I watched those Makoda’s (big ants) crawling up and down, looking ever so busy on the big old tree. Tree like the ones you see in Harry Potter Movies. But yes, in those days you did not have Mr. Potter or the Forbidden Forest, but the tree looked just from there! (trust me)
I loved (sadistic pleasure) watching the ants and it made me itchy all over, but I loved itching too… this tree stood right in the middle of my playschool with a dead pond and leaking old Victorian fountain. The fountain piddled and formed ghostly patterns. My playschool, a small cottage (bright coloured) in middle of an unkempt garden of a big ruined mansion. The tree, the fountain and the mansion all added to the drama to create the perfect settings, for my ever dramatic life!
Each day, I would go down on my haunches and settle at the roots of this tree (from the Forbidden Forest) and would get transfixed at those ants, marching up and down. I really don’t understand (today) why I did that, but it was almost a ritual that I followed.
“Anju…anju… anjudi… lets go”, mummy would call and I would only respond after the third or the fourth “Anju!”. I would go running to her and hug her. Mummy always came to pick me up from school. Mummy in her long, floral maxi and a duppata (sometimes matching sometimes not)…but she always looked pretty! After all she was My Mummy! Each time I hugged her I use to get the whiff of the “Surf” (washing powder) smell from her damp maxi! Damp? Yah she use to often come to pick me up after finishing the laundry. How I hated that smell of damp cloth and surf then and now I long for it!! Mum no longer washes clothes, washing machines and maid servants have taken over!!!
Precisely this is the first ever memory of my childhood, my haunted nursery (with the Forbidden Forest Tree) and my pretty, damp mummy!!
From there memories keep flooding in, me dancing in my bare minimum (frilly chaddis); kicking the door and singing “ yaar dildar tujhe paisa chahiye… pyaar chahiye ya laat chahiye”.
How can I forget forcing mummy to buy me boiled eggs from a local vendor outside the country liquor bar!! “Mummy… Mummy I want it,” and mummy pulling me away from the vendor getting all embarrassed and red!! The local drunkards use to hang out there to buy eggs and roasted pappads, a little something along with their local narangi drink (homemade cheap liquor). The local bar was a taboo for ladies and I kept pestering mum to buy me those eggs! Finally she would reluctantly buy me one. It was not more about the eggs that caught my fancy rather it was the egg vendor’s mobile shop that intrigued me! I quite like the mobile shop. The egg vendor had a cane cone structure tied up with strings at the center. On the cane a big aluminum thali (platter) with white table tennis look alike eggs lined and arranged neatly. Now when I think back I feel the vendor must have been from Kolkata/ UP Bihar (though Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are two different states in India they often are called as conjoined twins). That was the time when the entire Bombay (now called Mumbai …sorry I will still call it Bombay) was swarmed by these vendors coming down from their respective states with their local art (cane cones) to sell their goodies like Bhelpuri, Pani puri, Vegetable chutney sandwiches, and some lone ones like my egg and papad guy selling it in front of the local wine bar! ( I often wonder why they are called wine bars when they hardly have any wines being sold there…all they have is addha’s (half’s) and pavva’s (quarter’s) of cheap rum and whiskey.
Those are the only times when I use to eat eggs …I don’t eat them anymore!
My childhood memories are filled with humorous anecdotes, some funny some not so funny but always amusing!
We use to live in Amchi Wadi ( name changed so that I do not have any complications with any political parties/ngo’s or any residents), on a ground floor chawl in a home not bigger than a match box (that’s how my husband described it, the first time he saw it). This match box was 10x16sq feet in area! Well I could call this home, a hen’s coop in some respect as it was often visited by Ramdev Uncle’s (my neighbour) not so friendly hens, who where often chased by the lone cock (full of testosterone) of the colony. These hens would come in a flutter and mess the entire home. It hardly took them any time to helter-skelter the place! Mum use to get wild, and would chase them out… she had sworn to turn them into Tandoori some day! (That was Bombay in the 70’s)
Speaking about amicable neighbors I remember Mr. Yadav picking up a fight with Thomas Aunty! (well it sounds funny I know a male name to a female aunty, but that’s how we kids use to call her!!! All the married males in the neighborhood were uncles, unmarried were Bhaiya’s. Married ladies were aunties and unmarried ones were Didi’s … that was so simple rather than remembering complicated names like Dhanalakshmi Vaidynathan!!)
One afternoon, Mr. Yadav (very docile one) went charging up on the first floor chawl to Thomas aunties home. Why? Aunty was pounding red chilies in her pestle and mortar and she forgot the law of physics, that “every action has and equal and opposite reaction!” Aunty with all her might (84kgs) banged the little chilies so hard that her floor and Mr. Yadav’s ceiling gave away!!! A big slab of plaster and concrete fell on Baba Bhaiya, who was napping at that time after a hard day from college!
Mr. Yadav was a proud father to Baba Bhaiya who was studying in the college to get a degree (so that he can replace his father’s job in the government office). Baba Bhaiya’s afternoon nap was very dear to the Yadav family as he was the only heir to that government office seat!!
Yadav’s daughter, Vidya, a tall, slender, fair, long single plated UP girl! Stood next to me watching the fight….oh how I loved her home stitched floral frocks with side pockets. I always admired Vidya and her frocks very simple, neat, charcoal flavored!!! (they did not have a LPG connection, her mom used charcoal and wood for cooking). Mummy never got me those simple frocks!!! She always made me wear the latest fashion from Bollywood!!! Any new movie with Hema Malini or Zeenat Amaan was released and there a new dress from my masi (mum’s younger sister) and mom’s home production, for we girls!!! You name it and they stitched it, from halter necks to backless, from jumper suits to frills all over!!! We were clones of those bollywood actresses!! Well we were admired the most too but how I longed for those simple floral side pocket frocks like Vidya. Vidya Stood there watching the one day match between Mr. Yadav and Thomas Aunty …so I did I but I kept admiring the frock!
We kids had a blast watching Yadavs and Thomas fight. The best scene stealer was Baba Bhaiya’s Amma (Mrs. Yadav), who kept howling and beating her chest, as though her dear son (the only heir to the government office job!!) had passed away. Well it almost looked like one, since Baba Bhaiya was sleeping with a white sheet covered from head to toe. (Like the last Hindu rituals). The obedient son in Baba Bhaiya refused to budge from the bed with all the plaster and concrete on him till the fight was settled and Thomas Aunty came the swept the entire mess.
Talking about the Yadav’s I remember Mr. Yadav’s younger brother’s family – Doctor Babu’s from UP. The entire family was known as Doctor Babu’s Family! Doctor Babu ki Amma, Doctor Babbu ke Pappa, Doctor Babu ki Bahen. Sadly there was no Doctor in Doctor Babu’s Family! Doctor Babu was a young 14 something, healthy chubby lad always in half pants ( khakhi shorts) and printed white shirts. Doctor Babu’s Amma (zealous and ambitious) was the one to christen the family with that name. Amma always wanted Doctor Babu (sadly I do not know his name, that’s the only name we knew him by) to become a “Doctor” hence she kept calling him Doctor Babu! How Doctor Babu wanted to wear full pants (trousers) rather than the half pants but we was not allowed by Amma. Amma never let him wear full pants as he had to pass his exams to earn the full pants! Amma had high aspirations, but I am sure Doctor Babu never wanted to become a “Doctor” … all he wanted was to wear full pants, play with other boys and fly kites!!
Few years later I heard, as I had shifted away from that chawl to a bigger flat (Pappa was getting richer!!) that they found Doctor Babu hanging from my play school’s Forbidden Forest Tree!