It’s a blessing that the memories I have of my childhood (which now seems a long, long time ago) are happy ones. I’m the only son of two loving parents. My Dad is an IAS officer now retired and my mom is a housewife. Having chosen Orissa (now rechristened Odisa) as his state carder, we have had the privilege (my mom would strongly disagree to that, given the hardships she had to face) of staying in the most remote and pristine places in Orissa. I can vouch that Orissa has the most beautiful forest tracks in the country; only that the state has not been able to promote itself because of its poor infrastructure.
My mom tells me stories of living in places where the only drinking water was carried to our house every morning by an old man, or that every time there was a power cut it took more than a week to restore the lines; electricity poles uprooted due to fallen trees. Or the day when Dad left early from office but arrived late….the reason? A bear was sitting in the middle of the road, intoxicated (the Mahua flower being the main culprit) and refusing to budge. The driver had a slight stammer which became more pronounced as he tried to speak “Sirrr aakta bhaluuk….k rastaee bochee aacheee… ” (Sir, a bear is sitting on the road)
Everything about me in my childhood till the age of four was ‘difficult’ to put it mildly. I wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t eat, and wouldn’t stop crying and generally driving my parents crazy. It was only after five that I settled down and my parents heaved a sigh of relief. But unfortunately by then I had tortured my mother enough and I never had a brother or sister to keep company.
My first legible conversations was in Tamil, thanks to our Tamil caretakers with whom I spend a lot of time with. The next language was Oriya. I spoke Bengali, my mother tongue quite late. Once I was over this first hiccup of which language to speak in, I was hard to stop as if I wanted to make up for my first days of monosyllabic mumbles. This turned out to the advantage to my parents as when we had guests who over-stayed their welcome my parents would unleash me on them. I would enter the room, climb on their lap and start to speak to them in Oriya. Within a few minutes they would say their goodbyes and bid a hasty retreat.
I was a ‘silent worker’. I went about my deeds silently (only when the work aka misdeed was done was I unmasked). I distinctly remember that it was monsoon, which in Bhubaneswar is almost for six months – all the clothes had finally dried after two to three days of airing and mom had gone for her afternoon siesta. I was feeling particularly helpful and when my mom woke up from her nap found me with all the dried clothes dipped in buckets of water for washing. I was really surprised at the look on my mom’s face; she didn’t seem pleased.
As I have already told you I was difficult. I had asthma and one of the reasons of not enjoying my food was that my nasal passage was always blocked. I had to breathe and eat through my mouth. Whenever my grandfather came over to visit us he encouraged me to have tea (black tea). That was the end of milk for me. After that when I was given bottled milk I would smartly point at the tea cups in everyone else’s hand. My less than normal eating habits did not stop there. I had a strong penchant for dried ‘pigeon shit’ which I would discover from any nook and corner and quickly put into my mouth lest anyone wanted a share from my tasty snack. My granny also had a role to play. She is an avid ‘paan’ eater. Whenever she had a paan I could get a small nibble from it. So it was only natural that I would miss it when my grandparents went back to Kolkata. The shrubs and small trees in are garden were well pruned till about a height where my hands would reach – my ready source of ‘paan’ leaves. And when I was caught munching I said “Mou pano kyochi” (I’m having paan).
In Orissa we lived houses built on ten to eleven acres of land with enough rooms to fit the entire Indian cricket team. Then my Dad got posted to Delhi – From big gardens to narrow balconies. From narrow unpaved roads to broad roads of Lutyen’s Delhi. School day of Delhi was another honeymoon period for me. Shivering in my grey half-pants while waiting for the school bus in the Delhi winters to bunking classes and loitering in Khan Market. It was in Delhi that I had the first experience of flats that too multi-storied. So many flats, so many friends to play with. From morning till dusk I would be out. Every evening my mother would shout from the stairs in the vague hope that I would hear and come home.
By this time in life studies were supposed to be important. How Sad! I was expected to come back home by a particular time, have my bath and devote a few hours to my studies. I think I had grasped the concept of returning home on time but not the second part of the deal-studying. Hence this instance – I come back early, tip-toed into the TV room, where my parents were engrossed watching Derrick (I think) and hide behind my mom’s chair. I patted myself on the back, feeling smug that it was nearly one hour and my mom had still not discovered that I was in the room, when she commented to my dad “ Look at the time, Choto is still not back “ . I popped out and said “I’m here”. You guessed it, no applaud for my stealth.
Being fond of sweets is something in the ‘genes’ of a Bong. Even if you are not at the moment, don’t fret it just means that it’s not been triggered yet. Everyone in my family loves chocolates. From Gulyian to Milka we have tasted all. But our all time favourite has always been Nutella. It was a standing instuction with all my dad’s friends going abroad to bring Nutella. I remember one time we had an uncle who was extra sweet and got back twelve jars. By now my parents were well aware of my greediness. All the jars got coded; S – Soumya , GB – Dad & G – Mom. So that made four each. I was done & dusted with my share within a week. Then started the sequence of begging & blackmailing with puppy eyes. Dad gave in easily. Giving his share to me. But mom would not relent. So began my nightly vigil; getting up at night scooping out a spoonful and leveling the rest of the chocolate. Each time mom opened her jar she did notice something was not right but couldn’t put her finger on it.
Phew!!! if you have managed to read this far maybe you liked this post…. Waiting to hear your fond memories too.