Thursday, March 17, 2011
By now Daddy was allotted 2 new houses---and given a choice to pick any one.One was a truly huge one in Sector 16 itself---the other slightly smaller in Sector 7---near the Raj Bhavan.Mummy chose the latter---for the bigger one was way too big and had too many Doors opening on to the huge Garden---a worrisome task to ensure that each Door was secured each night----comparitively Sector 7 was safer she felt!!!So in late 1959 we left the home that had the maximum Memories for me and moved into the new house----strange but welcoming!!!Before I left I wrote in Chalk on every Door and Window in both English and Hindi---"this Home belongs to Komal---please love it as we did!!"
In the new home,the Servants Quarters were outside---detached completely from the Main house---Amma anyway slept with Mikki and I had my own room---since babyhood.The best part was the view from my Bedroom----the Himalayan Foothills---known as the Shivaliks, stretched horizontally across the stretch of the Windows---and these were to become my favourite Confidantes and Companions---till I left this house to get married.There was also a thick Creeper of "Chameli" variety of Jasmine trained on the Wall beside my Window---and the heady scent of the Flowers filled my Room when these were in full Bloom during the Summer and the Monsoons.There also was a tall Silver Oak standing arrow straight outside my Window----the beautiful contrast of it's Silvery Green Leaves and Old Gold Brown Bunches of Blooms thrusting against the deep Azure Autumn Sky---the Picture is burned into my Brain---it was so beautiful!!
Besides these two our Garden was filled with many other Varieties of Indian Jasmine Flowers---"Mogra","Hazaar Mogra","Raat Rani",as well as many varieties of Lilies and Roses.There were about 30 Mango Trees---wild ones as well as Cultured Brands like "Chausa","Langda" and "Dashehri"---a huge Margossa(Neem) Tree,A spreading Rain Tree and a beautiful Gulmohar Tree---which would burst into Flame every Summer!!
There were Peach,Guava, Cherry,Pear,Litchi,Fig and Luquaat Trees in the back Garden----for me it was huge,mysterious and beautiful Paradise---peopled by Fairie Folk,Leprechauns and Magic----a place where my imagination took wing!!!The sturdy branches of the Neem Tree became my favourite perch---I had found a beautiful broad Fork and here draped it with an old folded Mat called a "Durrie" to protect my backside from getting scratched---and from my shaded perch I was the Queen of everything I surveyed---much to Mummy's irritation and annoyance.A smaller fork to my left acted as a Bookshelf for my Books---holding the current Favourites---spending entire days of my Vacation in it's shady arms!! I was growing into a Tomboy---with Daddy's support and my arms and legs were tanned a dark brown and always bore the scars of various battles and skirmishes with Nature.
By now my sister Ritu had been born---and she was a placid baby---interested only in sleeping,feeding and gaining weight----wonderful Time Table to follow!!!Mikki was still sickly---even a simple Cold led to complications---and Mummy would be in and out of Hospital with her most of the time.Unfortunately Ritu caught an Encephalitis Bug one foggy day when she was a year old---and that washed out all her progress of the first year of her Life---she had to begin from scratch---all over again!!Thus I was the sturdiest of all 3 of us---hence was mostly left to my own devices!!Luckily because Ritu was otherwise a healthy child she recovered and regained her strength---Mikki was basically weak---so she could not take part in most of our escapades.
Both Ritu and I were quite close---and partners in some crimes!!!Mikki was a very slow eater---by the time we'd be done with our Meals she'd barely be halfway through hers.Now Mikki had this habit of finishing off the mandatory stuff first---and she would line up the choicest tit bits to eat last.Ritu and I would by then be stuffed to the Gills---but we loved to get a rise out of her.So we'd gesture towards her choicest Pieces and pretend that we were going to snatch them away---that would set Mikki whining in real earnest---and througgh a stuffy nose(she used to have a perennial Cold)--she'd yell out for Mummy---"Bubby dekho Komal aur Ritu mujhey khaaney nahin detey!!" meaning "Mummy see---Komal and Ritu won't let me eat"---by the time Mummy arrived post haste both of us would have made tracks in opposite directions---so apart from scolding us loudly the was very little that poor "Bubby" could do!!
Ritu loved animals and because she was very popular in the Neighbourhood---we were handed out an Alsatian Puppy she named "Pasha" a a tiny Skye Terrier female she named Cutie.The well being became my responsibility----because Ritu was too young and Mikki too weak---also since I was the oldest---I was supposed to lead by example!!
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Mikki's entry changed our Life completely---I was given more freedom and left to my own devices while she took Centre Stage---both a Blessing and a Bane!!While the constant attention irked me the loss of it left me resentful and bewildered---and I began disliking the reason for it ---Mikki----with a passion!!However Amma managed to convince me that I didn't really dislike Mikki as much as I thought---and some of Mikki's antics too went a great way to help too---but her constant illness and the toll it took on us as a family---it was an extremely difficult phase in our lives.
By now I'd resumed School and while I'd reformed to an extent the germs of Rebellion still smouldered in my heart!!!Around this time there was a rumour of children being kidnapped---and because of this we were kept under strict surveillance.We'd just returned from Bombay and this was February 1958----the days were still short.There was a huge bungalow at about 10 minutes walk from our homes---an old retired couple lived there.The old man was a retired Army Colonel----and we all were frequent visitors to their home---still remember the evenings spent at their home very fondly.The old Unclejee had a projector and that was the Star attraction as far as we were concerned----Cartoons of Tom & Jerry as well as Laurel & Hardy were our fvourites and none of us minded the re-runs!!Besides Auntyjee would feed us piping hot Snacks and they'd play with---singing and dancing we'd all have a rollicking time!!
So on that particular we were all at a lose end and I suggested visiting Uncle and Aunty instead of playing in the chilly Air---we all--about 10 of us---headed that way---lured by the roaring Fire in their huge Stone Fire Place and visions of mugs of Hot Soup or better still Hot Cocoa steaming invitingly in front of our eyes!!We reached there and as usual forgot about our homes----enjoying ourselves with the Old Couple!!!There was only one hitch----nobody knew where we were and as it began getting dark---Panic took hold---everyone thought that the entire lot of us had been kidnapped!!All the men took to the Roads on the Cycles---calling our names at short intervals but to no avail!!This went on for 2 hours.By now one of us had become sleepy and wanted to go home---that's when we realised how late it was!!Unclejee got out his old Landmaster,loaded the lot of us in and drove us home.
The scene on our arrival home was straight out of a Bollywood Tragedy----mothers crying, fathers grim faced---wondering what to do next---when we reached there!!On our arrival all Hell broke loose---poor Unclejee got an earful of Rebukes---why couldn't they have sent their bearer to inform somebody that the children were with them???As for me---that was the first and last time in my life that Daddy hit me---I was sore,black and blue all over for a Week after----though both Mummy and Amma tried to sheild me from his wrath!!Finally ,repentant and bruised I cried myself to sleep that night----vowing never to do anything like this ever again!!
This taught me a lesson I never forgot----and each time after that I made sure of keeping Amma informed about my whereabouts---even if I was in the room across the passage!!By now the Nuns had begun teaching us the wrong and right paths to follow---and put the fear of Sinning into our hearts---Divine punishment was so horrific---I didn't want to go to Hell---so I became stuck to being a good girl most of the time!!Not just that Amma too had a lurid Poster depicting the Demons of Hell torturing hapless Sinning Souls---she used it unabashedly to drive home the Power of Divine Retribution and that added to my nightmares!!Mrs.Samuels became my Best Friend in School---she called me her "little angel" and it was her influence that encouraged me to take Books seriously----she told me that they'd be my best friends---undemanding and supportive!!How right she was!!
The World of Words opened up a new Vista---of People and Faraway places---and my thirst for reading grew manifold----I became voracious Reader!!I literally devoured Enid Blyton and A.A. Milne---and started my Pen Friendship with my Aazoba---whom I fondly nick named "Mr.Pinkwhistle" !! A whole world of Fairies ,Circuses,Gypsies and Adventure opened up in front of my eyes---and within two years of School I'd run through all the Books suitable for my age group in the School Library---and begun pestering the Nuns to either add new Books to the overflowing Cupboards--or allow me to read the "Higher" level Books!!They preferred the latter.
Thus by the age of 6, I graduated to reading Adventure Stories---the first being Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" followed by "Lorna Doone"!!These were followed by the entire gamut of the Books written by famous British and American Authors---and I began writing long Essays which would be put up on the Notice Board---thus gaining me early recognition as a Writer!!I also began writing Poetry---and when this was brought to Daddy's notice he began sending them to a Children's Newspaper called "The Junior Statesman"---published from Calcutta.This was the first time a Poem I wrote was published---and I was honoured by the Nuns in Morning Assembly at School!!!My interest in the World around me---specially Archeological and Historical Topics grew---and I became fascinated by the Egyptian,Sumerian ,Mesopotamian and Greek Civilizations.
By now I'd turned into a dreamy child---with her head in the Clouds---daydreaming most of the day.It is a miracle that I managed to pass!!!I hated Mathematics with a Passion---and couldn't get beyond passing marks in that subject!!!Never could understand that how my being able to do Fractions,Profit & Loss,Simple & Compound Interest Sums would help the World go round!!!It was only when both Algebra and Geometry came on the scene that my dismal performance perked up---for I just loved these two Branches of Math!!Even today I know the Pythagoras Theorum well----and have taught it to my daughters too when they sat for their Board Exams!!
Monday, March 14, 2011
By now a new Convent School---Carmel Convent---had opened in Chandigarh---and I was enrolled there.My first Class Teacher was Mrs.Samuels---who became my adored Mrs.Samuels and her positive influence began changing my rebellious ways.She herself was the mother of a large number of children---hence better equipped to understand and relate to my psyche.By now Mummy's preganancy was confirmed---and a decision was taken to shift us to Bombay till 2 months after the baby's birth.
This meant leaving Chandigarh for almost 9 months---and so since Amma was not coming to Bombay with us she thought of taking up a replacement job for 6 months.Her aunt was a nanny to another Family nearby----and since that Aunt was to undergo a hysterectomy---it would be ideal for Amma to fill in for her---and then visit her Village for the remaining 3 months to spend time with her father.Everything would have fallen into place as planned---but I kicked up a Tantrum--Amma was MINE and did not work for anyone else!!Maybe God too agreed with me----and Amma's father fell sick---so she rushed to the Village to nurse him---and we journeyed to Bombay!!
Bombay was Paradise for me----for I was the ultimate Despot here!!My Word was Law and I ruled----being my Aazoba's(Grandpa's) Darling I was at the top of the heap!!My maternal Grandparents lived in a Joint Family---at any given point of time no less than 25 people lived there.My mother's Siblings,Cousins,Aunts and Uncles---it was a huge Flat---filled with People,Love,Camarederie and Laughter!!!My Aazoba was a Konkani from Saawantwaadi---and Konkanis are generously large hearted people---very loving!!The Kitchen began functioning early in the morning---5 a.m.---and the Coal Fires would be lit.By 7.30 a.m. my Grand Uncle Dada Kaka and I would walk to the huge bustling Grant Road Market---choc-a-bloc with everything under the Sun.Our main aim was to buy the freshest catch---and Dada Kaka had his favourite Fisherfolk to get it from.All of them had seen Mummy as a child--and each one had a little something for me---a tiny Pomfret,a few Prawns or at times even a couple of Black Mud Crabs---with loving Instructions to eat it all by myself!!Those days Fish was bought and carried in semi circular Grass Baskets---plaited strips of Grass stitched together.While Dada carried a huge Basket,I carried a miniature Version of it---and it was in my little Basket that the Fisherfolk's bounty landed!!It took us an hour to tour the Market and pick up the Stuff---and by 8.30 a.m. a hot wholesome and fresh Breakfast would be waiting for us---with large glasses of Milk for me.
Dada would start getting ready for his office and by 9 a.m. his Lunch would be ready---it would be served hot in the Kitchen----where a long row of wooden planks called "Paat" were laid out---with a fourlegged Stool called "Chaurang" in front of each "Paat" to use as a Table.These were made of "Shisham" Wood with Silver Flowers nailed in in each corner----a sign of my Aazoba's aristocratic lineage.Each "Chaurang" would sport a Silver Pot or "Taambyaa" of Water with a Silver Glass and Silver Plates called"Thalis" and Silver Bowls called "Vaaties".Food was eaten by hand and no Cutlery was used.My Aaji (Grandma)personally served this first "Pangat" or "Sitting" ---ensuring that each one---School,College and Office going member of the Family left the home well fed and well primed to face the day ahead.By then the Lunch Tiffins would be ready too---and each one would leave the house armed with a well stuffed Tiffin to eat at Lunch!!The next round would be for those who stayed home----around Noon.
To me even today the smell of a Coal Fire brings back Memories---the Chandigarh Days have a diferent Scent---while the Bombay Days smell vastly different.The huge Stone built block of high ceilinged,wooden beamed huge Rooms of my Grandparents Flat held an undefinable scent---it was a mixture of Fresh Flowers,Silks, Books and Food---all mingled together to form a musty but inviting Smell---one which meant comfort and belonging for me!!Even today when I visit my Aunt who still lives there-----those days come rushing back---for the comforting Scent is still the same!!
My Aazoba was a rotund,short little man--just 5'6" tall with twinkling blue eyes,a ready smile and a shock of pure white hair---unbelievably good looking!!He was my Best Friend--privy to all my innermost thoughts---gently but firmly correcting my rebellious tendencies with suggestions----and I loved being with him.Since he had already retired he had plenty of Time for me---and kept me occupied by telling me Stories---the Topics ranged from Religion,History,Fairy Tales,Aesop's Fables,Jataka and Panchatantra Tales---asking me questions when I least expected---just to keep me alert.He'd discuss Newspaper Stories regarding scientific progress made by sending out Sputniks into the Universe---thus arousing my curiosity about the World.He also made me read certain Articles in the News Paper---and underline the words I didn't understand---teaching me to use the Dictionary to find out the Meanings!!
My 4th. birthday was celebrated in Bombay---Aazoba bought me a brand new Red Car---which I began peddaling furiously up and down the long Passage---causing a lot of disruption in the traffic there!!Aaji specially was most incensed---she just couldn't understand WHY I needed to drive that Car in the House---instead of the Park!!She was a huge hearted but sharp tongued woman---with a transclucent, extremely clear, fair skin,brown eyes and with masses of thick,long brown hair and slightly built.Very beautiful---all her children too were just as beautiful/handsome.Both were a well matched couple----extremely striking---and always sparring good naturedly!!When I was born and my Birth Alphabet was declared to be "K" Aazoba teased Aaji that I should be named after her----her name was Kamala----in the British fashion.She in turn retorted that in his old age he was on the look out for a 4th.wife(she was no.3)----because given names could only be passed on after the Death of the earlier person---according to Hindu Tradition!!!Atya struck a Golden Mean---and I was named "Komala"---thus settling the Debate satisfactorily!!!In later years I always got a rise out of her by telling her that she paled before my Aazoba---she'd retort that it was a congenital defect that I had Buttons instead of eyes---exactly like my beloved Aazoba!!!"That's why he married you Aaji---because he couldn't see you very clearly!!" I'd reply---annoying her further!!
Everything was going just fine till one morning it all changed---Mummy went to the Hospital---and my sister was born---a Blue Baby.Dr.Shirodkar(he was our Family Gynaecologist)put her in the Incubator and the Tests began----a shadow was cast over my Parents lives---because Mekhala(as Atya named her) or Mikki as we nick named her---would need specialised care for the first few years of her Life.My rule was over----and I was pushed into the background as this new creature took Centre Stage----I was forced to grow up---because Mikki was smaller and helpless---besides she was 4 years and72 days younger than me!!
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Mummy's Operation prompted Daddy to ask my paternal Grandma Akka to come and stay with us.Now Akka was an enigma----eccentric and full of idiosycrasies----but Daddy adored her!!!It was highly amusing to see her towering sons reduced to jelly in front of her dimunitive(5' tall) figure.Widowed at the age of 35,she had brought up her younger 5 children singlehandedly.A woman of ironwill she made her place in the conservatively rigid Kolhapuri Society through sheer hard work.A woman who had lived a very protected life--she stepped out to collect all the dues of the Estate my Grandfather left---including collection of Grain from our Fields as well as paying the Taxes---she personally saw to each and every aspect of running the Estate.So when Daddy triumphantly announced the arrival of his mother---Mummy could not demur---and since what can't be cured has to be endured---she resigned herself to endure gracefully!!
Despite Mummy's ethereal Beauty and delicate Grace she was as strong as a horse---and she sailed through the Operation with ease.By the time she came home from Hospital,Akka was already ensconced and ruling the Roost.Daddy's younger brother,Shyamkaka, had escorted her from Kolhapur and stayed onwith us for a few days.Things were pretty smooth for 15 days after Mummy's homecoming---till an Earth Shaking Incident happened!!Pt.Nehru was to make an official Site Visit and an Official Dinner in his honour had been planned.According to the Doctor's advise,Mummy could attend the Dinner in keeping with Protocol----and exactly this became the bone of Contention with Akka!!! Both Daddy and Shyamkaka did their level best to make her understand but it was to no avail!!!If Devi (Mummy)went to the Dinner----she herself would leave the House that very instance!!Daddy couldn't bow to her Diktat---and by the time both my Parents returned from the Dinner---Akka and Shyamkaka were already at the Railway Station at Ambala---40 miles away!!!She landed 3 days later at Bombay and after giving Atya(her daughter) an earful of how stupid her neice(Mummy's mother and Sudhir's father were siblings)was---blah blah-blah etc.----all of which poor Atya listened to with bowed head.Akka returned to Kolhapur that very night----and that was that!!!However this was just the beginning of the Storm----a month or so later Mummy discovered that she was preganant for the second time---and she was over the Moon!!After my birth she'd been told that she'd never be able to conceive again and now that she had---she refused an Abortion---which was medically advised.Daddy tried to change her mind but she was adamant----and hence my sister Mikki(Mekhala) got the lease of life!!
For me apart from being a Pest,Life was going pretty well.At age 2 years and 6 months I decided I was old enough to read and write---and declared my intentions of learning to do so.In the wild hope of keeping out of mischief Mummy seized the opportunity and an old fashioned Teacher was hired for the purpose from the nearby Village----and a group of Friends of the same age arranged for-----just so that I wouldn't get distracted or bored studying alone!!So our Tuitions with "Masterjee" started.The man would arrive punctually at 2.30p.m.---eat Lunch and rest till 3.30 p.m. and then he'd take Class.Those days we'd use "Takhtaas" or Wooden Planks as Slates---these Planks would be covered with a layer of wet White Clay and then dried in the hot Sun.Ink Powder would be dissolved in Water to make Ink----this would be stored in Ink Pots and slender stems of Elephant Grass would be carved out to make Pens.Lines would be drawn on these Planks to help us to form the Alphabet in an orderly fashion.This entire excercise was repeated daily and I just loved the smell of the Clay so kept the lump on my bedside Table!!There would be thick woven Mats or "Durries" on the floor of the back Verandah and the shady Garden with it's gently whispering Breezes presented a perfect backdrop of Tranquility!
At precisely 3.30 p.m. we'd sit crosslegged on the "Durries" and start with first reciting then writing the Devanagri Script----used for both Hindi and Marathi.The Recitation was rhythmic---rising and falling cadences of Sound in total sync with each other!!This fellow carried a thin Cane and used it without discrimination or proportion on us---as well as he also had the annoying habit of pulling our ears at the slightest opportunity!!
Now Patience is a Virtue I sorely lack----and when complaints to both Mummy and Amma fell on deaf ears---"He is the Teacher---your Guru---next to God---and so must be given the same respect Bawaa---don't say anything against him---it will be a Sin!!!" was what Amma kept telling me---trying to placate meevery day!!The day the last Straw finally snapped dawned bright and clear----as usual Masterjee came ate,slept and snored and finally caught hold of my ear over a question I asked him.That did it!!!I picked up my handmade tiny but thick Kolhapuri chappal which had been placed on the ground next to my Mat----and before he knew what was happenning began landing thick pats on his back with it!!Pandemonium broke loose as he began running away from me-----shouting for somebody to deliver him from this "Bhootanee" and "Chdail" both She Devils---and me after him in hot pursuit---screeching like a Banshee at the top of my voice"Kaan kheencheyga? Maaregaa??Abhi mazaa chakhaatee hoon!!"This went for half an hour till finally our poor Ramu managed to nab me---kicking and spitting---still flailing away with my Chappal!!!He got quite a few hits too----I was very strong physically--even then!!
Needless to say that Mummy paid his Dues---she also paid quite a bit extra and he left----telling Mummy in his badly shaken,trembling voice that she'd given birth to a Beast--that I'd never come to any good----Vidya (Knowledge) would never come to me because I had so badly insulted it's Servant!!Somewhere though he must have had a soft spot for me----and that's why none of his Curses bore fruit----if I had ever met him a little later I'd have humbly touched his feet and asked for forgiveness---genuinely!!The whole Episode was a nine day wonder in our tiny Community.In India we rate our Teachers very highly----for Knowledge can't be bought or sold but has to be earned through sheer dedication and hard work---and being too young to know this I erred.But today the only thing that I can say is this one of my Exploits that I regret from the bottom of my heart----my Temper both then and now is still my worst fault!!!
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