Thursday, 11 April 2013

Revisiting the India that was-Memories of visits to India in the Seventies

We would visit India after every three years and these visits were eagerly awaited by the whole family. My brother two years younger to me, my sister younger by seven years, and of course, Mom and Dad. The visit to India was packed with a tight schedule for the two months that we spent in India. The two months would be spent in Gurgaon, our base where my Paternal Grandmother stayed, Moradabad where my maternal Grandmother stayed, and then there was Agra where my maternal uncle lived. Delhi was another City on the schedule because my uncle, (my father’s brother and my  aunt, my father’s sister) used to live.
Our journey invariably would start with the trip from Arbaminch to the capital of Ethiopia Addis Ababa. We would stay at a hotel in Addis Ababa till we got a confirmed ticket on the Ethiopian Airlines flight to Bombay. Our favourite restaurant in Addis Ababa was the Omar Khayam where we could feast on the tandoori chicken and the naans. The flight to Bombay was a much awaited event. We flew to Bombay, where we would meet my Mother’s sister  her husband and their three children. The stay at The Holiday Inn was a wonderful experience. We often stayed for one day so that we could get the Indian Airlines flight to Delhi the next day. The one day we spent in Bombay would be spent visiting the Juhu beach,  and drinking coconut water. The flight to Delhi would  invariably take place the next afternoon.
After the flight landed at Delhi, we would take a taxi to Gurgaon where my Grandmother would be waiting for us. I still remember the green coloured doors covered with mosquito netting. In Gurgaon we would meet the extended family. The humid and warm weather during the months of July and August would be uncomfortable enough. We often slept in courtyard with mosquito nets draped over frames that  covered the Charpoys or the traditional beds. The mosquitoes still found a way in in spite of all the Odomos cream we rubbed into our exposed limbs. Mornings started with the chirruping of Sparrows. Daadi, as we called our grandmother was a veritable  old lady who was so old that she could never grow older. She was strict and yet a kindly woman who gave us money to buy toys from the toy seller who would sell toys which included windmills, whistles, and those toys which had pictures on celluloid which had pictures on them.
In those days we were given a treat of sweets in the form of mixed sweets. The scent of Jallebis mixed with the scent of decaying stuff greeted us while walking down to the Bus stand for the Bus to Moradabad. The clacking of the horse drawing the Tonga to the bus stand and the rickety and rattling Haryana Roadways buses invariably painted blue would be our preferred  modes of transport from Gurgaon to Moradabad or Agra. When we reached Moradabad, we would go to the mission compound from the bus stand in rickshaws.The scents that greeted us on the way were a complex mix of sweets, the stink of garbage, incense sticks and other scents that have long disappeared with the coming of Malls and the fruits of advancement.
Naani, our maternal grandmother was another old and ancient woman who was old so old that she couldn’t get older! I remember that my brother and I pestered her to take us on outings. And more often than not she took us to the railway station where we saw the steam engines shunting and the scent of the burnt coal mixed with smoke were a unique scent that I have not experienced for ages! In Moradabad, we ran all along the  field , amongst the tamarind trees that grew in Mission compound. In Moradabad, we often went to the Company Bagh, which was an open space bounded by walls.
Today neither Naani or Daadi  are alive, but my memories of them can never be erased from my mind.Today I have settled in Gurgaon, India but can’t find that old India that I use to visit once in three years. Those two months that we spent in India passed away rather swiftly as they were spent visiting relatives in places like Agra, Moradabad, Delhi, and even Lucknow.  Those were days that left a mark that are difficult to erase! The scents that greeted us were a complex mix of sweet meats, decadence, incense sticks, and the bidis (local cigars) that greeted us everywhere. But then those were times when we as children could gain great satisfaction from the cheap toys we bought from the Khilonewala. Today children of the same age as my brother and I all those years ago are no longer satisfied with windmills and whistles and bioscopes. They are more interested in staying at home playing on computers and PSPs. Wonder where that India of complex scents and incense sticks and jugglers and monkey trainers has gone!  We children, my brother and cousins included were often drawn out by the typical sounding of the Dugdugi, a small hand-held drum that announced the appearance of the man with the monkeys the Madaari. The monkeys, a male and a female dressed in clothes would then be put through a routine with much calling out of the roles of the matrimonial culture. We were also entertained by a troupe of tight rope walkers, what with a little girl precariously balance on a tight rope going through the motions of crossing two ends balanced on her toes.
The mangoes were a great favourite, what with many a fight taking place between my father and my Grandmother regarding the size of the mango they picked up from the offering. The mixed sweets that we got from Laxmi Sweets in Gurgaon were greatly in demand since we would go without them for a whole three years in Ethiopia. We sure did miss the mosquitoes, the mixed sweets, and the toys that the roving toy salesman would sell.
When we returned to Ethiopia, our suitcases where packed with goods from India which would hopefully last the next three years. They goods we took back with us included the stuff, Saris which my mother bought from Chandni Chowk, the lentil based Barrias dried spicy dumplings which were my Father’s favourites, a large number of stickers, Commando Comics which we bought from the Greater Kailash market, the Sohan Halwa from Chandni Chowk in Delhi, and yes, the Bombay Halwa which my Dad bought from Bombay. All this stuff was packed in our Samsonite and VIP suitcases. Some of the stuff we took back did last a couple of years, but then, most of the stuff disappeared within a few months leaving us with a strong desire to visit India again! Nothing could beat the desire to visit our country again, and we all looked forward to the next visit. So I say, if memories can be packed in suitcases, can’t they be unpacked from them mind many years on? Now when I live in a modern India, I see that a great change has taken place. Instead of the bazaars we go to Malls, the scent of Jallebis  and the scent of decadence have been replaced by a more complex scent of latest perfumes. The rickety Haryana Roadways have been replaced by the ultramodern metros, and today in place of the humble Ambassador cars, the roads are full of more modern and sleek offerings from the automotive industry.
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