Those long summer school breaks growing up. Every year we would head to my maternal grandparents’ place in Lucknow. Mom would pack our clothes in a huge leather suitcase, my younger sisters and mine. Dad would usually join us later. Fly from Agartala to Kolkata. One of my cousins (dad’s eldest sister’s son) would pick us up from the airport and take us to Madhyamgram, a small town on the outskirts of Kolkata. After a day or two in Madhyamgram, we would catch a train to Lucknow.
Boro Pishi (paternal aunt) lived with her family on the first floor of a two-storied building in Madhyamgram. The house had a huge terrace and was very close to Dumdum airport. An aero plane, landing or taking off, would fly noisily over the house ever so often. My sisters and I would excitedly rush to the terrace to watch those planes. I remember Boro pishemoshai would follow us to ensure we wouldn’t lean. He was already old then, had a cleanliness fetish. Three of us running in and out from the room to the terrace would irritate him. In the evening, one of our cousin brothers, who were in college then, would take us out and buy us sweets and chocolates. They liked to pamper us, their much younger cousins.
Boro pishi, my dad’s eldest sibling, got married at 15. Her sons are around the same age as her younger siblings, my younger uncles and aunts. Things like these were very common in those days.
From Madhyamgram we would head to Howrah station and board the train to Lucknow. A first-class booth would be reserved for us. Mom would lock the door once we boarded. Sitting by the window as the train would take off and watching the changing landscape and the scenery outside, munching on biscuits and other goodies that my mom packed, I thoroughly enjoyed those two days. Trains were non-AC then, but I don’t remember ever feeling hot.
Dadu, our paternal grandfather would pick us up from the station. We would head to dadur bari, maternal grandparents’ place, in a horse-drawn tanga. Dadur Bari was a big one-storied house with huge front and back yards. The backyard had many mango trees. Dadu would pick mangos for us. Didun (maternal grandma) would make aam papads at home with the ripe mangoes. Didun would also make all kinds of achars at home. I would spend those lazy summer afternoons nibbling homemade aam papad or achar and reading a book. I used to be a voracious reader once.
Often mom’s other sisters (Masimoni and Nantu Masi) and their children Radhika and Bappa, a baby boy then, would join us in Lucknow. It was such fun running around in the courtyards and playing silly games. On some afternoons, mom would buy us ice cream from the Kwality cart. Choco bar was my favourite. We would watch Madaris making the monkeys dance or run after a tanga just for fun. We would sometimes visit the zoo late afternoon.
At night Dadu would lay the string khatiyas (cots) in the backyard and put mattresses and sheets on them for us to sleep on. Every family in Lucknow in those slept outside in the summers. I remember lying under the open sky and watching the stars before dozing off.
Those beautiful, lazy summer days. Though Lucknow summers are hot, I don’t remember feeling hot or uncomfortable. I only remember those carefree days watching squirrels and monkeys, enjoying the Choco bar with not a worry in the world. I would give anything for one such summer break…