Monday, June 18, 2018

Life in Barrackpore...80s

This time I am back after....can you believe whopping 6 years ! I had even forgotten the URL, so had to dig it up from old documents.

There are times when the writing bug hits me and I start writing and then there are times I just ignore the bug. This time I could not ignore, hence I am back.

Over the last few episodes I have covered multiple aspect of my life in Barrackpore in the eightees which included my graduating to a teen from a child.

My father used to take a train to go to Sealdah from Barrackpore, from where he took a bus to go to his office. His Office  had various branches in Chowranghee, Russel Street, Middleton street etc in Kolkata. He used to be in different offices in different point of time. Me and my father both used to start in the morning around the same time, may be 8 am, I do not remember exactly any more. My school started at 9 am, so I suppose it was 8 or may be 8:30 am. When I was young, my mom used to drop me to school, so all of us left home at the same time. My mother used to make tea, cook breakfast and lunch everyday fresh in the morning.I remember I had my demands
and preferences for tiffin and always demanded tasty stuff without even thinking about how difficult it would be for her. I detested some common tiffins like Roti, bread etc. My preferences used to be unhealthy stuff like Luchi, parota, Motorshutir kochuri, noodles, sandwiches etc. She used to get up very early and also she has always been very fast and efficient with everything she does.She also used to go to my school in afternoon to pick me up.

As I grew up, in Class 6th or 7th, my parents developed more faith in me and allowed me to travel on my own. For some time after this my mother still used to come and pick me up from the bus stand near home. The travel was simple - a rickshaw to bus stand and then a bus directly on the main road in front on Air Force Campus where my school was located. Initially it was located in a place called Palta but later, a bigger building was constructed and it moved to a place called Badamtala. It used to be hardly 6-7 stops in the bus and there were quite a few students and teachers who used to take the same route. There was only 1 bus route - "85" that I needed to take, there was no other option.
There was also Autorickshaw - but it was expensive in those days and also not as ubiquitous as it is now - in almost all Indian cities and towns. I do not recall the bus fare though...

The private buses in Kolkata have a strange arrangement of sitting and standing - it is not how we envision a bus normally - with 2 long columns of 2*2 seats with a passage in between. These buses had a unique seating arrangement with essentially allowed more people to stand, and hence many more people could be packed into it than a standard seat arrangement. I suppose these buses still ply in Kolkata, though there are more "normal" options available now than was available in those days.
It was a rare occurrence that I would get a a place to seat either way, but since the distance was short and I was young, it was never a reason to be discontent. The travel was smooth 99.9% of days, but there were those handful of days when bus did not ply due to some issue - like a strike or some blockade in the route. Those days the options were either to take the autorickshaw, which were in heavy demand and hence a long waiting period, or to take a rickshaw which took an hour or more to reach the destination. The days this delay happened while returning back, my mother will be very worried as there was no mobile phone, internet or social media to get instant information. Landline phone existed, but it was rarely seen and was almost a luxury. Out of all our relatives, only 2 had phone. One was my mesho (husband of my mejomashi - Mother's 2nd elder sister) as he was working as a senior office in telephone department. The other was my dadu, whom I mentioned earlier, who had the first as fridge and TV in the family as well.

There were days when my father came home late from office and due to lack of any kind of communication facilities, the only option was to wait and pray. The reasons for being late were hardly 2, delay in trains due to some technical issue, which was completely acceptable and understandable. It was the other reason which caused great anguish - he used to go off for some unplanned work - his own work or to help someone else after office and forgot completely to look at his watch. The memories of waiting endlessly after finishing studies, sometimes in the drawing room, or sometimes even outside the door, are still vivid in my memory, like many others. The worst case for case-1 was on 31st October 1984, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. That day the train services were halted completely and all commuters including my father had to walk along the railway tracks to reach home. My father walked all the way from Sealdah to Barrackpore - a distance of around 25 km. That was a day that is also etched in memory like many others, due to different reasons, which I will talk about some other day !

We lived in a rented home on B.T.Road, next to Barrackpore Municipality. Due to this strategic location, the bus stop was right in front of our home. It was a great advantage as those days the most preferred mode of local  transports used to be buses and trains.The rented house we lived in had 2 tenants on the ground floor and the landlady lived with her family on the 1st floor. Our part had 3 rooms and a single toilet. One of the rooms was the bed room, one was drawing room and the 3rd was kitchen cum dining room. There were wooden windows, with no net layer to prevent mosquitoes from entering. There was no mosquito repellents and the mosquito nets while sleeping was the norm There was no AC, and fans were the only respite during the hot and humid summers. Power Cuts, which were popularly known as "load-shedding" those days in Bengal were pretty common, and there was no power backup ! We had kerosene lamps and candles for lighting up the dark corners during these occurrences, for all work including studying, cooking, going to the washroom etc. We all used to be upset when power cut happened but I do not remember thinking that we cannot survive it. My father used to be Central Government Officer and we were among the better-off middle class people on those days. This is a life that we had, which many of us in the same social strata cannot imagine today !

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Barrackpore continues....

My last post was quite a few months back, which as only become the norm now :-) Well, will pick up from where I left last time - arrival of TV in our house. The earliest memories associated with TV are watching Spiderman on Saturday evenings after school. Cartoons were a rare treat those days and the wait for a whole week to catch a new episode made it all the more worthwhile. Then there was the Chitrahar - bouquet of hindi film music over a 30 minute window - which also was eagerly awaited by all families. In these days and times of multiplicity in every conceivable type of TV channels - the charm of waiting and the eagerness seems to have been lost for ever :-(

      The earliest soap operas on India Television initiated in those days of 80s...The first was was Humlog which seemed to go on for ever....3 years? 4 years? Can't remember so well any more. But many of the characters are still etched in my memory....Ashok kumar in his role as the "sutradhar"....his comments after every episode. Hum log was followed by Buniyaad, Khaandaan and then many many more. We had some exceptional comedy series like Idhar Udhar & Yeh Jo hai Zindagi....The characters still seem mint fresh in my mind and there is nothing on television these days which even compare to these.

Watching movie on Saturday & Sunday evenings on TV was also something that we used to look forward to eagerly.

            Apart from TV, other means of entertainment included visiting relatives. We were staying in Barrackpore, which is in Bengal which is my home state and hence had many relatives staying around. My grandparents from Father's side (Dadu - Thamma) stayed nearby in Khardah. It is the same place we stayed for a few months before moving to Barrackpore, which I wrote about in some of my earlier posts. Then there were my jethus & kakus (father's brothers) and pishis (father's sisters)and also father's cousins and their families. On my mother's side, there were her uncles and aunts, her cousins and their families. We used to pay visit to one of or the other place pretty often - at least once in 2 weeks. Those days studies were never so demanding or tough as they are today....and it was always possible to finish off the homework and dash off to some relative's place or other !!!

              It is not that I enjoyed going to all these places...there were some those were my favourites and at other places I had no choice but to tag along :-) Well I was not so much of a social person and mostly an introvert who would rather sit in a corner with a book than strike up some conversation. One of the reasons for this behaviour is definitely my basic nature, which remains unchanged to this day. Only change I have succeeded is change the way I come across & interact in professional setup. On a personal level, I am still the same - the way I was as a 8 year old.

               But there was another reason for my not being able to open up to the world. I was obese as a child from the time I was around 7 years to 12 years old and subject to taunts and comments from relatives & strangers alike. There were always unsolicited advice from everyone on what all I need to do to be like all other "normal" kids. The solutions ranging from eating less to jogging, yoga, running, skipping & what not. Though they might not have spoken out of any negative intention, but infringing on privacy is something that we Indians are known to do routinely without realising the effect it might have on the recipient. All of us have our weak points....things about which we ourselves are not too happy about, which we are trying to work on. Very rarely people are sensitive enough to realise this...

                That was my first understanding of what it feels to be part of a "minority" community...people who can be identified among a crowd of "normal" people...Subsequently, as I grew up, though I lost most of the baby weight by the time I was 12 or 13, there were other reasons for me to part of this "not normal" community....the fact that I was not beautiful, or fair, or did not have long hair and then now being single in mid-thirties....

Monday, August 22, 2011

Growing up in Barrackpore ...continued..

I was discussing the good old days of 80s.....Why do we seem always to add "good old" when we discuss our childhood? As we move forward in life, we always seem to look back at past days with rose-tinted glasses....We always keep only postives in mind when we look back, especially at our childhood days irrespective of the fact whether it was all rosy or there were issues at that time...

I was mentioning about the electrnics & white good evolution in INdia of 80s among middle class households. In my last post, I talked about refrigerator and two-in-one. Next on my list is the television, which today, we cannot imagine life without !!! We had a TV-free life till 1984, when we got our first televiion set. Kids today cannot even think of a life without Cartoon Network and us elders without our daily fix of instant news, soaps, relaity TV, wild life, world movies etc.

So how was life pre-TV in India? Well, books covered a major part of the time which is today eaten away and wasted by TV. My parents used to read lot of books and had inculcated the same in me as well, from an early age. And consewuently, like most people of my generation, I was hooked to books - all kiddie stuff available in English or Bangla. In Bangla, we had a biweekly magazine named "anandamela". I started "reading" it even before I could actually read myself - my mother used to read it out to me. This was when we were in Dimapur, about which I have written in some of my previous post.

Subsequently I leart reading myself and slowly developed into a avid reader of whatever I could lay my hands on. Lot of bangla children's literature from leading authors like Satyajit Ray, Sunil Ganguly, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Samaresh Basu, Samaresh Majumdar etc. English books read were mostly evergreen classics from Enid Blyton. Comic books were also staple, and I enjoyed Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle, Richie Rich, Tintin etc. I was not too fond of Indrajaal Comics which were also very popular those days - which mainly covered superhero stuff like Mandrake, Superman, phantom etc.

And then their was the radio. Well people today cannot imagine listening to the radio in any other place or form than in cars and through mobile phones while on the move!! But those days, most households actually had a "radio-set". This used to be in standalone avatar earlier and later as part of two-in-one after the advent of the same. Radio had a somewhat equivalent role to play as the Television of today. There were multiple channals and different programmes including music shows, talk shows on audio soaps and dramas. But the most important role that radio played in people's lives was to bring news - not live as it happens as television today but at fixed intervals multiple times in a day. And then the radio was not impacted my power cuts as it used to run on cells and not on electric power.

Television came to India in 70s and was owned by a very exclusive club of people. I suppose the same way it has happened for all new technology that was arrived before and subsequently including radio, music systems or say internet or mobile telephony later. In our extended family, there was a TV at house of "Barrackporer dadu" - my Ma's elder uncle's house. Ma was regular visitor at their place before her marriage and had lived long period in this house. Also my parents marriage was solemnized at this house only. Whenever we were in Kolkata, we were regular visitors as well, to meet dadu, dida, Bachhumashi & babua mamu. Also very much part of the memories assciated with dadur bari is Happy, the pet alsatian.

My earliest TV memories are associated with dadur bari only. During our evening visits, the TV, occupying place of pride in the living room, was mostly turned on for few programmes. Our eyes and ears eagerly gobbled up the rare experience....whatever was on, seemed like magic. The experience of the technology was a marvel, its novelty never judged by the quality of programming. Another place I went one or two times to watch TV was at the house of one of our neighbours in Khardah, during the few months that we lived there. It was the house of Jinka, one of my playmates in Khardah, where she lived with her parents. They were one of the more well-to-do households in Khardah, her father was...well, as far as I remember a businessman, but my memory may fail me here. Her mother used to stitch clothes and teach tailoring to ladies in the area, which in today's parlance, we would rather say "she owned a boutique" !!! And another thing I should mention about them is that her parents had a mixed (Hindu-Muslim) marriage, which was also extremely rare in those days and that too in conservative areas like the places we are talking about here.

Coming back to TV, those days on Doordarshan (again, for the sake of the people who have not grown up in India, this was the name of the only broadcaster in those days, which was government, and by the way, it exists even today, though in a much transformed avatar) in Kolkata, we had 2 children's prgrammes on MOnday & Tuesday evening, which were called Hareko-Rokomba & Chiching Phank. The visits to Jinka's house were mainly to watch these programmes once in a while. But those days, well cultured, well brought up kids from educated families did not go to watch TV to others homes, and naturally my mother was not in favour or me doing this as well !! So, my TV pleasures were curtailed for the time being...till we had our own TV.

My parents also started thinking about the prospect of owning a TV around 1983-84. This was the time, when TV market started seeing a boom, with its manufacturers actively promoting it among the middle class. This was the time, when TV started becoming more widespread, from the rich & affluent to parts of the middle class. Lot of new manufactuers started crowding the TV market - and most of them were foreign collaborations with Indian companies. Due to regulations at those days, foreign brands did not have a direct play here....and also the market was not as lucrative as it is now. But it was surely the beginning of the consumer revolution that, in next 20 years has led to all leading foreign brands jostling for space in all neighbourhood electronics stores across the lenght and breadth of the country.

The brands that were there in the market at that time were BPL, Philips, ECA, Uptron, Beltron, Keltron, Sonodyne, Dyanora, etc. After a lot of analysis which included visit to electronics hops and discussions, We decided to go for a 14" Philips Television, and yes it was all Black and White at that time. The era of Colour television was still quite a few years away.The transmission was terrestrial at that time, which is again a alien concept to today's generation bred on Cable, DTH or IPTV!! What it meant was that a antenna had to be erected and the direction had to be set to "catch" the broadcast signals. But at the end of setting it up, the enjoyment and fun was matchless. It was a life changing experience. Our evenings and weekends changed forever from there....There was a new choice in life in terms of entertainment.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Growing up in Barrackpore...

Last time I was talking about the house hunting exercise undertaken by my parents to cut down on my hectic schedule to and fro school(Khardah to Palta)everyday. In between I diverted the discussion a little bit to talk about my Bangla learning at home & the applications !!!

We moved to a rented accommodation on B.T.Road, near Barrackpore municipality. The House belonged to Late. Dr. Amiya Chatterjee. Mrs. Chatterjee lived on 1st floor with a son(finished college) and a daughter in school. She also managed her husband's nursing home which was located nearby. There were 2 tenants on the ground floor including us. There was a Kali Mandir next door and the bus stop was just in front of the house. Chiriamore (the main market area of Barrackpore) and Railway Station were at walking distance. So overall, from a location perspective, you could not get anything much better than this.

The place was nothing like today's rented apartments are. We had total of 3 rooms, 1 bedroom and 1 living room. The other was kitchen cum dining room, and 1 bathroom. Those days houses did not very commonly have BHK (Bedroom Hall Kitchen) concept. Apartments / Flats as we call them now, were extremely rare those days. There were only houses built randomly with many rooms that were customized as any room as per the need of the landlord or the people whom it was rented off to. We did have lot of stuff to fill the rooms - beds, Almirah, sofa set, gas stove, lot of utensils, books, clothes etc...But No, we did not still own a TV. Around that time TV was slowly gaining popularity, but every household did not have one. It was still pretty much a upper class kind of thing (and no, there was nothing called a "upper middle class" then), with middle class slowly waking up to it.

Power cuts in Bengal were pretty common and frequent, and mitigation mechanisms were not power backup through either generator of inverter but kerosene lamps and candles. Even refrigerators were not too common those days, but we happened to be proud owners of this piece of electronics courtesy my dida. It was a wedding gift for ma, and subsequently for me and my father as well. It was a prized possession, which was something we could be publicly proud of. And yes, we also owned a "two-in-one".

Before you start opening google chrome or IE to get into Wiki or real fast, to try to make sense to my lingo, let me tell you what a "two-in-one" is. (For the benefit of those people who did not grow up in India in the eighties).
"Two-in-one" was the predecessor to the music systems of today and successor to the standalone radio & gramophone players. It had both radio and cassette player and recorder. Cassette recorder and player were a novelty of those times and also not commonly owned and hence prized !!! The initial craze was to record tracks from gramophone records (as most people had collections of these. But the condition was that the environment had to be sound-free which is rarely feasible. Nevertheless, the ease of carrying the cassettes and the portability of the player around vis-a-vis the heavy duty record player made it highly sought after. It was much later that cassettes were mass produced by the music companies that more and more labels started being available. The 1st player that baba got for us, had a long standing career, playing for us for many years before I took it to my college hostel.
Next, I will tell you about the beginning of our TV experience, and how it developed over our years in Barrackpore and beyond!!!

Before I miss out completely, let me tell you that we are in 1983 now.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Learning Bangla...

I have been telling you stories of my school days in Barrackpore for last few posts, and the last one particularly featuring my local train journeys to and from home in Khardah. All this travelling was taking a toll on me as I was not used to it and used to get too tired. Also, the home was a parental home of my father, and we were entitled to only one small room on the first floor, which was not sufficient to house my ma's pretty much expanded "sonsar" (I could not find a better fitting word here - it means a sum of family and household belongings) of around 9 years now.

So there was a hunt on for rented accommodation somewhere nearer to school - to make life little more easier for me. Though I was an active part of many many house hunts later, this time I was a little too young to know anything. Life was very cool for me, I being shielded and cushioned from all the efforts my parents had to undertake to hunt for a suitable house, shift there, maintain a fine balance of relationship with my grandparents, and live very amicably in a house which had 2 other units inhabited by the landlords (on 1st floor) and another tenant (also sharing the ground floor with us). I was surrounded by my parents' love and attention and also with my favourite storybooks all the time. I loved reading books of all kinds - strictly the kiddie ones of course <;-)> both in English and Bangla...

Though I never read Bangla in school - the languages I studied were English to start with and Hindi and Sanskrit at a later stage. But all credit to my parents, they taught me bangla at home - writing and reading, before I actually learnt Hindi at school. So Bangla was the 2nd language which I learnt to read and write. And the love of the language was sustained by constant efforts from my parents.....We subscribed to popular Bangla children's magazine - Anandomela, from the time I was 3/4 years old, and my mother made it a point to read me stories and poems from it regularly. And once I learnt to read, I got addicted to it, and used to look forward to it. This habit continued for pretty long, till the time I was say 14/15, and started losing interest in kiddie stuff. Anandomela, also evolved later as a more of a teens magazine and lost all its charm that it has in my growing-up years....

The writing habit was sustained by encouraging me to write to all relatives strictly in Bangla. There were 2 mandatory times of the year when I had to write letters to all close relatives - "Nabobarsho"(Bengali New Year) and "Shubho Bijoya"(Dussera or Durga Puja - the most popular festival of Hindu Bengalis). And this is so typical of all Bengali families. We still carry on with the tradition of wishing near and dear ones on these 2 occasions, but today it is either a SMS or a phone call or a mass E-mail !!!!

So, I actually never got to forgot the letters, but the quality of the handwriting was pathetic at best till the time I actually did write...but now I don't know how much it could have deteriorated further...It has been years that I wrote anything in Bangla at all :-(

There is a hilarious incident related to my Bangla writing, which I am never allowed to forget by ma - she never ceases to tease me on this !!! I was very young, may be around 6-7 years at the time. It was one of the 2 "letter-writing" time of the year...I was writing to all - my mashis, mamas, dida, thamma, dadu, cousins etc. One of these letters was destined for my "Baro mashi"(eldest sister of ma). In Bangla, there are 3 different letters which bring about the phonetic of "R" or similar. So there are three "raw" (please read this as bangla) - "Bo-e-shunno-raw", "Do-e-shunno-raw" & "Dho-e-shunno-raw". If you are not familiar with Bangla, there exists exactly the same scenario in Hindi also. The fact is "Baro-mashi" is spelled with "Do-e-shunno-raw". But I did not know how to spell it an was asking my parents about the spelling. I do not exactly remember what ma told me, but my interpretation was the word was spelled with all three "raw", and ended by writing all "Baw" followed by all the 3 "raw"s!!!! It looked really funny to my parents though I never understood at that time what the fuss was all about!!! It was much later that I comprehended the it was so funny to look at such a spelling <:-)>

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Continuing school memories - after a long time(Entry dated 04/24/2009)

Friends, this has been another of those long breaks that this blog is used to by now . But the good part is that I did not actually take a sabbatical from blogging altogether. All this time, I was trying to be as regular and disciplined as possible with my other blog, which is more current and I am free to write whatever I feel like. Not that someone has prohibited me from writing whatever I want to write in this blog as well, but since I decided to keep in a little autobiographical and in chronological order, I cannot jump guns and fast forward and rewind at will....So dear friends I am still stuck up in school and you have to bear with me for many more days and months before I can reminisce the more colourful college days and beyond....

We stayed in Khardah for around a year before we moved to Barrackpore, primarily to ensure that I can avoid the daily strenuous travel by train and concentrate more on studies :-) But before I start with my Barrackpore days, one small incident without which my memories of those days would be incomplete. I have already mentioned that Ma used to drop me to school everyday. I used to travel to Palta from Khardah with Ma, and baba used to travel from Khardah to Sealdah, and we actually used to travel in opposite directions, in trains that started around the same time. Everyday before I alighted the train, I used to get a hug and a kiss from baba. One day, due to some mismatch in train timings, me and ma had to board our train in a hurry before I could go through my aforementioned daily ritual. I was so upset by this that tears started flowing automatically and I kept crying till the entire journey was over. And to ma's embarrassment, she had to answer lot of curious co-passengers, that it was not because she has hit me that I was crying, but because i did not get my daily dose of love from my father

Interestingly, I remembered this episode while I was trying to compare me at 7 years to my 7-8 year old nieces. I was actually trying to brag aloud that I was much more braver than the kids these days who keep crying at the drop of a hat, and then I remembered this and all my pride vanished into thin air

Moving to Baarrackpore brought an end to my "daily passenger" status in local trains. I never again needed to become a daily passenger in any local train in Kolkata, though I occasionally travelled as required. I had many long memorable train journeys mostly to and from college later. I also had the privilege(?) to be a daily passenger on the most dreaded mumbai local trains. Though it was not a very pleasing experience, but it did me a lot of good. I did overcome the "fear" of travelling in Mumbai local trains for ever!!!

School Days ........tits-n-bits of memories (Entry dated 09/21/2008)

Movement from Dimapur to Khardah - was a pretty big change for me - atleast from one aspect - the travel to school. Dimapur used to be predominantly rickshaws, some walking, and some bus. But here, it was a different world...I had to use multiple modes of transport to reach office ....From home to railway station - rickshaw, then train to Palta station, then walking down to school, and sometimes rickshaw at this end also, if getting late.....

So thus began my daily ordeal, or rather my mothers', to drag me out of bed, and getting me ready, preparing breakfast and packed lunch for me and my father, then getting ready herself....and then feeding me and dragging me along towards school. All 3 of us used to go get ready and leave home at the same time, and catch a rickshaw towards railway station. And then at station, me and ma used to catch train towards palta , and my father in the opposite direction towards sealdah.....and then after reaching palta, again hurrying down towards school....

Ma used to go back home after dropping me and used to come back again to pick me up in the afternoon.... And in between take bath, wash clothes, cook lunch for the rest of the family.......oops.....thats quite too much actually..

The train back home used to be fun ....the best part was definitely school getting over....and then it was fun walking back to station with friends....some of whom used to walk back home, some used to walk till bus stand to take a bus home and some of whom used to take a train, like me....Ma also made many friends - the mothers of my started a long association with them, which continued till the time I was in Barrackpore school - Class 9th. She remembers all of them fondly till date, though there never was a opportunity to meet then after 1989.

And then reaching station and waiting for the train....and boarding it once it arrives. And then started the best part, which I was so eager to share with you all...the yummy food ...mostly what you would classify as "junk food" today, but this term was unheard of on those days...So most attractive stuff on train was some kind of a mixture - which we called "bati gorom chanachur" contained fried mung daal, fried cornflakes, and a variety of fried knick-knaks, in a super masala mix and all kept fresh and hot using a small fire using coal....It tasted heavenly, and u know, it is not one of those "feel good" stuff of childhood that you always look back and find great.....I had actually tasted this years later and believe me, it still tastes the same ....The other goodies included cucumber - peeled, sliced into 4 long slices and smeared with salt mixed with red chilli powder.........used to be a great and nutritious treat as well in summers.....not that I cared a bit about the nutrition part ...but the great enthusiasm of my ma to buy this for me whenever I showed any interest is the testimony to the "nutrition" part