Time Zone -1962-65
15, Brij Dulal Street
Incidentally, the benefit of proximity to school of the house did not last for long. Pitaji decided to change the house as the family had grown big. At times there would be some guest also being a big larger family. He decided to move into a larger flat consisting of two rooms, one hall , one kitchen and one bathroom. This change was a great feeling. It was located on the first floor in a small building having an address 15, Brij Dulal Street. The lane was also known as Haripad (pronounced as Horipodo in Bengali) lane. We got rid of climbing 5 floors, sharing a community toilet and bathing in a makeshift kitchen. But the only issue which became cumbersome was our movement to school. One more nice thing happened. Pitaji called my favorite boodhi dadi from the village to live with us. As the hose was big now, there was no issue of space.
The new house was in a small building, I think just 3 storied. Each floor had two apartments. Our immediate neighbor on the same floor was an Oswal and strictly Jain family with a surname- Banthia. Their life style was totally different than ours. They used to eat food sitting on the floor together from one big thali ( A circular plate made of stainless steel). They all shared the same glass for water. They would even dip the same used glass in the main reservoir of water called Ghada (Earthen Clay Pot). They would do their prayer together squatting and reading out of the book. The pooja was called –samayi.
Younger son of the family Kanti became my good friend. He was also studying in my school and was two years senior to me. Because of his seniority he had a habit of bossing with me. However that was tolerable considering that he was a good fiend. He taught me use of Jal-Chhobi. It was a colourful print on paper which was quite cheap to buy. We would dip the paper in water and transfer the coloured print directly on the cover of our books with gentle rubbing of a soft cloth on the back side of the paper carrying the print. With a careful handling the entire picture would get pasted on the book cover.
Kanti would often talk to me about why we should not eat potato, onion and brinjal. He used to tell me that eating anything which is dug out from the earth are in root form and hence were prohibited in their religious books. He showed me their religious books which I found very frightening. There were pictures of heaven and hell. Sinners of the earth would be sent to hell, where they would be made to undergo lot of tortures – this was the content of the pictures ! I still remember in one of the pictures, a man was being thrown in a cauldron of boiling oil by the devil. I shivered looking at those pictures. As a hind sight when I recall those pictures I feel that that such depiction of ones own belief about virtues and vices and their rewards and punishments was like blackmailing of young minds.
There was a small shop in front of our building. The shop used to sell general purpose stuff like biscuits, bread, tea, soap, chocolates etc. We as kids were sent down to the shop many times in a day by my mother to buy whatever was needed. Small purchases were made in coins only. Here I learnt about magnets for the first time in my life. The shop owner was sole handler of sells,stocks, delivery and cash. Shop was so small that he would do all his acts sitting at one place. When ever we handed him over a chavanni ( a coin of 4 annas) or an athanni ( a coin of 8 annas) he would casually throw the coin towards a metal block and the coins would get stuck to that. That was surprising to me. This did not happen with coins of 1,3,5 or 10 paise coins. The shop owner solved my curiosity. He explained that the metal block was a magnet. Only chavvani and athanni would get stuck because those were made of iron and steel whereas other coins were made of aluminum with an exception of one paise coin which was dark red in colour and was made of copper. I remember later in my life, the one paise coin became rare and less visible in the transactions. The reason was that copper became much dearer than its face value of 1 paise. People who were dealing in copper started collecting all such coins from the market and melting to make copper – the raw material. When the Government realized this phenomenon, the one paise coin was discontinued.
Sending we kids to our schools became a fresh issue from this new location. For girls the school provided a unique service. It was similar to a school bus service. The only difference was that there was no bus involved. School had appointed lady escorts area wise. They were given the list of young girls coming from their allotted areas. Their job was to visit each household and collect the girl child who will walk along with her holding her finger. One such escort was given charge of about 5 to 6 girls. The strict condition was that the students were expected to be ready to join her on her arrival at the given time. Savita was also escorted to her school in this way. By that time Girls school was located at a different address.
There was no similar facility for boys. The school was far from this new house. A walk could take about 25 to 30 minutes. That was not too much but again the route was a new one and fear of getting lost was there. Pitaji tried to manage his shop timings with our school going. But somehow that was not working out proper. Moreover it was not possible for him to bring us back after the school was over at around 4 pm. Boodhi dadi came out with an idea. She said she could take both of us to the school in a rickshaw drop us there and come back in the same rickshaw. Similarly in the evening she could fetch us back.In fact she was very fond of that idea as she was getting a chance to move around a bit. The idea suited everyone; except the fact that cost of commuting was getting doubled. However that was the best possible option.
One day I came home and told my boodhi dadi- ‘ Dadi, please don’t come to school now onwards !’ Dadi was shocked, as she knew that we liked her company. I shyly said – ‘My friends talk among themselves that we are coming with our Daiyya ( a part time maid).’ Dadi gave a hearty laugh and said –‘ Let them think that. You need not clarify that too, as it does not affect me. And the fact is that I look like a daiyya.’
I remember one incident of those school days. I was in my class room. An orderly came to our classroom and asked for me. I stood up. He asked- ‘Is Narendra Arya your brother ?’. I sensed trouble. Narendra was very naughty. I feared he must have done something terribly wrong. I mustered my courage and said-‘Yes’. He asked me to come along with him. He took me to principal’s office. There I found Narendra sitting on a chair, his head in soft cloth bandage showing blood marks. After seeing me he started howling. Principal politely told him to be quiet as there was nothing serious. Principal told me that there was a small accident in his classroom and he was hurt in that. There was a cut in his head and to stop the bleeding enough precautions have been taken. He advised me to take him home in a rickshaw. He asked me whether I needed someone to accompany. I said I could manage my way back home. I was scared to see Narendra like that. After boarding the manually pulled rickshaw, I asked Narendra –‘ What really happened?’ After listening to what he said, I was extremely annoyed. He said that lunch was over and he was still talking to his friend in the classroom. The teacher had entered the classroom but he did not notice him and kept on talking. The teacher threw the duster at him which hit him on his head. A duster was a wooden heavy block , stuck to its surface would be a felt cloth which was used for wiping the blackboard. The size of a duster would be almost like a remote control of TV of todays time, but its weight was generally 100 to 150 grams. A hit from a distance of about 10 feet could definitely be fatal. I told the story to my parents and they too became very angry. I don’t know what action they took in that matter, however Narendra and me forgot the incident easily. I think that is the beauty of being a child. You don’t carry your grudge too far for anything.
There is another frightening story of those days. Generally we, myself and Narendra, would wait near the gate of the school for someone to come and receive us to take us home. The gatekeeper of the school, fondly called- darwanji, used to keep an eye on all such small students who would be in the waiting mode at the gate. As a simple precaution he used to verify the identity of the person visiting by asking the children whether they knew the person. Their confirmation would be sufficient reason to allow them to go with the visitor. One day while we were waiting, a person came to pick us up.Darwanji asked for his identity; he said that he is the servant of my Mamaji who used to live in a distant location called manicktolla. He further said that as my mother has gone to my mamaji’s place , he has been asked to bring us to manicktolla. His description about my mamaji and his residence was correct. Darwanji asked us whether we knew the person. Narendra said that he must be our mamaji’s servant. I firmly said that I don’t know the person. Darwanji refused to let us go with him. The visitor left. After some time our regular servant came to pick us up. We went with him to our house at Haripodo Lane. After reaching home I asked my mother whether she had asked my mamaji to send any servant to pick us up. She had no clue about this. She became extremely frightened realizing that some imposter tried to take us away. Next morning Pitaji went with us to school and spoke to principal about this incident. He also thanked Darwanji for taking the right decision. Since that day both of us became more aware and careful about the person before accompanying anyone.
My First Experience of An Elevator
I had never seen an elevator ( generally called ‘lift’) in my life. In fact never heard about that too ! Once, I had to go along with other family members to an engagement function. Engagement was of one of my uncles- Satyaprakash Arya (Late). We all went to a building on Chitpur Road. After entering the building, I saw everyone entering a small room. I too entered that. There were so many persons in the lift that I got hidden in the middle of the group. I could not understand why we all entered such a small cabin. After some time everyone got out of the cabin. First I could not understand why did we enter and then got out; but when I saw through the railings in the central part of the building, I found that we are on a higher floor than the ground. The concept got fully cleared while getting down because by that time my mind was active on the subject.
We as children had no idea what a holiday was like. The only holiday we were aware was a special Sunday, may be once in few months, when Pitaji would take all of us in a Ghoda Gaadi (Cart driven by horse) to Eden garden. Eden Garden was a well managed garden. I can still feel that enthusiasm which used to fill me and my siblings the moment we entered the garden. Generally quite disciplined, all three of us would be let loose to run around on the green. Mother used to carry a cloth sheet which she would spread on the grass and my parents would make their station there. Once that station was set up, the chances of getting lost was not there. Wherever we would run , we would make sure about our position by looking towards that station. Though I never thought about it in those days, but now I think, even my parents kept an eye on all three of us so that we don’t go beyond their vision range.
The charm for us was buying long balloons to play. We would stand apart at distance and throw the long balloon like a rocket. The balloon would fly high and than would turn towards Narendra or Savita, activating them to catch the same and throw again back into the sky. The play session would be followed by some snacks like Jhaal Mudi ( puffed rice mixed with spices, cut onions and mustard oil) or some times Aloo Tikkiya (Potato patties shallow fried). One special attraction used to be the band which played on Sunday evenings in a specially built covered circular platform. This was a practice since English regime. The band was like a military band playing their own tunes. People would stand around that to enjoy the music. Some times Pitaji would take us little farther than Eden Garden to a place called Jetty. In fact it was a jetty on the bank of river Hooghly. It was a long strip of walk and not much of garden to play.
Later in the life, we started going to Victoria Memorial with our uncle Satyanand. It was a well maintained massive garden with the Memorial building in the centre. There were artificial water ponds with benches around it. There were huge statues of English Lords and Leaders all around. The Victoria Memorial was a true memorial of not only Queen Victoria but of the entire regime of English in India. Calcutta was the capital city of English regime. In spite of all its grandeur, this was not the preferred picnic spot for we children. The basic reason was its restrictions on running around. Vendors were not allowed inside the compound. Just sitting on a bench was good fun for my uncle and his newly wedded wife Pushpa but for kids it was a boring place. We always loved our favorite place Eden Garden.
Our First Ever Excursion
One day Pitaji declared that we all are, including my boodhi dadi, were going on a vacation to Darjeeling. Darjeeling is a lovely hill station in the northern part of West Bengal. The connectivity of Darjeeling to city of Calcutta was not very good in those days. The standard option of travelling by train from Calcutta to Darjeeling had many broken links as there was no straight rail connection. The reason was that West Bengal has a bottleneck I its shape, where the Pakistan territory (Now Bangaldesh) would enter into it. A train from Calcutta would start from Sealdah station. It would go upto a town called Kishangarh. At Kishangarh all passengers would alight and cross the river by ferry. On the other bank again there was rail line with another train. Passengers would board that train and go upto Jalpaiguri station. Here again they would change the train because broad gauge trains would not climb up the hills. A small train, lovingly called Toy train would take the passengers through the hilly route upto the hill station Darjeeling. This connectivity, with so many links, does not sound too difficult; however the difficulty lied in the issues of mismatch of timings. At times, passenger would be waiting for ferry. Other times the train on the other side was awaited. The toy train through the hills was extremely slow moving and took almost eternity to reach Darjeeling.
Pitaji had done his homework on every aspect, hence he ruled out travelling by train. He must have realized how difficult it would be to travel such journey, with three small children, one woman- my mother and one old woman- my boodhi dadi. He opted to fly ! The thought of travelling by an aero plane was like a dream inside a dream. We had no knowledge or exposure how a plane looks like hence it was extremely difficult to visualize the experience. The only feeling which crept into our mind was of fear. It felt so dreadful to be in the air. What if anything happens to the aircraft ! All six of us would be experiencing flying for the first time. Our condition could be compared with a person’s condition in today’s world who would be experiencing para trooping for the first time in his life. A mix of excitement and fear!
The day we had to fly, started with a harrowing experience. We were made to wake up literally in the middle of night. When you are fast asleep, nothing attracts you; not even flying by aeroplane ! There was no option. Ma managed to get us ready by cajoling, pampering, scolding all of us. A breakfast was consumed in dark. From our house we reached to the air transport company’s office by hand pulled rickshaws. There a bus took us on a long journey to the dumdum airport. The bus journey seemed to be never ending.
The first jolt came, when we entered the aircraft. It was a cargo plane. The area behind cockpit had about six seats. Behind those seats was a thick net. Behind the net space was filled with different types of bundles, bales and packages. Pitaji had made an arrangement with a transport company called Jamair which was connecting north east of India with Kolkata to fly cargo. The reason is simple to understand. The airfare of a passenger plane would be too much to afford for him. We had already started to miss our good old friendly wagons of train. The worst was yet to come.
When the plane was gaining heights, it was extremely turbulent. I was the first to start vomiting. Whatever I must have eaten in the wee hours was out of my body. The chain started. I was followed by Narendra and Savita. The plane became a stinky prison. I started crying. Everyone had a terrible time. The ordeal ended with landing of the plane after what looked like forever to me.
After reaching Jalpaiguri, we did not take the toy train. Instead, we went to a relative- an uncle Late Mamanchandji’s place. We all had good bath, changed cloths and enjoyed a hearty and filling meal. Once we were ready to move for our onward journey, we hired a jeep which would drive us up the hill upto Darjeeling. One smart thing Pitaji did was that he requested my local uncle to cancel our ticket by the goods plane and book fresh tickets by Indian Airlines passenger plane. I am sure he must have done that change as I was continuously howling that I will never go by plane again. Travelling by a plane had become a nightmare for me. I did not realise what that change of arrangement meant!
I must have slept on my way up the hills, hence there is not much in my memory about hill journey. The next interesting thing which is still fresh in my mind is that when we reached Darjeeling, the jeep had to stop at a designated place, as beyond that point no vehicles were allowed. A group of men and women swarmed us. They looked different than people in Calcutta or even sherda. Their features were different. They all looked do fair and well dressed. The ladies were quite good looking and wore very different kind of clothes. Most of them wore a wrap kind of cloth with interesting colours and stripes. The rush was to carry our luggage. Pitaji negotiated with few of them. Unlike Sealdah or Howrah station these people carried the luggage on a broad belt which was supported by the front of their heads. The luggage rested on their bent backs and the gravitational pressure would be on their heads. I found that very interesting technique to carry things on hilly roads and slopes. Our walk was of about 10 minutes when we reached on the Mall road. There were interesting curio shops in a row. In front of the curio shops it was a huge open area. Beyond that open area , one could see the snow laden range of Himalayas. There could not be a better location for a hotel. In the row of the curio shops came our hotel- Radha Hotel. We had to go few steps lower to reach the reception. The rooms were upstairs. Rooms with windows opening towards the open area of Mall road gave a great view. Such was the charm of that view, that anyone could sit by those windows for hours doing nothing, just watching outside the window. (Later in my life I came to Darjeeling as a teenager with my friends and stayed in the same room of the same hotel. The charm of the view through the window had more enhanced due to my grown up status.)
Stay at Darjeeling for one week must have been the most beautiful experience of my childhood. I had never dreamt of so much of luxury in my young days. Everything at Darjeeling was a new experience. Before this, we had never eaten food in a hotel. Daily food was an interesting event. The neatly done tables, with white clean napkins, spoons and forks properly placed on sides, a soup bowl, liquor tea in pots of tea, milk and sugar and different varieties of food at different times served in lovely china – everything was a revelation for me.
The feel of woolens in that cold climate gave pleasure. When we stepped out of the hotel, local young men and women in smart clothes came running towards us. They lifted us in their arms. We did not understand what was happening. When one of them started talking to Pitaji, we realized that they wanted to take us around on a horse back. There was a stable of horses quite close to Mall road. Tourists enjoyed riding the horses. The reason of picking us up in arms was their booking the client for their horse. The deal was struck and very soon after that we were riding the horse. The horse keeper would hold the harness in his hand and instruct the horse to move or to stop. This was ultimate fun. I loved horse riding. Gradually I mastered the art of sitting on the horse. In my later days I requested my horse keeper to make the horse run faster. He pulled that harness and the horse started running. He knew how much pull was required to gain the desired speed. ( I became more conversant with this art, as later in my life when I came with my friends, we loved riding the horses independently. A strong pull of the harness coupled with a light whacking would make the horse start galloping. It was more fun in later years.).The horse ride became a ritual for all the days we stayed there.
There was a park at one end of the Mall road. Inside the park was a lovely structure which looked like a fancy cave. Almost every tourist visiting Darjeeling must have got himself photographed standing in front of that cave. You can compare that monument with Tajmahal of Agra; not by its greatness or history, but from touristic photography point of view only! Professional photographers were always available for snaps. Only black and white snaps! There was no colour photography in those days. The only issue was that development of films took more than few weeks. Tourists had to pay to the photographers purely on trust. Photographers promised to send the pictures by post after getting the same processed. Generally they delivered.
There was not much to shop around in those days. Generally the tourists would but woolens as lot of fancy stuff was sold even on road side small shops. Handicrafts shops were more handy for time pass and less for shopping. The only shopping which was done for Narendra and me was a raincoat each. Rains was a regular issue in Darjeeling. So Mother decided to buy us raincoats. The raincoat were made of waterproof fabric in khaki colour. There was a matching cap. Wearing those rain coats we felt like soldiers. After our return to Calcutta, these rain coats became our play stuff. We would dress like army men and play with our toy guns. Those were war times against Pakistan. We loved enacting like soldiers fighting the enemies.
After spending one week of my otherwise bland childhood in heaven we started our return journey back home. When I realized that our return journey was again scheduled by air, my howling started. I put my foot down and refused to go by a plane. Savita acting like an elder sister counseled me that this time it was a different kind of plane. She gave me a rosy picture that it would be full of other people. There would be air hostesses serving us chocolates and juices. She gave some made up information also that there will not be any jerking in such planes. She succeeded in getting me on board. We three kids sat together and that made the journey a real fun. As she had promised, we were served plenty of toffees and chocolates. There was a small piece of cotton wool, which Savita stuffed in my ears. She explained the utilities that I will not feel any noise in my ears. The journey was good. No vomiting, no crying and no more bans on flying !
My maiden holiday excursion of my life is till date my best excursion!
Indo-Pakistan War of 1965
This war started following Pakistan's Operation Gibraltar, which was designed to infiltrate forces into Jammu and Kashmir to precipitate an insurgency against rule by India. India retaliated by launching a full-scale military attack on West Pakistan. The seventeen-day war caused thousands of casualties on both sides and also witnessed the largest tank battle since World War II. The hostilities between the two countries ended after a ceasefire was declared following diplomatic intervention by the Soviet Union and USA and the subsequent issuance of the Tashkent Declaration. Both India and Pakistan claimed victory. However India had the upper hand over Pakistan when ceasefire was declared.
As I just mentioned, those were war times. Shri Lal Bahdur Shastri was our prime minister. He gave a very good suggestion to the whole country. He announced that you never know how long the war will continue; In such times the supply of food grains is affected. He appealed to all Indians to give up eating food for one time in a week. He gave calculations how that will save the country lot of grains. We as children had little understanding of such complex subjects, but we enjoyed that one time exemption from the routine food every week. The replacement would generally be good tasty snacks cooked by mother.
Another feature of the war was instructions which were given by schools to all students. That included the training about what to do when there is Bomb attack. Everyone was made to undergo a mock bomb attack drill. With the shout of Bomb, every student would go below his desk. We were taught to paste paper strips in a cross shape (X) on all glass panes in the house; to avoid the shattering of glass pieces in case of a bomb attack. Almost every house hold could be seen with glass panes covered with such cross paper strips. Fear of such bombing was quite high for Calcutta being close to East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) in those days.
I remember, when Lal Bahadur visited Calcutta. We were told that he will be travelling in an open car through Chittaranjan Avenue. We, my family, decided to have glimpse of that great man. We all went to Chittaranjan Avenue. Both sides of the road were full with people, who had gathered to see Shastriji. I could see him for a short while. He was a very short man. A very calm and poised personality giving smiles and waving hands towards people! That glimpse got engraved on my heart. While Nehruji always talked about Industrialization as the major need of the country, Shastriji gave importance to agriculture. He compared the hard life of a farmer with that of a soldier. His slogan- Jai Jawan Jai Kisan (Hail Soldier Hail farmer!) , by far is the most patriotic slogan given by any leader in india.
The war against Pakistan and Shastriji’s leadership was all about my political knowledge in my childhood year.
Change Of School
As I have mentioned earlier, that our shifting of the house to Haripado Lane made our commuting to school a difficult affair. It was an everyday issue - how to send us to school. The incident which I mentioned earlier about someone trying to kidnap us from school brought the problem at precipitation level. A decision was taken to change the school. My father had no knowledge about schools in Calcutta. Everytime I was to be admitted to a school, it was based on someone else’s advice. In fact more than advice it was the help which was required to deal with the process. Looking at the history, my first admission was handled by Teacher Tej Bahadur Singh, the second one which did not last beyond few days was also suggested by someone I don’t recall. My mamaji Vijay Kumar had got me admitted in Digambar Jain Vidhyalaya because he himself was an ex student of that school.
For this change my cousin sister Prem , daughter of my mausiji Kamla (sister of my mother) came as God send help. My mausiji lived at a place called Tagore Castle. It was a compound, which incidentally housed a school also; in fact two schools. Balkrishna Vitthalnath Vidyalaya for boys and same name with Balika Vidyalaya as suffix in place of last word for girls school. Prem was studying there. The school was though not very close to our house, was acceptable because there was no busy road to be crossed. The route was through narrow lanes only. With the efforts of Prem we, Narendra and myself, got admitted in that school. The school building was huge but old fashioned. Even the teachers were not so friendly.
Terrible Geeta Lessons
I get still scared with one teacher who used to teach us Dharm-Shiksha (Religion). He looked more like a Punditji. In class 3, I was expected to learn Shlokas of Geeta, the ancient scripture of Hindus. Teacher tried to make us understand about Geeta; but everything went above my head. One day he stood right in front of me playing with a chalk in his hand. He asked me lovingly- beta, kal jo shlok sikhaya tha, jara batana ( Son, please tell me the shloka which I had taught yesterday). I was standing blank. He took my hand politely in his hand and still talking lovingly, he inserted the chalk stand between my two fingers and pressed the fingers hard. I screamed with pain. He did not let me go immediately and kept me in pain for few seconds. When I started crying, he let me go. He said wickedly- now, I am sure you will try to learn these shlokas. I was still crying with the pain which was inflicted on my fingers cunningly.
I cleared my class three exams with good marks, however I missed my first division by few marks. My cousin Prem took me to the principal with a request to re-examine my exam papers of certain subject as she was not satisfied with marks given. The principal instead yelled at her and asked her to leave.
My daily trip to school
I do have some memories of my daily route from home to school. In this school I got an opportunity to go to school all by myself without any escort from family. My kid mind used to observe lot of things enroute my daily walk. There used to be a vendor on road side. He had a game to play. It was a circular disc on which a pointer was fixed in the middle. When you rotate the pointer with force and leave that it would stop automatically at one of the sliced section of the circle. You can compare that with modern day’s wheel of fortune game. The only difference was that it was extremely cheap and crude. For one spin the vendor would charge 5 paise. Prizes were of same level. Out of 16 slices about 8 had small biscuits, 4 were blank, two had some small lozenges and the balances two were the jackpots. Mostly I got biscuits or blanks. One day I won the jackpot. The prize I received was a framed picture of Goddess Sarswati. Sarswati is believed to be the Goddess of knowledge and arts. As I won this prize possession on my way upto the school, there was no choice but to carry the same to the classroom in my school. I showed that to the monitor of my class Vinod Sharma and asked him what to do with the same. Vinod asked me whether I would like to let him fix that in the classroom. My instant reply was yes.
The main reason was that being an arya samaji family, my father did not believe in idol worshipping. In fact I never saw any idol or even picture of Gods and Goddesses of hindus in our house. Pitaji always told me that we are also hindus, but we believed in God which had no shape or form. In fact Pitaji had arranged for Vaidik disourses for all three of us by a very learned teacher Pandit Priydarshan Shastri, a Bengali with a sweet personality.
Whatever be the reason at home, but somehow I became the centre of appreciation of my class mates for allowing the picture to be installed in the classroom. Vinod started putting up the burning incense sticks in front of the picture as a standard form of rituals to please the Goddess. That is not all, every Saturday he would bring makhanas (sweet sugar balls) for Prasad. After the pooja of Goddess Sarswati he would distribute the makhanas to all students in the classroom.
There are few more memories of my journey to school. I had to pass across a butcher’s shop. The butcher would keep the slaughtered heads of the lambs on the marble platform in front of the shop. The skinned body of the lamb would be hanging from a hook from top. Some times 2-3 such carcasses were hanging. His platform was full of blood always. Inside his shop, I could see some live animals. I felt extreme pity for those animals. It was so disgusting a sight for me that in the initial days I did not feel like eating my lunch at school. I being a staunch vegetarian by faith and practice felt extremely annoyed at this violent attitude towards poor animals. In the morning the head count on the platform would be one or two, but by the time I returned from school I could see 4 to 5 lifeless heads of lambs on the chopper’s platform. Perhaps such cruel sight has always kept me far away from such animal products of consumption.
Another similar sight for me every day was the crab vendors. Ladies selling the crabs would bring the live crabs in aluminum vessels filled with water. Her hands will always be stirring inside the vessel for keeping the crabs in action. At times few crabs would try to get out of the vessel. Such adventure brought wrath of the lady on them. She would lift the crab and break its legs and again throw it in the vessel. As a small child, such sight was extremely disturbing for my young mind. Even today I hate torture to animals of any kind.
Once, during examination days, Narendra told at home that there was no exam scheduled for his class on a particular day. I was sent to school that day alone. After reaching the school, I saw Narendra’s class mates who had come for exams. After confirming from them, I ran back home. When I informed mother about Narendra’s exam, first reaction was of anger at Narendra, second was of swiftness to get him ready in the school dress and third was appreciation for my thoughtful action. But there was no time for emotions as we had to rush back to school. However first and third emotions were quite magnified in the evening. My act was appreciated by Pitaji also.
My tram journey
I had very few friends in my class. One of them was Vijay Bhatia. Vijay was a Punjabi boy. He used to come from a distance by bus. He told me how to travel by bus and still save the money on the ticket. His trick was that you stand near the entrance of the bus and do not enter inside. Generally the conductor does not ask the passengers who are standing at gate because it was understood that they are travelling till next stop. However if you are questioned by the bus conductor, you may get off at the next bus stop. You get next bus in few minutes again ride that bus and do the same thing. I found his whole idea extremely stupid. However he still was a friend who took me for my first tram journey. We boarded the tram near our school at Chitpore Road. The tram took us to esplanade which was far from my house. Though my maiden tram journey was fun but disembarking from a running tram was a bad experience. Vijay easily got off the tram while it was still moving. When I tried to do the same thing I fell down. The reason of my falling down I learnt few years later when I was taught Newtons’ Laws of Motion in my physics class.
My Primary Board Exams
My class 4 was the last year in a primary part of the school. Above class 4 school was called a secondary school. Interesting thing was that examinations for Class IV were not conducted by school; it was conducted by Education board of school. Appearing in a board arranged exam meant getting the hall ticket from the board on a random basis of another school. A board exam used to be a big headache for parents too. They had to give full attention to the student’s needs. His preparation of the exams was important. His reaching to examination hall in time was their responsibility. They would wait outside the school till the paper was completed and submitted. Sometimes there were two papers in a day. That meant feeding the child after first test and giving him mental comfort for the second test. I still do not understand what was the reason of making such young kids go through such harassment in the name of exams !
However, I cleared my primary board examination with flying colours. When the results were announced in the classroom my teacher spoke very high about me which filled me with pride and joy. All such students were to be given some prize by the school. We were asked to collect the prizes after few days from the school’s office. I went to the school to collect my prize with cousin Prem. There was a packet wrapped with gift paper and with a red ribbon tied on that. A sticker of my name was stuck on the wrapper. When we opened the parcel at home, I got extremely shocked. It was a thick novel of more than 200 pages written by Acharya Chatursen. The title of the book was – Sona aur khoon ( Gold and blood). Everybody at house wondered who must be such a big fool in the school to decide to give such a complex hindi novel, which was difficult even for a graduate, to a class IV student.
When Snehlata buaji finished her schooling at village Sherda, mother thought it fit to bring her to city of Calcutta for learning beyond school and to have a better exposure of life. Snehlata buaji was always smart.; when I say smart I mean smart looking but in fact a bit of clever too. I remember when I was living in the village with her, family members visiting village from different towns would bring some small gifts for all children. Mainly those gifts were either pens, pencils, erasers or sharpeners and sometimes cheap toys. The gifts used to be handed to each child, that included Snehlata bua, Shakuntala bua, myself and Sushma for some time. Once the gifts were given away, Snehlata would start the web of her sweet talk with the rest of the children. Only she had one shelf to herself which could be locked. She would suggest us that if we left our gifts just like that anywhere then we would not be able to find them later as someone may flick that away; hence it was useful to let her keep our stuff in her lockable shelf. There used to be initial resistance from us but after she had tried all her tricks like – threat- ‘ ok, never ask me to keep anything in future’ or allurement – ‘ If you let me keep it, I will give you one toffee which I have with me’ or indifference –‘ As if I need it for me ! You will get it whenever you want back (her biggest lie).’ Finally all of us would succumb to her diplomacy and surrender our gifts for her storage out of innocence. That meant a permanent parting with our assets !
Another incident with Snehlata buaji of the village ! Rajasthan never had fresh fruits or even vegetables. Most of vegetables were dried stuff. It had some local fruits which are still not known in the rest of the country. The main local fruits included- Mateera ( similar to water melon) and Kakadiya , a seedy fruit with a look similar to a papaya but tastes completely different. However some times we would get a mango when a vendor from distant town like Hisar would come to sell that. It was an expensive affair, hence there were not many takers for that in the village and that explains its scarcity too. In our family we used to buy one mango on such occasions. The mango was unusually big. Hence the division was by cutting. As it was supposed to be meant for children of the family, Snehlata being the eldest was given the charge of a fair distribution among all of us. There used to be about six slices of the upper crust each called a ‘Faadi’ and one hard centre piece which served as the core of the fruit called ‘guthli’. Snehlata buaji would ask us whether we wanted a faadi or a guthli. Her cutting pattern would be based on what will be left for her. The guthli would have hardly any meat on it if it was opted by us. Similarly the faadis would be cut thin or thick depending upon who gets what ! Her rule of distribution did not allow any change of demand midway. In short she was always the winner !
Whatever cunning she was, but she was very dear to me always. She would support me for all my needs in the village. She would feed me milk from the bottle, make me sleep in my special khatola and play with me. When I heard that she was coming to Calcutta, I was thrilled. In fact I was missing her all the while in Calcutta. I insisted to go to station to bring her home. On my way back home I explained about everything I knew about Calcutta. For once I was acting smarter than her. But that pleasure was momentary too. She picked up a lot more in Calcutta what I would ever learn. Mother taught her sewing, embroidery, knitting and wool weaving. Though she knew a lot about cooking, mother taught her new things to cook.
It was realized in the family that English is an important part of life in India. People who knew English were treated differently in the society. She hardly learnt any English in village school. There was no one in the family too who could teach her better English. Mother discovered from a relative about an English lady who could visit our house and teach good English to buaji. The lady was hired for the job. More than her teaching she herself was an object of lot of curiosity for all of us. She would come in knee level tight skirts, with high heels and a stylish purse in her hand. She had blonde hair with lot of curls. Often she would open her purse and take out a pouch which contained tobacco. She would roll her own cigarette and smoke. It was all culture shock for us. We treated her as an alien who used to come from another planet. We often wondered how easily she could walk with her high heels, how she spoke so stylishly; one more curiosity we would discuss, often after she had left- how does she handle peeing in such tight skirts!
Initially her diction was too difficult for buaji to learn, but gradually she picked up her accent and language. She also learnt from her how to do make up. Make up became the favorite subject of buaji.
In short Snehlata Buaji’s visit to Calcutta was like a stay for finishing school of the present times. She got engaged soon to a handsome man from hills- Bejoy of Kurseong.