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 !