat, I wonder about the various changes that my life has undergone and the great change that is about to come as I complete 40 years on this earth later this year.
I remember as a teenager how impatient I used to be with life. I used to think that there only exists the same old routine of school and home. I remember, the entries in my diary expressing exasperation at the deathly drudgery of life. Ironically this is the same school life that I am so nostalgic about now that I am pushing 40. However, this I can say with great certainty that all the changes in places of residence in my life till now have brought positive results, and one thing I am sure of…nothing is permanent…life means change. I remember all the houses that I have lived in for so many years…my beloved 41/B/1 in Calcutta, Baba’s official quarters in Siliguri where the resident cook Ilias Dada used to warm food in the ‘icmic cooker’ , the lovely ‘Dilara’ Baba’s house cum office in Shillong, our rented house in Green Park in Delhi, the thrilling 2years at Mandir Marg, the fun at Kaka Nagar D-II 188, then the most lovely ‘igaara B’ Portland Park..when I have dreams located at ‘home’ I always see this house, then the heady years at Ritchie Road, then the 7months of pure pleasure at the Pragati Vihaar transit accommodation in Delhi, then freaked out fun at R K Puram, 6months stay at Geetanjali Hostel (DU, South Campus) one big party, then the old “Bhooter Baari’ on Belvedere Road the house from where I got married and then to Delhi again in Sheikh Sarai,and now Bangalore first on Hosur Road and now here near Bannerghatta Road one of my favourite roads in Bangalore. Over the years all the bad memories have dulled and what’s left are bitter sweet memories which flash one after the other in my mind. All in all, it has been a fulfilling experience with lots of friends and relatives who have made life worth living. The only house I have no memories of is the one next to the ‘Bhooter Bari’ which was my father’s official quarters when I was less than a year old. In one of the snaps taken of me in those days the ‘Bhooter Bari’ is clearly visible in the background, in an eerie way my life would come full circle…I began my life in this tiny army quarter and got married in the colossal structure just next to it!!
In Siliguri, I remember the small house, it had two rooms and a servant’s quarter where Baba’s peons lived. Ilias dada was my favourite and used to entertain me a lot. In front of the house there was an almost hut like home belonging to a family that had 2 children a boy and a girl. These children used to come to play with me. They had the largest eyes I had ever seen!! I still remember their eyes, jet black with long lashes, I do not remember their names though. I used to play with a flag which was made of a cane stick. I remember, one day Baba got fed up of my flag waving and scared that a splinter would get into my arm he threw the stick out of the window on to the terrace of the next house. I can still see the stick flying off as if it happened yesterday. I was taken to my first Kishore Kumar performance here. I remember Amit Kumar was there too. I remember Baba was very patient with me at that time. I remember him patting me to sleep while Ma was busy cooking. All that was about to change soon and Baba would be completely withdrawn after this as our family was shaken to its foundations with the death of Jethu my fathers elder brother. I remember jethus funeral his photo in the 41/B /1 upstairs drawing room. I did not have a clue about what was actually happening. I was crying for Ma while Shejo mashi (Baba’s aunt) was trying to keep me on her lap. I remember Baba went to get Amma ( my grand mother) from the Calcutta house because she was unable to live there alone after Jethu passed away. Ma and I were looking down from the balcony and Baba and Amma alighted from the car, Amma’s hair resembled that of the matted sadhus…she was in great trauma the extent of which I only understood much much later. I remember Ma combing out the matted hair for her…
Baba got transferred back to Calcutta and there were some quiet days at the Calcutta house…yes, Jethu’s death was slowly tearing our family apart but my life was smooth, I joined school in Calcutta the car used to take me to and from school. There were some other kids also in the car pool. Sachindro Dada, Amma’s driver used to drive us to school, Amma also started office. After some time my brother was born in the wee hours of a morning.
When my brother was two, Baba got transferred to Shillong, Baba’s residence was behind the office and the only thing that separated the two was a spring half door similar to the ones at then entrance of Salons of Western movies. I could creep below there doors and enter the clerks’ room and would be given office paper to doodle on. One day I ventured into the front lawn during office hours and Baba gestured angrily from his office window, I never repeated the mistake! We were in Shillong for 3months or so and we had many visitors in that beautiful house- Dilara…
Thereafter Baba got transferred to Delhi, Amma retired and decided to come with us. At first Baba did not get the official quarters and so we stayed in a rented flat in Green Park. Amma and I used to sleep on a chaarpai. We had shifted from the sprawling house in Shillong to a small flat in the, even then, congested Green Park, but we never felt bad even for a day. There was sooo many new things to see, new people to meet. It was here that we started to play the chor police games toting small guns and going ‘tan ta nan’. There was a boy in the house opposite ours who played with us. My school bus used to arrive at 6:30, some distrance from our house. In the winters when I sat down in the kitchen with my glass of milk the bright moon would be clearly visible in the sky. However, I just loved to journey to school, which was in the cantonment area several kilometers away.
After a year in Green Park Baba was allotted a house in Mandir Marg and thus began a very enjoyable period in my life. The house was walking distance from the Kali temple and the wonderful Kalibari library! That’s when I started reading with Noddy book first and then anything with Enid Blyton written on it. The books then were brand new and sparkling. Years later when I went back to the library to do some research on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose during my M Phil days I stepped with bated breath into the children’s section and was disappointed to see that most of my beloved books no longer had their original covers, but were bound in staid cardboard scarred and stained through use over all these years. We had wonderful neighbours and Durga Puja time was a lot of fun. The children got to wear volunteer badges and distribute bhog. We also got up in the morning and helped to pack the Prasad. I even took part in a Bengali play based on Sukumar Roy’s ‘Hojoborolo’. Sen auntie, our most lovable and enthusiastic neighbour prepared us for the play, she is still directing plays in the housing complex where she lives, God bless her and my she ever be a fountain of inspiration! No. 15 Mandar Marg was an interesting house a relic of the British times, Delhi’s famous ridge ran along the back of these houses. We were visited everyday by a gang of monkeys and one day a huge black ape made an appearance and left some of his poo in the court yard. Amma used to keep a clay bowl of water for the monkeys under the lemon tree. The female monkeys and their clinging babies made the most use of it. The leader of the pack, however, had a great dislike for drumstick trees and every time Amma’s sapling started resembling a tree the fellow managed to uproot it even while Amma beat a stick at him wildly! One day a snake appeared in the dining room as Amma was cutting vegetables and my brother was playing nearby, although the snake met a firey end soon afterwards, Amma decided that we cannot live in the house anymore.
We shifted to Kakanagar- DII 188. It had two huge fields in front of the block where my brother and I spent some very happy moments running about. In the same colony lived father’s second cousin and his family. Jethu and Jethuma , Tatun Dada and Kittu Dada, they were the cousins whom we missed. I remember evening upon evening of the happy times that we spent together. Kittu dada is very good at entertaining kids, and still is, God bless him. He invented the character ‘Poxo the Pig’ for us and would thrill us for hours. Amma got her drumstick tree, it was right outside Baba’s window and we became experts at flinging a fishing rod like contraption which I had made and picking slender drumsticks!
Baba got a deputation transfer to the Calcutta Port Trust and thus we came to stay, next, at the most lovely house of all, 11/B Portland Park. When we went there to see the house, the lawn was being used as a badminton court. The house had 6guava trees, one Bel tree ( I do not know the English word for this very, to my mind, ‘Bengali’ fruit), one falsa (a kind of berry) tree, 1 mehendi bush and a beautiful woodrose or chaaapa tree right at the front of the house forming an arch over the front verandah. I fell in love with the house the moment I saw it. Later we learnt that a foreign gentleman who had lived in the house was so taken by it that he named his house iun his home country ‘igarabee’ the corruption of 11-B which all the repair and maintenance men in the colony called it. The house gave us lots of space a huge lawn to run around in\, walls to climb, fruits to be had from the trees and all sorts of adventures. For the first time we had a resident gardener who worked hard to give us a lovely lawn and five years of delightful flower beds full of beautiful seasonal flowers. We had presented a dance show on the lawns of one of the houses, with Dipu auntie training many of the girls for many days. I think that is the finest cultural show that I will get a chance to be a part of in my entire life!
When we shifted to Ritchie Road, we felt a pang but there was new excitement too as we would get to live in a multi-storied building that too, on the seventh floor. When we went to see the flat what we noticed was that all the fans in the rooms were going round at full speed because of the wind that came from the open window. From the back verandah we could see Baba’s school –Ballygunge Government school, from the front verandah we could see storm clouds approaching and half the city landscape. Next to the building was a huge slum area. It would be the first time in our lives that we’ll get to see a birds eye view of slum life in all its ugly, poignant, tragic, horrifying and heart rending reality. Scenes that I have watched from the Ritchie Road balcony are etched in my memory and I can possibly write a book on them. We discovered later that the force of the wind was so much that it was impossible to open the bathroom doors when a storm is raging outside. Invariably one or other of us would get a call of nature the moment such a storm started. In this situation often, the entire family would be pushing the door open and the person with the urge would slip in from a small opening. The entire family had to help the person get out too! Baba’s friend Dwijen uncle’s house was on Ritchie road too and Bhaiya uncle also lived close by, so there were long adda sessions and Dwijen uncle’s children (two little dolls, bubble and titir) spent many evenings with us. The Maddox Square puja was another attraction in Ritchie Road, it was amazing how a neglected park full of anti-socials throughout the year, could be transformed into one of the most sophisticated pujas of Calcutta frequented by the very elite. We used to amble along from panchami to see the decorations in progress and the idol is always the ‘akchala’ in ‘dakershaaj’ with the traditional features. Dwijen uncle took us in his car to visit many pandals and he even convinced Baba to take the whole night mini bus ride once to visit pandals all over Calcutta. It was the experience of a life time.
Baba was transferred to Delhi next and for the first time the family had two establishments, Ma, Amma and I continued in Ritchie Road as my XII th board exams would begin shortly, Baba and my brother went to Delhi as he had to try for admission in class IX in the new city. It was a strange time with lots of ups and downs. Finally after my exams we joined Baba in Delhi at the Pragati Vihar hostel accommodation. This complex comprised of one bedroom apartments which were partially furnished. It was a legacy of the Asiad times built for the atheletes. Our furniture was stored in the cantonment godown and we were quite delighted to shift into this fun place. The front door opened into a never ending corridor which linked all the blocks of the massive complex. We could walk through the corridors for hours and if the numbers were not written in bold letters outside the flats we would be quite lost! There was a community hall and library in the complex and huge lawns which were put to full use by bands of boys playing cricket. My friend and I went for morning walks at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium! It is from here that I first started going to college in public transport all on my own! It was wonderful! The complex had its own durga puja, kali puja and saraswati puja too! We participated fully! Life could not be better. But no one can stay for long in this accommodation and after 7moinths of heady excitement, we shifted to RK Puram, to start a new phase in our lives.
Sector XIII RK Puram was a picturesque complex and once again we were on the 7th floor. The force of the winds were not as great as Ritchie Road but our huge terrace like verandah was very beautiful and it overlooked the tennis court and we had an excellent view of the greenery around. Our neighbour Chaitali auntie used to say that she is envious of our house as it used to always bustle with people and activity. Truly we always had friends and relatives in the house and there was a joyous atmosphere all the time. When the Mandal Commission unrest happened, all the young people who were studying outside came back home as institutions remained closed for sometime and there were no less than 14 girls in the building . We would chat on the stairs watch films together and have a proper bash on holi! Then my father’s friend’s daughter stayed with us for some months as her parents were shifting to Delhi and she had to begin school before that, and it was as if a sister had been adopted in the household…we even started looking like each other!! In short, we had a blast. It was in RK Puram that Amma was diagnosed with breast cancer and she had to undergo a huge operation and the painful radiotherapy. She fought back valiantly and the turmoil of my final years of BA class gave way to a peaceful year of MA in the South Campus. Baba got transferred to Calcutta again just before my MA final exams and I got to stay at the Gitanjali Hostel in DU south campus which again was 6months of partying with a lot of dance and loud laughter thrown in. However we did put in a lot of studies too. I got very good marks in my MA final exams, the best that I had ever got in my 5years of BA and MA!
After MA it was back in Calcutta at the bhuter bari on Belvedere Road. For some months I taught at the school next doors where my mother was also a teacher. I got experience of teaching toddlers and older children upto class V. Thereafter I joined Bed at Loreto college and again I was off on my own in the public transport of another city!! The bhuter bari had 2 resident gardeners- boro mali and chhoto mali there were betel nut trees lining one side of the house and a nearly 200 year old mango tree. The year after we moved in the mango tree went quite berserk and sprouted millions of mangoes. Boro mali said that if all the mangoes had grown to their full size then the tree would not have been able to bear their weight and would have fallen down. As it happened every day thousands of small green mangoes would fall from the tree and everyone in the vicinity collected them to make pickles. When it was time for ripe mangoes we got baskets full of them and everyone in our house had two mangoes each everyday for days on end. We distributed mango baskets to our relatives and friends. It was amazing. Amma passed away in March 1996, before my Bed exams. There was a strange emptiness about the house. A few months later, my brother joined an MBA course in Delhi and Baba got his last posting in Pune. We decided to continue at the Bhuter Bari for sometime. Baba did not want to move bag and baggage to Pune as he was due to retire soon. When we had gone to Pune for a short visit suddenly my marriage got fixed.
I remember the Pune guest house where Baba was staying. It was huge, and there was cook who was very efficient. From Pune, Ma and I went with Baba in his official car to visit Ajanta and Ellora. It was for the first time that we had traveled without Amma and my brother too could not make it as he had to go back to his classes in Delhi.
On our return to Calcutta, preparations were going on for my wedding. I was busy completing the course for my students ( In Hindi High School Girls’ section). I was working till 2 days before my marriage, I had also joined MPhil at Jadavpur University and in the evening I used to teach a little boy who lived in a nearby building. My days were packed! I got married in the verandah of the bhuter Bari…it looked beautiful on my wedding day. My marriage was attended by all my cousins and many friends only Amma was not there…
The next 10 years of my life was spent in Sheikh Sarai. The colony is beautiful with tree lined lanes and parks. The house is surrounded by birds, parrots in the early morning and pigeons on our window sill. Sparrows, bulbuls and shalik pakhi and ofcourse the crows. My kids were born here and I did my PhD from here. I matured as a person and tried to balance my roles as a wife, a daughter in law and a mother. The memories are bitter sweet but the warmest memories are the strongest and I have chosen to forget (or atleast dull) the times of trial. Over the years I hope I have grown closer to my new family and I have been able to bring smiles on all their faces. In turn my family has accepted me with all my eccentricities and the love that my kids have for everyone is proof of that.
In December 2007 the Mr decided to take up a project in Bangalore. I was happy for the change. This was the first time that I would become a full fleged housewife, and we would run the household without parents. We took up the challenge and shifted. Our little rented flat was small in size but big in heart! We had many friends coming over and spending time with us. Our parents stayed with us, and I had the pleasure of having my parents stay with me for the first time after my marriage. We visited many beautiful places with and without our parents. I think we did a good job of staying on our own. Then came our decision to invest here. We traveled all over Bangalore looking for our flat and finally decided on this one. Now, after shifting here, we are slowly adjusting to the place. The kids are loving it and they have taken keen interest in their room and in the house in general. I pray to God that this house, too, will bring us joy happiness and contentment. May the days spent here leave happy memories.
I remember once, the bell rang in 41/B/1, I, then 5 years old ran down to see who it was, from the glass window on the landing I saw Pishi Pishemoshai Koko and Didi and my heart lept with joy!! I called to the others Pishi eshechhe!! In those days no one called in advance to let people know they were coming, but now, even if I have to visit my mother I have to call in advance and make sure they are free…there is no such thing as a surprise visit, any more. What a pity! I wish someone would surprise me now with a visit…noi phone calls required!