Finally I have begun on my new post, the one which I have been thinking of writing for so many months now. This post is dedicated to the city where I have had some of the most beautiful moments of my life, the City of Joy, Calcutta... oops Kolkata!
Since my birth, till the early 90s, my maternal grandparents lived in Kolkata. I did not have paternal grandparents, and thus it was a ritual from the very beginning, for my whole maternal family (which consisted of 3 aunts and 2 uncles) to spend summers at my Nana-Nani's at Calcutta. So, effectively, I have religiously spent 2 months every year for the first 7-8 years of my life in Calcutta. As you can imagine, I was too young to remember much, but lately I have been working on recalling all the little incidents that I can, and build upon the fond memories I have of the city.
We were a total of 8 cousins: 3 of them, one didi and two bhaiyas were way elder to us, followed by another bhaiya 2 years elder to me, followed by my cousin sister and I, both the same age, followed by my brother and another cousin sister, both younger to me by three years. The older cousins were usually busy amongst themselves, and anyway it was below their dignity to associate with us stupid little kids, so it was usually the five of us, closer in age, who hung out together.
From the very beginning of summer vacations, we all left from Delhi for Cal together, carrying loads of holiday homework to do there. Now we were a lot of people, so we always preferred a train journey, travelling across the country, enjoying ourselves for what took almost 2 days! Our parents used to go crazy trying to control 5 young naughty kids! But we were always so excited about our summers, every year, without fail; such was the charm of the city.
I do not have very many clear memories, but bits and pieces of some days, events and times that have remained in my conscience, and so I apologise in advance, as this post may seem a bit random and without flow to you!
I was very little when I visited Calcutta, and everything there seemed so grand, so huge, so beautiful and also so scary! My grandparents lived in New Alipore, which I understand is a posh residence in South Cal. Our house was on the 4th floor, with lots of children living in our building. There was a long street, where we all gathered in the evening. Making friends with complete strangers for just 2 months was never a hindrance for us. In the beginning, we were enough cousins to have no need for any friends, but soon we had become pally with all the other kids of the building and on the block. We played ball, rode cycles, ran around, and had the fun of our lives. We even made friends with the servants and the watchmen!
There was a small market nearby, where we were not allowed to go alone. Everey evening, one of the uncles or aunts used to take us to the market, and we used to have the most delicious egg rolls I have ever had in my life! Every other evening, the elders used to go for a walk to the Victoria Memorial, or go for a game of Tennis at the nearby club. And every once in a while, we got to accompany them. What an honour it used to be for us!
Apart from these daily events, sometimes we went for a drive around the city in my Grandfather's friend's car, with his children. The best part about the ride was, that it was a convertible! A stylish convertible, in the 80's was something we kids had never seen, even in Delhi! It really felt royal, to be sitting in that car, with the breeze on your face, touring around the city, through the beautiful tree lined roads. Often, mostly around weekends, we stopped at a video library to rent some cartoon videos for us! Again, even this was a fun event for us, as the video library did not have a regular entrance: it was totally surrounded by a hedge, and one had to climb over it, using a two way step ladder. All of us kids insisted on climbing it and going to the shop everytime we visited it! Really, we were so vella and stupid, for every little thing was so exciting for us! FYI that was the place I saw my first cartoon movie that I remember.. Dumbo, the flying elephant!
I remember very vaguely, about the awesome transport system.... I travelled a few times in teh trams, and the metro and loved it! In those times, the traffic was way less, the trams and trains were not as crowded, and it was a magical experience!
One of my aunts worked in the Taj Bengal, and again I remember it as one of my fondest memories, when I was allowed to go in my Nana's car which picked her up after work. I entered the Huuuuuuge hotel, totally awestruck, a little scared of getting lost in the enormity of it all; but was amply rewarded by a scrumtious pastry by the poolside!!
One thing we kids loved to tease our Nanaji about was his car. It was an old styled black ambassador, and from our balcony, it looked like a butterbox! Everytime our Nanaji came back from work, all of us kids started to chant "Nana ki gaadi dabbba!"
Another special memory that remains in my heat is when one day I found a small kitten yelping around on the street. I think that is the time when I discovered my love for animals ... I wuickly oicked it up and got it home. My Nani hated animals, but allowed me to wipe it clean and feed it just a little bread and milk, before she asked the servant to take it away. Sigh! I cried all day, but never saw the kitten again. But soon after, when I turned 8, I got my first pet Tiffany!
Another awesome thing about Calcutta is the rains! I love rains, but we kids were not allowed to experience them, as we were too young. As most Cal people would agree, when it rains in Cal, it pours, and the streets are usually flooded. So whenever it rained, we stood at the windows, looking at people waddling away in knee-length water; making small paper helicopters and throwing them down! I can still remember the beautiful scent of wet earth wafting around after the showers! There was a tree right outside one of the bedroom windows, and on it was situated a small nest. And one of the days, when it was raining, I was sitting near the window when I suddenly saw a mummy bird flying in with food in hear beak, to feed her 3 little chciks, cheeping away hard, with their mouths wide open, eager for food. That is one of my fondest and most touching memories of all!
We had a lot of fun at home. In the morning, after breakfast was homework time. We all sat down in a line and worked away. Whoever did not do his/her share of home work for the day got punished: either no sweets, or no play time. Once I was punished, I dont remember for whta. I was made to sit on top of a 5 foot tall wooden almirah in my Nanaji's room by my uncle. He put me there and went away, locking the door. I sat there for a couple of minutes, all angry and hating everyone. But after some time, when I realised that they are not coming back soon, I started feeling uncomfortable. As it is we always avoided coming into this room as our Nanaji is very strict, and we avoided all contact with him. Sitting in his room, all alone, no fan... It was the most horrible experience of my life. Soon I started crying and much later, (I am sure it was just 10-15 minutes since he put me on teh cupborad but to me it felt like 2-3 hours), my uncle came back, toook all sorts of promises from me that I will behave myself, and then only let me down! I dont think I went in that room for the rest of that summer!
One thing we all looked forward to was our daily mango. Everyone in the family was allowed one mango per day. Now u get it during lunch, and you can do whatever you want with it: consume it all then and there or save it til dinner. Mostly we used to have a slice or 2 and then save the rest for after dinner. God only knows how we used to protect our little mango from the prying eyes of those who had already finished theirs!
After dinner, while my grandparents used to retire for bed, the kids and the aunts used to retire in the second bedrrom. Then started the nocturnal activities.... my mother and her sisters played scrabble, while my older cousins chatted or read comics etc, and we just did some tp or were made to sleep off. These people, on the other hand, would continue gossipping late in the night, making tea at odd hours in the morning, and having a ball!
Another event in the family was every saturday evening, when all the distinguished members of my Nanaji's social circle used to come for a game of Cards at our house. The whole house was full of dim lights and soft music, with clicking glasses and tasty savories being passed around. Th grand old uncles and aunties, smoking a cigarette or chewing a pan, elegantly dressed with shiny jewels and flashy accessories... wow! what a scene it was. But ofcourse, none of this was meant for us, for we were all shoved into our bedroom and made to stay there. Still, with one or the other excuse, we sneaked out and tried to peek in his room, and get a taste of their conversation and style! GEtting caught doing that was never pleasant, usually followed by Nani catching hold of us by our ears and marching us back to teh room.
But by far, the most interesting event to happen in the house was.... when people saw a lizard. Now all my aunts and elder cousins were plain cowards when it came to lizards. All they did was run around and scream and shout, pushing each other to drive the damn thing out of the room. And it was during one such chaotic night, that yours truly, all of 3 feet high 5-6 years, was made to stand on the bed with a big long jhaadoo, to drive the lizard away, while all the aunts and sisters and kids stood behind me, shivering! And the brave girl I was, I took upon me the mammoth task, and was successful in drinving the creature away and saving my family! (Actually I could hardly make heads and tails of the situation... I just waved the jhadoo at the thing and she happily crawled out, only to settle in my Nanaji's room next door!) What a moment it was... my moment of glory, when all sighed with relief and declared me hero! I got an extra mango the next day! :)
It used to be quite a sad, as we realised that the day to leave for Delhi is fast approaching. All our energy died down. We lay there like sacks of potatoes, dreading the day we were to pack up and leave. But all good things come to an end, and so did our time in Cal every year. Soon our grandparents shifted back to Delhi. This was good as we could see them much more often now, but it was sad as I never got to see Cal again. I hope, someday, I can go back to that city, travel in the same tram/metro, eat the egg roll from the same shop, rent a video from the library and roam around on that street, where many years ago, I had the time of my life!