memories

April 29, 2017
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when it all began..
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having touched almost 40 odd countries and innumerable cities world over, I’ve decided to jot down early memories before mind becomes foggy…
Amritsar city memories:
Amritsar with famed Golden Temple is where it all began… after partition this is where the family crossed over to… from Lahore Pakistan….
my earliest memory is of being tossed in the air by dad’s second youngest brother in our family home inside the old walled city of Amritsar… I can clearly hear the sounds he made with his puckered mouth while tossing me in the air…I must’ve been barely two-three years old…rest is hazy.. this image has stuck due to the sudden hurl in air and my squealing delight admixed with fear thereof, I guess…
I also distinctly recall our family trip to Haridwar at the banks of holy river Ganges… Gangaa as we call it… Mom was carrying me in her arms and I must’ve been less than three years but very light and skinny … my two elder siblings Pushpa didi and Neena who was dressed in a frock was also there seated on my uncle’s lap. It was a family outing with mom’s real and step brothers and sisters … we had taken a family photo of this memorable trip and we all had an copy of it… but for the life of me I am unable to find it …our home is an abyss….I also recall mom’s real bro force feeding us hot green chillies as punishment for touching his battery operated toys …he would bunch the skirt of our frocks in his hand to stop us from escaping… mom would implore to let us go to no avail… we took revenge in other ways that I know …cannot recall much now …
Next memory is of our fun overnight summer trips from Bombay to Amritsar in the Frontier mail… the powerful nasty smells and the cacophony of steamy heaving crowds still assail my senses powerfully… the flash of reds of the porters’ shirts with copper number tags and their deft push/pull of odd shaped luggages/trunks/bedrolls through the train windows..with hasty leaps inside to reserve empty berths and placement of food tiffins on the tiny tables next to the windows and the clay water Jug with with a long spout like a tea-kettle…safely put away in a corner under the seat…. this was a yearly adventure as we literally gobbled away food and time playing card games, mildly squabbling, playing with ceiling fans from upper berth of the train and curiously staring at fellow passengers and their doings… …monkeys usually got inside the trains once it huffed and puffed inside railway platforms of the cities of Surat and or Ratlam in eastern part of India … food was literally snatched from my hand by one monkey..this is another distinct memory…
Our Amritsar vacation of couple of months was spent between staying with dad’s sister in her sprawling home near the bridge which separated old city from new construction..and at maternal grandpa’s home.. We enjoyed rides in grandpa’s horse buggy to the Company gardens where we gorged on ‘paneer pakoras” and “chaat” etc. and an absolutely delicious “paan” ..betel leaf filled with stuff ..
The station teas and hot fritter snacks were delicious and we usually bought some magazine or comics from the stalls… I remember being hooked to a monthly called “Chandamama” meaning “Uncle Moon”…
more later
Amritsar word itself means a lake of nectar… am going to jot down whatever I can sieve from my memory in all flavors … one distinct image that I recall is from wee hours of early morning in Amritsar when there was a gentle tap on the door and grandpa opened it to let the person in quietly … they tiptoed into the “baithakhana” sitting room as it was called and after much hugging ..they both wept profusely… this behavior further fed my rampant curiosity …being a light sleeper I was peeping from another room with eyes wide as saucers … after feeding this gentleman who was dressed like a tradesman, grandpa saw him off and that person left as stealthily as he’d entered……
Later during the day I heard him tell granny that their “Dhobi” laundryman had come with news from Lahore… he must’ve quietly slipped through the borders and no man’s land to visit his “Lalajee” as grandpa was fondly known as… and then both granny and grandpa had tears in their eyes … I did not have the heart to quiz and pester them with questions.
Just before our yearly visits from Bombay…granny would have different savories and snacks freshly made and had them stored in a big wooden almirah (cupboard) so that we could help ourselves whenever we wanted to munch something without asking for permission… those were growing years and we were hungry all the time even though I was a finicky eater……
we explored the whole house with it’s three roof terraces. the dark servant’s quarter and the lower level with a stall for a cow and calf ….I can still smell the hay / horse’s fodder… and hear the animal snorts and moos …. these sounds are punctuated by the gurgles from the hookah that grandpa smoked after the cook Bakshi..had prepared it just the way grandpa enjoyed ..it was spit polished and readied on daily basis … granny was diminutive and extremely fragile with eyes oozing love and tenderness… I only recall her gentle hugs from childhood… Grandpa had a robust booming voice and he was the unofficial “judge” for the merchant community and usually settled most big small cases that were brought to him… like a true Solomon…
As an aside: During our visit to Morocco we’d entered a “Hookah bar” with hookah tables. The place had a gypsy /Berber decor and was like a tent ..our whole group had taken photographs of us smoking “sheeshaa” as it’s called over there… it was rather fun …but was kind of decadent and seedy as well…just not my cup of tea… Now back to grandpa’s place of business: we usually made a trip during the day to his storefront that was within walking distance from the house … the shop floor was covered by a thick mattress topped by pure white sheets…there was an ebony desk with a foldable leaf in which the “Bahi-khataa” account books were placed … as far as I can recall grandpa had a spice and dry fruit business and usually sent mama (mom’s bro) and other cousins to Jammu, Dehradun, Mussoorie, Dalhousie and other places for business etc.. they also owned property there …this was a joint family business with his only other brother and a cousin brother with a large family living in the same by-lane as grandpa… we had fun visiting this granduncle as well… and could reach his home by jumping over roofs of the interconnected houses until we faced that house and then simply came down and crossed over… I believe this granduncle’s couple of sons live in the US too but I have no contact with them …
Life was very interesting as there was much to process in this teeming and sensually rich city called Amritsar after year-round stay in the concrete jungle called Bombay … which was a blur of getting ready for school…heavy back-breaking school bags… four months of rubber gum-boots during the monsoons…sloshing in muddy flood waters dressed in lengthy smelly duck-back raincoats, sniffly noses and hot sweet ginger teas and often milk laced with brandy for a restful night of sleep… … well I’ve digressed a bit… when we visited grandpa at his shop he usually took me in his lap as I was the sickly one and fed me fresh cup of cool fruit-cream and then kulfi and other mouthwatering treats …my elder sib Neena was usually with me and we went everywhere as a twosome … sometimes we took a rickshaw to visit mom’s other cousins and stepbrothers and sisters… the step- granny was a real fun person and we had a jolly time with her as well… some rickshaw seats had a slight tilt which made one slide off when we were being driven and I recall hanging on for dear life with my skinny arms…
( our real grandpa was the younger brother and when he remarried…mom and her two siblings were adopted by the elder brother who became our “real” grandpa in letter and spirit and whom we loved fiercely –he only had one daughter and hence loved mom and her two siblings very much)
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