When I was little, my world was totally different than what most, in fact all, of my friends had had as children. Because? Because I grew up in what you call a Suburban place, a place that was different in more ways than one from what you see around you today. While our lifestyles may have changed today, the suburban home of yesteryear’s was marked by endless fun that touched the most trivial of everyday things, marking life’s simple pleasures.
Let me try to explain!
My home and the two houses right next to it – if I were to think hard, I cannot recount when exactly I happened to realize that they’re different families than mine own, but I can assure you I was well past my early years when I did. Until then, I thought of us as one big family, and would eat, sleep and play at any of them just equally.
Each of these houses, and every house around the place for that matter, had the basics in ample numbers – coconut trees, mango trees, guava trees. In fact, this is so basic that it’s futile even mentioning them. What else they had can still make some point, though. Like, my home had lime tree, the house next had jackfruit and dates, and so on.
The day when we’d get someone to ‘do” the coconut trees used to be a day of carnival for us, the kids of the house. We’d queue up beneath the tree as the men, a rope tying their feet together, would climb up the tall trunks like Spider Man, cutting ripe and tender coconuts one by one and tying them to the other end of the very same rope, occasionally dipping them back to ground level for the other partner to collect the harvest and free up the rope for fresh collections.
For many days since then, the floors under the beds in each room would house several coconuts from different stages of ripeness, waiting to be drank from, eaten away, cooked into, or most frequently, gifted away to guests, visitors, relatives and family friends. Some of them would have a strange pale-white spongy excess inside the round of the fruit, something that you cannot tell from the outside unless you’re a real coconut connoisseur! However if you find one such, the pleasure would be no less than how they must be feeling when they break open a shell and find a pearl within! Such are the pleasures of childhood, valueless and yet so invaluable!
A fruity reality?
For as long as I’ve been home, that is before being displaced out of Kolkata upon job, I’ve rarely have had many fruits from the market, other than selected seasonal ones like oranges, apples, litchi, better variety of mangoes or some such. For long since I relocated, I could never but guava or coconuts from marketplaces; I’ve been conditioned to think they’re meant to be had home-grown!
Oh, and importantly, you must always be seated on walls, feet hanging loose from either side, while having guava! Washing it? What’s that! Oh, and yes – I can very well, very very well tackle a ripe jackfruit from its whole, big version to seeding it into individual, eat-ready pieces. You just need to rub your palms with mustard oil so that the gum of it doesn’t stick to your fingers – simple! Can you?
Good fences seclude good neighbors
Within about a two hundred meters radius of my home, whichever houses ‘do’ their jackfruits or date trees, a tiffin-box full of those heavenly fruits would reach my address by my name for sure. The same applied for all the kids of the locality. The aunties in the neighborhood were supposed to know who loves what and do the needful, of course!
By the way, have you ever had raw mango (like, really raw ones) grated into miniscule pieces, mixed with mustard oil, mustard sauce, black salt and sugar? If you haven’t, try that!
Where’s the Street food dude?
Have you ever had gol gappa contests in the evenings, with the winner going free of cost? Try that, too!
Every time the coconut tree would shed a leaf, she’d sit by the shade with a cutter, cutting the sides of the long leaflets to separate out the veins, which she’d then pull and tie into a tight bunch to be used as broom-stick. Have you ever seen that happen? If not, you missed something! (If you want to read more about Dida, go here!)
This next door that I am keeping on talking about, the one that I considered and still consider my other house, did I tell you that it also had a well? Yes, a proper one, like the ones you read about in Nursery rhymes!
The colors haven’t change, the style of Holi has
On Holi, we’d make good use of it, as we filled up buckets with water from the well, the water really many times chillier than what other taps would give you. In it you need to put colours – no, not the harmless ones, of course! I can give you few ideas if you like. Save your used up pencil batteries; break them open. The black soot inside serves for really good, long lasting colors. (Oh yes, we were one mischievous kind, you see!)
The Sunset fest
Every evening just as the sun would start to set, you didn’t have to look at the watch to know if it’s time to wrap up at the fields and go back home. You could just hear the conch-shells blow, thrice, from each household all around the place.
Boardgames to board-of -games
Soon as you’d return home, wash up and sit to study under much compulsion, to your great respite- there would come the power-cut ; a fairly regular affair! And the next moment, you’d be wrapping up your books and taking out your board games – Ludo or the Snake and Ladders – beating each other over them but not without a trick here and there. Oh, and the mosquitoes – at times we’d make heaps of the dead flies and parallel contest on who could kill how many.
Those friendly communions through books and more
Every year over Summer, Winter and Puja vacations, we the kids used to pull in all our resources and start a Club, a Library or something of the sorts. We’d collect membership fees from the parents and issue hand-made membership cards too. Needless to say, the Clubs lasted only for weeks that our holidays lasted for, and every next time, we’d start a fresh new Club with a brand new name and inauguration functions all anew!
The simple pleasures of keeping pets and giving petnames
We used to keep common pets – those that did not belong to any one house but to the neighborhood. We’d keep puppies and kittens, name them, grow them up, have them have babies, not want yet would have to distribute away a few of those babies once we really grow out of capacity, and then make evening visits in groups to their new homes to check on them.
The “in thing” called bling
Finally, here’s one to wedding ‘ceremonies’! Be it the wedding of whoever from whichever of the houses in the close vicinity, we had the same scheme running for many years together. We’d have the entry gate right outside the gate of the very first house of the lane, which was our house by the way, and from there the tent would run till the very end of the blind lane which means four houses in a row. Our house would have the open kitchen set up in the large open space that we then had (which is now but another two rooms in my house, extended and constructed), and also the big hall on the ground floor would have the bride on her throne. The next house would have the groom in their living room. The last two of the four houses will serve as guest houses for stay-over guests. Howsoever insubstantial it may sound, the responsibility of the last bit was the heaviest of all! But the point is, it never mattered whose house the wedding is from, neither would you be able to tell it easily unless from the printed letters of invitation card; the whole area, the space, would be used in just the same way!
So much for my world as it used to be when I was little! Now, needless to say, neither Ram nor Ayodhya is there anymore! Both mine and my brother’s weddings were carried out at hired banquet halls of renowned hotels in the town. We, as a generation, are mostly relocated. The average age of the residents in these four houses is surely over fifty, if not more. They don’t sit together the evenings to watch tele-serials over tea and puffed rice anymore, like they’d to do once upon a time.
None of the houses have much trees left; in fact, none of the houses have much free land left, to begin with. The concrete of the houses have been extended and have taken up all the space that previously had gardens, grasses and pavements. Of the few coconut trees that are still left over, they don’t have ceremonies like that anymore. In fact, the coconuts get ripe and fall off the trees on their own when there’s storm, and then on next days, they get the municipality carts to clean up the space against some extra tip money. These days when we go home, we watch movies in multiplexes and shop at the super-markets.
These days, we feel very “urban” when we go home, whatever that means!