When I was just a little girl....
One of the greatest pleasures in my life would be to pick up the small round nuri pathor (pebbles) that lined the paths inside Victoria Memorial and chuck them one by one into one of the ponds. I think I singlehandedly contributed to the sorry state of affairs that the paths had become a few years back, with not one pebble in sight. On my last visit to Cal, however,we visited Victoria Memorial again and I was most happy to see the pebbles were back in all their glory. Though I must say, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why walking on those damn pebbles used to be such a thrill for me...they are very hard on the feet!!
Does anyone remember Gay Restaurant on Prinsep Ghat? It belongs to an era when "gay" was happy and merry and nothing more. This Gay Restaurant became Scoop eventually..when I was about...8 or 9 or 10...I think (and it alarms me greatly to think that I remember Scoop from the time it was Gay. Dear God! Am I that old really!!?). Scoop was a a 'must go must eat there' kinda place when it opened. My parents took me there and must have tut tutted about "Isssshhh dekhecho Gay take kirokom change kore diyeche" (Issssh how they have changed Gay.This was, after all, their standard line everytime we went to Scoop) but all I remember is my first banana split. One scoop each of strawberry vanilla and chocolate icecream in a boatshaped saucer over a slice of banana, drizzled with chocolate sauce and...this was the crowning glory literally... a Wafer!!! stuck into the middle scoop!!!....surely this was the manna that the gods thrived on. No gelato or Baskin Robbins of today can match up to that banana split at Scoop.
Speaking of food, you know the chinebadam (groundnuts) you get all over in Cal, but more so around Victoria, Maidan and of course Prinsep ghat? While the badam itself was nice, what made it extra special was the indigenous mix of black salt chili flakes and something else that the chine badam walas mixed up themselves and served with the badam in a little piece of paper. Crack open a roasted groundnut, slide the contents onto your palm, dip them in that salt, pop in your mouth...aaaaahhhh!! Yum!!
Also yummy was the chips that you got from the channawalas in starched white clothes and a white topi who walked the lanes of Calcutta ( still do )on hot afternoons calling out "chana garaaaaaammm" in that unmistakable way. The chana garam itself was yum, but they also served a small thonga (not thong!! Thonga...paper packet! Tsk tsk!) of plain chips over which they sprinkled black salt, chili powder and a dash of lime...yummmmmmmmm!! Beat that taste Frito Lays!! Or, ooooh.... the small red kul (ber) they sold outside school...with the black salt. I have no idea if this is still available outside schools in Calcutta, I have not found this awesome snack anywhere in Bangalore. And the jhal chips (SPICY chips) one got in the shop behind my school and the dalimer hojmi (ummm...digestive..thingies..they were soft and black and oh so yum!!) and the Phantom cigarettes. Do kids even know of their existence these days? They were these long white candies with a red tip..signifying the glowing end of the cigarette of course and were sweet and mildly minty. The done thing was to stick them in your mouth and pretend to smoke. Very cool. Oh and Chattar Mattar and Fatafat. My mother was appalled at the sort of things I ate, when I marched into a shop with her and demanded a Chattar Mattar and the shopkeeper matter of factly told me "Na didi Chattar Mattar nei Fatafat aachey." I must admit I wouldnt touch either of these today, the former was a virulent red and the latter a very suspect greenish black.
Lest you think I spent my entire childhood just eating, and eating some rather strange things at that, let me tell you I spent a considerable amount of it worrying whether God was watching me right now, seeing the mischief I was getting into, and noting it down in his book of Bad Things Bad Girls Do, so that he could punish me later. You see I went to this rather strict convent school. This one to be specific. The teachers and nuns there drilled it into heads that God was Always Watching. Our parents might not notice us stealing the last cookie from the cookie jar, our teachers might might not notice us copying our homework from the girl next to us, but God? He was Always Watching. And He would Punish us for our wrong doings sooner or later. Though I worried about this rather jobless and slightly sinister all seeing God, I never let it stop me from writing on the walls (what!? I had to educate my army of dolls hadnt I? Was it my fault then that I didnt have a blackboard? I did get one later though.) or whispering to my friend in class or breaking things or tearing things...well...ahem. You get the picture.
Some things are an integral part of my childhood. The address 18/22 /1 Dover Lane for one. Thats where I lived from the age of 8 to 16 Economic Stores (now Economic Gallery), Modern Book Store, Mohaprobhu Mishtanno Bhandar, Campari....these are some landmarks that are an part and parcel of my growing up years. I went to Dover Lane after many years to meet a friend the last time I was in Cal, and couldnt believe my eyes. Mohaprobhu has been pushed to a corner!!! The rest of that space has some sundry offices and ATMs!! Goodness gracious. Thankfully Modern Book Store is still the same. The two old men are also the same. They even keep the Famous Fives in the same shelf....second from bottom on the left immediately as you enter the shop. Economic Stores uncle is also still there and they still sell stickers!! Oh what a rage stickers were when I was in school. We bought stickers, we swapped stickers, we created sticker books, we guarded them with our lives!!
18/ 22/ 1 was the rudest shock however. The balcony where my mother had lovely plants is now full of sheets of plastic and other debris. The house itself looked dreadful. The driveway was overgrown with weeds, in some places the plaster on the walls had peeled away to reveal the bricks underneath. I really don't know what happened to it. Or the people who used to live there. The Aunty and Uncle next door, the Sinhas upstairs, Teddy the big sneakyAlsatian on the top floor...how did the house get into that state? As I walked up to the house, my feet automatically took me down the winding lanes without having to stop and think.. I passed Bangla Auntys house (Bengali tutor) , Junodi's house, Sagorikadi's house. I paused at Sagorikadi's house, wondering if I should ring the bell...where is she I wonder? Did she finally marry that weird boyfriend of hers? It was a strange feeling, walking those lanes, revisting childhood memories, seeing the house I grew up in.
All this nostalgia and silly memories...strangely, triggered by this from another era(courtesy Abhishek). I must really be getting old, I thought only really old people spent hours reminiscing about the past. Ah well..this has been a lovely afternoon alone at office, remembering the days long gone. Will post in bullet points henceforth :)