Today I’ve decided to visit all the flagged, so called peaks in the EKG of my life. This is one reading I can do without waiting for medical reports to come in and disentangle me from tenterhooks’ misery.
Most families have black sheep and “monsoon wedding like uncles with octopus limbs- I’ve had my share and reason why I recall them is the Tom and Jerry element of it – my cousins and I were quick on our feet and usually eluded these rascals. Molesters do come in many garbs and I wish the elders had warned early on before the fact instead of sweeping under the carpet later.
Olden days Bombay abounded with Irani Hotels around most street corners. We were no different. We were often sent on small errands to buy bread (pav) and butter from these places. One such hotel owner was a real lecher and dangled free candies as a lure. I recall us kids grabbing the candies and making a run for it. He was too lazy and fat to give chase. We had lots of “scramble” practice as we often stole guavas and raw mangoes jumping boundary walls of our building being chased away by a furious stick wielding guard.
We often ate hibiscus flowers but spat out raw papayas at they tasted yuck.
Another great memory is sticking our tiny fingers in the pickle jars “marinating” on our building roof belonging to neighbors and mom. Their taste still brings a mouth watering rush in mouth.
Speaking of roofs, brings back memory of maternal grandpa’s house where the street had back to back houses and the roofs had common walls. It was a great lark to jump over these walls and reach the other end of the street. Come to think of it, it would’ve worked perfectly for cops and robbers in our movies.
We often peeked into houses out of sheer curiosity and one memory I am ashamed of is peeking into a newly wed bride’s chamber on her first night. How we kids had tittered at that making up tall stories. They were Kashmiri Brahmin family and the bride was drop dead gorgeous.
Another great “roof” memory at grandpa’s house is of the lit tandoor and freshly baked stuffed paranthas liberally served with fresh home made butter and lassi. We put away so much food but were still as thin as reeds. One thing I greatly enjoyed was narrating english horror movies to maternal uncle and aunt and as my memory was impeccable I brought all the horror and gore alive- uncle (Mama) would shiver and hug his wife tight and we had a good laugh.
Dad’s sister too lived in Amritsar and her sprawling mansion was next to the rail tracks. We had fun at her place as well as they lived in one big joint family and there were cousins galore. Especially boy cousins who had other “boy” friends and we had a great time mingling with them. We enjoyed fierce table tennis and carom board matches among other things. One memory that is seared in my brain is viewing a bleeding head separated from its torso of a suicide that had occurred on the rail tracks and we had a clear view from the roof. I did not sleep for a long time after that. For breakfast in aunt’s house we were served fresh paranthas topped with ghee and rolled into logs- sometimes it was topped with jams. They drank gallons of tea and I think I developed my tea habit here. In Bombay we usually had bread and porridge for breakfast hence this recollection.
Dad mostly stressed on English language and was a walking dictionary as I recall hence my Hindi and Marathi grip were rather poor and learnt from the help or whatever we heard when mom read from the scriptures daily. Here in aunt’s house, my cousin bro read a lot of Hindi detective novels of Captain Vinod and his sidekick Hamid –guess our Indian version of Sherlock and Watson. Being an incorrigible bookworm and out of sheer boredom, I took to reading these books and thus polished my Hindi.
Before starting school in Bombay dad had engaged a tuition teacher Miss. Caur who was a real lady “Hitler”. She had mom oil our calves daily to enable her to smack us with a ruler in case we didn’t come up to snuff. I have always been too proud to cry and had deprived her of that pleasure. The sheer ignominy of it still rankles! Luckily Ms. Caur got married off soon by her uncle aunt as she was an orphan and dressed in our Sunday best, full of joy we waved her goodbye as her ship sailed away for Singapore from the Victoria docks, Bombay.
continuing so called highlighted moments of growing pains in 1950s Bombay –
Life as I recall was rather simple in those days and for entertainment we had lots of outdoor games
with droves of friends from same school, hood. I had a close gang of sixteen at one time and I recall
this due to number of birthday invites. We played eyes-spies, seven tiles, kabbaddi, hop scotch during
dry months in outdoor games and for indoor games we played with marbles and cowrie shells plus carom and
ouja-planchette boards during the relentless monsoon season. One evening it was exceptionally dreary, wet
and grey and the as the grown ups were at a nearby get together we decided to beckon spirits on the planchette.
The atmosphere was perfect – if only we could lure a spirit to predict our school results and satisfy our
curiosity on love and marriage. With one finger each firmly holding the glass down with flickering candles
for light and billowing sheer curtains we were quite hopeful when suddenly the glass started moving briskly.
For a moment we became fearful but with hearts in mouth we doggedly started taking turns seeking answers to
our burning questions. We had called the spirit of a known young person who’d died recently and knew us
as I recall. We all got ball park numbers as far as school marks were concerned and a couple of startling
answers that were not common knowledge. Then suddenly the candles blew out followed by a violent crack of
thunder and lightening and then a deafening sound of a craaaashhhhh. The glass fell from the table shattering
into smithereens even as the curtains billowed violently frightening us to death. Rather chastened and shook
up we all slunk away avoiding each other’s eyes. I am not sure if it was us moving the glass as a single
entity or if we had had a ghostly guest. It’s anybody’s guess.
In those days neighbors that we frequently got together with were punjabis and the Arya samaj faction of it
formed a moral police of sorts. I don’t recall mom and dad ever joining them preferring to keep own counsel.
In building next to ours was a Cinderella family with nasty stepmom and sisters. Our Cinderella was nothing
much to look at being spitting image of her dad with gaunt face and bunny teeth but we all felt sorry for her.
I don’t recall what brought events to head but one Sunday the whole community got together after the
ritualistic Sunday Havan puja. They congregated outside the Cinderella apartment and loud peremptory tone
ordered the family out. Said family trooped out and then the leader of the moral police garlanded the
cuckold with a string of old slippers and poured cooled down ashes over his head blackening his face
infront of whole community. They decried the fact that he couldn’t stop his wife from ill treating
the step child and forced him to marry her off at the earliest with everyone’s help to bring some
cheer in the poor girl’s hitherto sorry life. The stepmom was ostracized by everyone.
I was a slip of a girl and in early years was constantly coaxed to eat my veggies and fruits along
with fish oil and other health supplements. My dangles were mostly indian sweets, chocolates and puddings.
I think I grew up mostly on these supplements together with jello puddings. I was rather raucous when
in throes of hissy fits and tantrums and once at the end of his tether our mild dad scooped me up and
lowered me in a huge gunny sack with handles which he hung on the living room wall.
The sheer humiliation of it still reddens my face in recollection. I was put out of my misery
when I finally fell asleep in it and woke up in my bed. Dad was six two and he often let me play
with the ceiling fan when it was off.
to be contd….. maybe