Days of yore

  1. cropped-2017e288926e288929e288924b.jpgGranny’s kitchen

December 22, 2016

Have I ever told you

My granny had been a wonderful cook?

And how much we longed to go

Our vilage home where she had stayed

All the summers and rains and winters

Only to savour dishes she us served And her lipsmacking delicacies;

When in the afternoon we got tired and hungry

Playing around, sweating and out of breath,

She would just give us a call

And we would run, scampering,

On brass plates came piping hot

Food made by her,

As we started gobbling hungry as we had been

She would sit beside us right on the floor

Sometimes fanning us if it were summer months,

I would try to sit near her

To get some extra helpings

A bit more than others,

A spoonful of pickle or a larger piece of fish,

She knew perhaps my hidden thoughts

And always remained so condescending,

(Dropping a big dollop of tamarind sauce

As if by mistake on my plate…)

And I would just smile at her

While she pressed her lips and winked at me,

Her kitchen was her place to pour

All her love and affection for us Through her tireless works, her foods, Her kitchen was her very own world Filled with aroma of spices and dry fruits,

How many times we tried to steal Cashew and nuts from containers there

And how many times were we caught By her (for she would get the noise of utensils or jars moving in her kitchen Even if she would be yards away), Granny’s kitchen was our place to be At the evening too,

When we would gather there

To listen from her stories and tales

As she would spread a mat there

On the earthern floor for us to sit, How many evenings had we spent there

Dozing off to sleep while listening to the adventures of the princes and kings,

She would then perhaps call our parents

To carry us off to bed,

And even while we were fast asleep We would be dreaming of the kings and queens

And would be thinking that everything happened before us

Right there at the kitchen,

Sometimes in our sleep

We even got the smell of spices

And that unmistakable scent of granny-

Her betel leaves.

2.The children of the garden

July 05, 2016

The sprawling garden inside that enclosure had been our place of daily gathering. Soon after the hours of school we would there gather. During summer vacation, when we had more time at our disposal to do things which we always wanted to do, that garden became our shelter. We would there go as early as eight or nine in the morning and pluck fruits as we pleased. Fruits there grew abundant, mangoes, guavas, lemons. We would there go feasting. Sometimes we would sit under the big shadowy trees listening to the sweet chirping of birds which like us, gathered there. The garden, so big and vast, always provided us with some sort of adventure. We would watch different birds, their calls we tried to imitate. We would climb up to the branches of trees, made a swing tying twines. The owner of the garden lived in a mansion at the far end of the garden , near the river. Rarely they came out to see what mischief we played there at their garden. The garden had been our refuge. We spent most of our daytime there. As a result, we knew almost by sight, each and every tree in the garden. If any new sapling would be planted, we knew exactly its location. If a tree got felled for some reason, we knew that too. The garden gave us so many wonderful memories- memories of learning to imitate calls of birds, of chasing insects like bugs and beetles, of catching dragonflies and tying string to their tails and making them fly like little pets, of playing hide and seek all the afternoon till the dusk entered the garden with long shadows of trees enveloping us. The garden taught us things about climbing trees and making swings. Once someone collected a discarded rubber tyre and we hanged it from a branch of a Tree to make an improvised swing. Then there had been a little fight amongst us over who would get first the seat at the swing. The garden taught us our primary lessons of zoology and botany perhaps for we learnt to observe the flora and fauna there. Moreover, the garden made us awesome friends. We became friends in the garden and the keepers of the garden too. We, almost unknowingly became the children of the garden.

3.Martha’s backyard

July 25, 2016

Of all the places where we liked

To spend our time more was

Martha’s backyard, Just behind her cottage,

We would there go every time

We paid our visit to hills,

And to her, of course,

Usually we would there arrive

At peak of autumn

When trees would start turning bare, Their branches shooting up to the

Sky Like ribs,

At Martha’s backyard

We always had company,

Of birds and butterflies and bees,

The scent from earth always reached us fresh

Specially in early morns, dewy drenched

Mist covered,

The spot looked like a land of fancy and dreams,

We would go there only to loiter around,

Our cries and shouts filling the air Making it cheerful,

Making it depart from its usual ascetic silence,

We there ran , jumped , hopped,

Did somersaults even,

Our bodies fell on the soft wavy grass Moss we got half covered with

Leaves oft got stuck to our pullovers,

Late in the evening,

When the hamlet turned absolutely dark

And sleepy,

When only distant hootings of owls Could only be heard,

We would sometimes gather

At Martha’s backyard,

And create log fire,

Some of us would break into a song, Some would shake a leg,

And old Martha,

Knowing we were there,

Would come and sit on the cane chair, Watching us with her eyes of grandmotherly affection and indulgence,

After so many years, when the world Had got changed,

When the hill and its surroundings Got changed too,

Martha’s backyard still holds

The same magic for me at least,

(Just to go there

And stand before those trees,

Just to go there

And embrace the mist and the fog Of autumn ,

And to roll on the wavy grass,)

Still carries every bit of Martha’s generosity,

Still I could that feel.

4. Autumn Revisited

The sight of the pandel being erected on the play ground a few paces away from our home would arouse a great deal of excitement in our childhood. It would usually take one month to complete the pandel that would house the idol of Devi Durga and this one month , the pandel, its bamboo structure, would be the centre of all attraction for us. While going to school, with satchels on our shoulders, we would stop for a while near the pandel. Someone among us would say that the pandel had shrunk a bit in size and dimensions , compared to that of the previous year. Another would argue on that point and assert with certain amount of confidence that it was not so. But we had carved a bit of time sure to swing our bodies from the bamboo poles using our hands. Then we would run to school. After school hours we would again take that road which would take us to the pandel. The labourers who were busy working there would allow us to play there. Only when they put the canvas over the dome of the pandel and stitch cotton spreads and put nails on the spreads to attach them to the structure, they would rebuke us mildly. ‘ Don’t run here on bare foot! Nails are there everywhere…’ .They would say, working as they would be, sitting precariously on the bamboo poles , stitching cotton spreads there or hammering tiny nails into the wooden frames. For days as those labourers worked, we would hear the sweet tapping sounds of hammer heads on nails whenever we went to the pandel. Just before the installation of the deity, a thorough sweeping and cleaning of the pandel floor was done. The pandel turns into a mandap as soon as the deity of Durga will arrive. We would try to get a glimpse of the deity as usually the face was covered before the Maha Shasti. The evening of Shasti would be grand. Many people would throng at the mandap. The smell of incense and camphor and flowers mixed together would create an ambience of pristine purity around. The blowing of counch shells at the evening would make us know the evening prayer had started. Often the purohit or the main priest would be someone who knew sanskrit and could chant clearly having a voice that could be heard even without loud speakers. For the chanting of prayers in those days was done sans loudspeakers for it was believed that too much of sound and noise could drive the soul of the devi away from the mandap. That belief , however, got a serious challenge from us as we often laughed out loud or made sounds replicating that of gunshots by pressing triggers of our toy pistols which we would invariably buy before the pujas. Making a series of gunshots from our toy pistols had been our favourite occupation during the pujas. We would pester our parents to buy us those pistols. The girls , who were of our age, however, were more interested in buying colorful bindis, or hairclips or ribbons. In our neighbourhood a single shop sold both the pistols (for boys) and those objects of adornments ( for girls). The boys and the girls and their parents would make a beeline there in the evening before the onset of pujas. Our small industrial town would deck up slowly as the festive mood would set in. Light bulbs were hung from trees. Our familiar streets appeared like those of fairy tales being so illuminated. But I would love the subtle changes that autumn would bring in to the town. Gradually the monsoon clouds would beat a retreat and little cottony clouds would appear , sailing like tiny boats. Early in the morning the sight of dewdrops on leaves, glittering in the first light of the day would make me glad. Simply glad. The scent of shiuli blossoms would wrap me. The mild nip in the early morn’s air would send a slight shiver. And the most beautiful sight for me would perhaps be the sudden arrival of white cranes at the marshy land beside our house. Those birds would come every year during autumn and stay in the trees, often flying across the marshyland. The sight of their flight, their white wings spread full, against the back drop of green trees and blue sky, was simply captivating. Many hours I would spend watching them. Many hours I would spend savouring the beauty of nature. Arrival of Durga , has since then , got aligned in my mind with the arrival of autumn and very rarely I tried to differentiate between the two occasions. The smell of shiuli, the sparkling drops of dew, the azure sky, the swinging heads of kash flowers peeping out of grass- they all would come together to weave a single sensation of pleasure in me, a kind of pleasure which was so ethereal and abstract that I would just be happy inside and would bask in it. I am sure, we all had that same feeling then. Running through the meadows with kash flowers blooming always brought us that happiness . Years later, while studying literature, I realised, it was not anything associated with religion. It had been our sense of joy in getting pleasure in discovering Mother Nature’s awesome bounty of beauty. It was our own little way of reacting to all the varied sensations that autumn brought.Durga was just a part of it. Picking lotus from ponds for the worship was more of an adventure to us.Durga provided that occasion for us , to be in all those little and simple things of joy. Our young minds were tickled by the mirth the season of autumn brought. Wordsworth probably talked of that in his poem ‘Prelude’ , when quite animated as a young boy he ran to the wilderness of nature and being mesmerised by its beauty thought of a curious transportation to another place and time perhaps : ‘ as if I had been born On Indian Plains, and from my Mother’s hut Had run abroad in wantonness, to sport…’ Revisiting Autumn is to me like that , making a journey to that time of year when in our little hearts we had nothing but the candid flowering of our love and passion, that love which could ,with consummate ease , transmute objects trivial into objects of supreme beauty.

5. Morning exercise

We had that regular morning jogs soon after our annual school exams were over. Early in the morning, before even sun rise, we would get ready wearing our running shoes and tracksuits and jerseys. Then we would go out. Usually the one who would wake up earlier than others would call others. In those days there had been no cell phones . Telephones were there but in our locality they were only to be sern in banks and offices and clubs. Few who had telephones at home were considered to be aristocratic and wealthy. I remember at one of my friend’s house there had been a telephone which hung from the wall of their living room. It looked beautiful specially when that friend of mine would call someone or receive a call through it, standing very artistically, one foot pressed against another, his waist bent sideways a bit, making him look like a practised dancer. So the one who would wake up up would have to physically go to atleast one friend’s house and awake him by any means. But in most cases the other family members would wake up and that particular friend would have to be woken up after a lot of effort. However, there were enthusiastic ones who would wake up at one call and soon we would be out jogging. Our running shoes would catch the dew on the grass and till the sun would rise and fill the grounds with golden rays we would continue doing our physical exercises. Occasionally we would go to the jetty which was nothing but a wooden pier protruded into the river. The jetty had been erected to help the loading and unloading of goods. Early in the morning it remained empty. Infact almost all day it remained vacant, only when ships came sailing ths river and goods were to be loaded into them or unloaded from them , the jetty saw a flurry of activity. That too was rare to say the least. So we had our days at the jetty. There we would go just to sit there and watch the river more closely. Sometimes we would would a bit of pushups there, on the wooden plank of the pier. Once as I woke up early to go out for a jog, I thought I was late. Without even looking at the watch , I got ready in a hurry and went out. I did not call my friends for I thought they might have gone out before me. At the play ground where we used to run or do our physical exercises, I found none. The sky was still dark and only there was a slight tinge of light in the eastern sky. I ran towards the jetty. It was on that narrow kachcha or non asphalt road that ran following the river on one side and the wall of a shoe factory. The road was absolutely empty as it should be. That did not deter me however, to take that road. The sky was still dark. Only the light from the road side lamp posts provided a bit of luminosity. A few yards away from the entry point to the jetty or the pier, I suddenly stopped. I saw a lamp post trembling! There was neither storm nor an earthquake. I was completely taken aback by that strange sight. Due to darkness of the pre dawn and mist and fog, it was not possible for me to fully discern what was happening; but I ran back home at double speed, huffing and puffing all the way. Later that day, when I narrated the incident to my father, he just simply smiled and said , ‘ That must be that darwan or gatekeeper of the jetty…he does his physical exercises holding the lamp posts. It might be one of those lamp posts was not firmly rooted to the ground and so it shook as it bore the heavy weight of that durwan’. I discovered father had been right as usually fathers are.

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