My stay in Agartala this time has been hot and humid. Though I spent my childhood here I can’t bear the humidity any more. The uncomfortable heat made worse by pressure of deadlines to be met. With COVID induced WFH we don’t really get a break anymore.
Coming home also brings along social responsibilities and commitments. Visiting relatives or friends almost every evening, taking my Mom or nephew out for shopping. I had packed some nice outfits and saris for the trip, unfortunately most haven’t been worn as I couldn’t bear to dress up in this muggy weather.
Sitting in humid Agartala I watched the videos of rain deluged Delhi airport. Generally it is the other way round. But this time the rain Gods were not so generous on Agartala. Though there were occasional rains, it didn’t help with the humidity.
Finally the skies opened today afternoon, just the morning before I was supposed to leave. Heavy downpour accompanied by wind and then steady drizzle.
I was working on a presentation, I tried to focus for while. Finally, I shut down the laptop and came to the terrace, sitting under the tin shed on the swing enjoying the pitter patar rain. Rainy afternoons that were a big part of me growing up has become a rarity now. So, I decided to steal it and soak every moment in!
I have very fond memories of my maternal Grandparent’s home in Krishnanagar… our summer destination every year during my school days…
My grandparents had a big house by the Jalongi river with a lot of greenery all around… coconut, mango, guava, jackfruit, black plum, betelnuts trees to name a few… My major attraction was to climb the guava tree to get hold of the fruits, picking raw mangoes from the ground after an evening of thunderstorm and once in a while taking a dip in Jalongi along with my Dida… I often narrate these stories to my daughter who is growing in the concrete jungle of Gurgaon… these stories are like fairy tales from the land of fantasy for her…
Most of the modern housing now-a-days in new India is high risers in gated community where there is always scarcity of space… rarely we get to see individual houses surrounded by so many fruit trees in urban dwellings.
Fortunately, my husband’s ancestral home still holds the old flavour of individual housing surrounded by ample trees, though the count has drastically reduced over the years due to ever-expanding human needs. They still have preserved a lot many which was good enough for my daughter to experience a piece from my childhood…
Every year we visit this small suburb of Kolkata called Nimta for just a couple of hours to meet our extended family and due to a shortage of time never got a chance to explore the surroundings. This year we planned for a 2-days stay and guess what? It was an enriching experience for Katha my daughter which she will cherish in her later years. The entire day she was with her cousins playing around the neighbourhood like a vagabond but that was not the main attraction. My husband and his cousin planned to go fishing with Katha and it turned out to be the major attraction of the trip. They went to the nearby pond and spent hours there and finally got a huge Tilapia fish. The excitement and sparkle in her eyes were priceless. The same fish was cleaned, cut and cooked in mustard paste and served for lunch…Katha couldn’t believe she was actually eating and enjoying her own catch. Being a Bong she is also a big-time fish lover.
The next adventure was with the tress in the backyard which was full of ripen stone apple and raw mangoes. The kids were excited, and the men got up on the terrace to get the ripe fruits hanging there. The satisfaction of having a spoonful of soft yet fibrous pulp of stone apple which you just plucked after some hard work is immense. My daughter didn’t miss out on plucking the raw mangoes along with her uncle which was later grated with salt, sugar and chillies to go with the evening barbeque…
The entire experience was exhilarating, and I was happy and satisfied to give Katha her a tiny piece from my childhood… it’s all about creating memories and storing them safely to cherish later!
Tom & Jerry! To me they are ageless. I grew up watching Tom & Jerry and their antics, the clever little mouse Jerry almost always scoring over Tom, the hapless cat. Their endless, meaningless squabbles made the Sunday mornings so much fun. Though they fought endlessly, devising innovative ways of torturing each other, they had each other’s back against Spike the bulldog. Their never-ending bickering has been often been equated with sibling rivalry, brothers who are forever getting at each other without intending real harm.
Tom & Jerry shows have also been criticised for excessive violence – Tom running after Jerry with a hammer or an axe, while Jerry would device diabolic plans of setting his tail on fire, might make the wrong impression on the children, feel many. For me, Tom & Jerry is just fun. I grew up watching Tom & Jerry, spent many weekends binge watching the cat & mouse chase each other even after I started working. They always gave me a good laugh and made feel so light & happy. Violence is not an emotion that I ever associated with Tom Jerry.
My journey of cartoons started with Barbapapa, Barbamama and their family. Those adorable shapeless creatures I faintly recall, who never made an appearance in Indian television since the eighties. Then came Mickey & Donald with their entire entourage who entertained us for years. Tom & Jerry added a new dimension to the cat and mouse chase. Each episode was so much fun, there wasn’t one boring moment with Tom & Jerry.
But then one day Tom & Jerry were gone. There was Looney
Tunes, Power Rangers, Power Puff Girls and what not. Somehow, I lost interest
in cartoons after stopped playing. I didn’t enjoy the newer shows as much.
Tom & Jerry did make a come back again, though they
didn’t get the prime-time slots. I was excited, nonetheless. “So are you
watching Tom & Jerry,” I asked my 9-year-old niece. “Oh, they are for old
people,” she said wrinkling her nose. Really, have I grown so old!!
The old Bakul tree next to our gate is missing
The mildly fragrant Bakul flowers that would be strewn under the tree through the year are missing
Missing are the garlands that I used to string out of those flowers as a little girl
The bedroom of our beautiful concrete house sighs peacefully where once the old Bakul tree spread its fragrant breath
My grandmother smiles peacefully from a picture in our living room, her loving warmth is missing
Missing are her many stories, her gentle touch, the many delicacies that she would dish out for us
I enter my old bedroom, the old box with many a colourful hair clips and pins are missing
My old dolls and toys are missing, and the box with all my old letters and greeting cards
The thatched tin roof of our old house is missing and the sound of the pitter patter rain
Missing are the lazy rainy afternoons, the paper boats, the deluged courtyard
The simple pleasures of kichudi and maaach bhaja - a rainy day meal
The stories, the laughter’s and the indoor games. The happiness of a day wasted is missing
Annual summer break to Dadur Bari in Lucknow is missing
Missing are those long train journeys with mom and sisters
The screeching, whistling steam engines are missing
Missing are the hawkers, hot tea served in earthen pots, the rhythmic, dreamy slumber in a moving train
Smiling Dadu waiting for us at the station is missing and the exited and chirpy tanga rides
Didun and her many delicacies are missing, the home-made achars and aam papads, sandesh, moya, nadu and nimkees
The sprawling bungalow in the Railway Colony with huge front yard and back yard is missing
Missing are those khatiyas, those beautiful long nights under the stars
The laughing, fun-filled afternoons with cousins are missing
Missing are those trips to the zoo in a tanga with homemade puri, sabzi and achar
The Eagle who swooped at my puri and snatched it from me is missing
Missing and resurfacing is the little girl who cried and chased the Eagle away
Who counted stars at night and hummed to the music of pitter patter rain, who dreamt for hours of sweet nothings
The girl in me who’s too scared to walk down the lanes of her childhood, lest the sweet memories go missing!
Jhiri was reclining on the bed, face down, her cheek rested on a pillow and a book lay open next to her. She was staring out of the window watching the light drizzle, rain drops falling on the green leaves, water droplets like pearls falling from the leaves on the green grass, rain drenched trees that looked so green and beautiful. It was one of those days in Agartala when heavy rain brought life to a standstill. It rained heavily the night before. As the roaring thunder woke her up, she could see flashes of lightening before her mother rushed into the room and shut the window. She was awake for a while listening to thunder clapping, wind lashing, sound of heavy rain falling on the tin roof.
When Jhiri woke up in the morning it was still raining, their courtyard and the road along the house was waterlogged, at least knee-deep water. “Your school bus won’t come today, so just stay at home and finish your projects,” said her mother. Jhiri would have loved to venture out, wade in the water, get drenched in the rain, but the stern expression on her mother’s face made her go back to her room. She sat on her study table, opened a book and stared out of the window. Jhiri loved rains, she loved that it rained so often in Agartala. On usual rainy days, even in ankle deep water, she would head to the bus stop in her raincoat with her schoolmates who lived in the vicinity. She liked to feel the wet breeze with drops of rain on her face. She liked to splash in the rain water, soaking her Bata ballerina school shoes & socks, sometimes even her uniform. On such rainy days, after reaching school she and friends would remove their shoes & socks and leave them to dry under the fan.
Last night’s rain was however too heavy that left the city inundated. It was still raining, Jhiri could hear the steady pitter patter on the tin roof, breeze would sometimes carry droplets of rain through the open window. She moved her books away from the window and put her face on the window frame so that she could see, hear and feel rain. “It’s going to be a while before the rain stops and the water recedes,” she thought. Jhiri thoroughly enjoyed these rainy days, being marooned at home and losing herself in the lyrical beauty of the rains. Sometimes she would make paper boats and watch them glide away in the water.
Jhiri relished everything about rainy days, including kichudi & daler bora (khichdi & dal pakora) usually served for lunch. She could make out from the smell coming out of the kitchen that mom was making delicious kichudi. After lunch the whole family would sit together in the living room and play Ludo, Chinese checker or Carrom. She would sometimes play chor police or kata kuti (noughts & croses) with her sisters.
For Jhiri, however, favourite part of the rainy afternoons was when she would slip into her room, listen to the pitter patter rain, gaze at dreamy cloudy sky and the rain-washed trees in the garden. There was something mesmerizing about these rainy afternoons, and she knew she would miss them one day!
Tiya bit into the murir moa (laddu made out of murmura and jaggery) with delight! She was visiting home for Pujo and her college friend had called her over for Lakkhi Pujo (Laksmi Puja). Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped in every Bengali household on the first full moon night after Bijoya Dhashami. As her mom didn’t do much at home anymore, she decided to go to her friends’ place in the evening. To her surprise, her friend Piyu had followed all the traditions in her adulation of the Goddess, right from the clay idol of Lakshmi to the rangoli to making naru (nariyal laddu made out of jaggery), moa, sandesh and all the other delicacies offered to the goddess at home.
Tiya hasn’t eaten a homemade moa or naru in ages. There was a time when they were served murir or chirer (chirva) moa as evening snacks, with a glass of milk of course. She particularly liked khoi er moa or khoir er upra (sweetened parched paddy) which was no less than caramel popcorn, and far healthier. And sometimes there would be muri makha or tel muri, narkel muri (murmura served with freshly scraped coconut) or chire bhaja (roasted chirva with onion and peanuts).
There was a time when her mom and grandmon would make moa and naru in the afternoon. She remembered the whole process of melting the jaggary to the right consistency, putting muri or chirva in the hot jaggary and mixing it well. She remembered them shaping the hot mixture into round laddus, their palms would at times go red. Her mom continued to do these alone for a while after her grandmother passed away. She probably she stopped after Tiya and sisters left home.
Mom would even make samosas at home, phulkobi samosas were her speciality, and green pea kachori (puri stuffed with green peas) served with aloor dum. Tiya remembered as a child her family would rarely eat out. Her mom made delicious food at home, there was always such variety. Even pickles and jams were all homemade. Her nani also made aam padad and chiki at home. The homemade moa and naru served by Piyu brought back the almost forgotten delicious flavours of her childhood.
Who eats moa and naru now, lost in the world of candies, popcorn and burgers do today’s kid even know what they taste like? When Tiya was a little girl she was so much easier to please, few orange toffees would make her day. Yes, round wrapped orange toffees that you rarely see now. Parle did try their hands on it but it wasn’t the same. And there was Poppins and Gems that came in different colours. Then came five stars and milk chocolates that were more expensive, and Tiya and sisters were allowed to indulge in them only occasionally.
The pink bubble gums came next. Tiya remembers chewing those gums endlessly till her jaws ached and blowing them, most of the times they would blow up on her face. Those chewed gums created lot of mess in the school – she would find them stuck under the desk, in the books, worst was boys sticking those gums in her long hair.
As Tiya grew up and went for tuitions with her friends they would occasionally indulge in chanachur (Bengali mixture with onion, mirchi, nimbu & stuff) or the roadside mutton chops. Tiya and her friends would walk to the tuition classes, saving on the rickshaw fare so they could feast on chanachur and mutton chop on their way back.
Probably Tiya’s generation saw the advent of fast food or junk food with the launch of Maggi, it was such an instant hit. Tiya still remembers looking forward to Maggi as school lunch or Sunday breakfast. When she left home, she was introduced to the world of pizzas, burgers, pastas, wraps, rolls, tacos and what not, and the humble narus, moyas and samosas were soon forgotten.
Once Tiya started working and living on her own she started cooking, in fact started enjoying cooking, but not the typical Bengali stuff. She would dish out international cuisine, sometimes Italian, sometimes Lebanese. She started baking and her cakes became quite a hit with her friends and colleagues. Looking at the array of traditional home-made delicacies laid out by Piyu, Tiya suddenly felt a twinge of guilt mixed with nostalgia. It’s time to dish up the traditional flavours and surprise her friends with naru, moa and jhalmuri and kachori!
‘AIR to cut cost with shutdowns,’ I looked incredulously at the news clip in Sunday’s TOI. It opened a floodgate of memories. As a child I woke up every morning to ‘Yeh Akashvani hai’, my father would turn on the radio at 6.30 a.m. for the morning bulletin and that was our que to leave bed. Ameen Sayani’s Binaca Geetmala and various other music programs that my mother would routinely listen to, plays that were aired on the weekends and of course the matches. Be it test cricket, or Mohan Bagan vs East Bengal football matches, the AIR commentators brought them alive. We could feel the excitement in the air!
For a long time, Radio was the main source of entertainment and information, TV came only in mid-eighties. There were many AIR stations available at different frequencies airing variety of programs. I vaguely remember there was a room assigned to Radio back then – Radior Ghar or The Radio Room. The room had a table with a Murphy Radio plugged in. The whole house would gather in that room for important bulletins or football matches.
Mohan Bagan vs East Bengal matches were a big draw then. People would either bunk office or leave work early to listen to the live commentaries. Hailing originally from Bangladesh, every member of my family was a staunch East Bengal supporter. We kids were made to offer flowers to the Radio with a prayer for East Bengal’s victory. The excitement and the tension in air during those matches is something that I haven’t witnessed even in stadiums. My father, uncles and sometimes uncle’s friends would sit together to listen to the commentary – the Radio would be playing at full volume, the shouts and the cheers whenever East Bengal scored a goal, the tension and the dejection when East Bengal played badly or lost, are integral part of my childhood memories. The atmosphere would get further heated if relatives or friends from West Bengal (Mohan Bagan supporters) were visiting during those times.
Then came the battery operated and portable transistors (Philips I think), one for my grandmother who was hooked to the plays, and one for my mother for her various musical programs. I developed quite a knack for the plays and would sneak into my grandmother’s room on Sunday afternoons to listen to them. Those plays were really well made, the actors bringing the plot and characters alive just through dialogues. There was a special show for children as well – Shishu Mela where children would perform, recite a poem, sing a song – that we would religiously listen to every Sunday morning. There were informative shows like talk shows on agriculture and farming. My father who was a senior official with the state agriculture department would be invited often to talk on those shows. Sitting around the radio, listening to out father’s voice reverberating in the room, we would feel no less than celebrity kids!
Growing up, I found the world of radio or the world behind it enigmatic and magical. Those voices in the air – sometimes deep, sometimes sonorous, sometimes sweet and melodious – transported me to a magical world. I would try very hard to give them a physical shape, to imagine what my favourite anchors and commentators looked like.
Then one fine day there were televisions, and music systems and VCRs and what not and Radio lost its place of prominence. My father still listened to the AIR bulletins and my mother to her select music programs. When I left home, Radio vanished from my life all together, the only form of Radio that I now know is the music system in my car that plays the FM channels, and also a few AIR stations that I rarely tune to.
But All India Radio still holds an iconic status for me, the news of AIR downsizing is like an era coming to an end. I really hope AIR uses this opportunity to reinvent itself and connect with the millennium. Waiting for the day when the tech savvy urban Indian will say, ‘Shut up Alexa, I am tuning into AIR!’
Pinky lived happily in her comfortable little box. Every morning she would go to Tutu the pot for a little chit and chat and to get her fill of the royal blue warmth that she would keep pouring out through the day. Over the months the friendly chit chat became more loving and earnest, Pinky would look forward to seeing Tutu every morning, they would hug each other affectionately and talk lovingly about the day ahead. Tutu would gently urge Pinky to script beautiful pieces with her royal blue fill and not to spill in the wrong places. For if Pinky spilled in the wrong places like Tiya’s textbook or her white shirt, Tiya’s mom would be really annoyed.
Soon Pinky and Tutu’s affair hit a rocky patch, for there came Payal the pilot who was forever vying for Tutu’s attention. Payal was smart and witty, quick to take her fill of the royal blue warmth that she would never spill out wrong. Though Tutu would tell Pinky that she’s the one he wanted and hug her affectionately, Pinky could sense that his affection was clearly divided, sometimes more tilted towards Payal. Tutu’s eyes would light up moment Payal would walk in, he would laugh happily at her witty one-liners and compliment her for being so smart. Pinky would sulk standing in one corner feeling ignored. And to make matters worse soon there was chic and haughty Impy the parker.
Impy the parker made even Payal very uncomfortable. Impy was sleek, with a steady flow that never spilled, and Tutu was forever gushing over her and sometimes even failed to notice Pinky. Though he still affectionately hugged Pinky and apologize for the oversight, she would feel slighted and hurt. And not just Tutu, even Tiya started choosing Payal and Impy over Pinky. Though Pinky was Tiya’s first fountain pen and Tiya adored her even though she spilled at times, upon her mother’s insistence she started opting for Payal and Impy more often. ‘They write better and don’t spill, please stop using the clumsy Pinky,’ her mother would tell Tiya again and again.
Things went downhill with ball point Kim and cello Jill joining the fray. In fact, now even Tutu was worried for Kim and Jill didn’t need his fill. And Tiya preferred them over the rest as they were convenient and easy to use, she didn’t need to fill them every day, they lasted for weeks. Though Pinky, Payal and Impy wrote better, who cared about handwriting nowadays. Tiya had a lot to do and she had no time to spend on silly old fountain pens. Arch rivals Pinky, Payal and Impy were now boxed together finding solace in each other’s company. For Tutu it was even worse, he stood dusty and neglected in one corner of Tiya’s study table with no one to turn to.
Then one day the lid of the box opened, ball point Kim and cello Jill were dropped in. Pinky, Payal and Impy glared at them angrily and pushed them in one corner. ‘How dare you come here? You are the ones who boxed us?’, they growled angrily. ‘Please spare us, it’s not our fault,’ pleaded Kim and Jill, ‘It was Tiya all along.’ ‘She picked us over you, coz we were easy to use. And now that she has a fancy tablet and a laptop, she doesn’t need us anymore. We pens are out of fashion you see. Tiya prefers the use and throw kinds for her occasional scribbles, and smartly keys in the rest in her fancy gadgets.’ Pinky, Payal, Impy, Kim and Jill sighed together, held each other’s hands and lay down quietly in the box.