Afzal Bhaiya made one project on ‘Venice’ for me.
We were given a project to make a model – with clay or bamboo – whatever – and a team of 3 students per project. We chose to make Venice – the land of water or Islands – most probably. I told Afzal Bhaiya about it and he brought a big square wooden plank – painted it blue and chiseled bamboo and made a bridge and 2 –3 houses of their style – it was obviously the best project – so well done it was. I remember our Sir asking me how much labor my other friends put in – I was dumfounded! – he just cut thoer names form their and let only my name be there on the board. I felt very bad for both my friends – in the last moment , they had to make something else. But I could not really help it – coz, had I asked to put their names as well – the teacher would then definitely have questioned ‘How much labour have you yourself put in this!?’ – for it was evident that some elderly person had done the Project.
Anyways, an year later, we had an Annual Exhibition – where project works were displayed for the parents to see. And guess what !? My Project work on Venice had someone else’s name written on it – it was the name of Arvind Srivastav – our Principal’s son – he was in our class – he was good in studies also – the first boy of our class in fact – (initially I thought that teachers were being partial with him but then I used to ask for his test copy and I saw that he had attempted the questions well plus he used to answer well in oral tests as well) I started screaming but no one paid any heed to me !
I remember distinctly when his Father had joined as a Principal – one of the the first things that he announced in the Assembly was that the girls should wear skirts at least 4 inches below the knees or they wear Salwar kameez. I always wore long skirts only – some stylish girls were not very happy about the announcement but I really liked it very much …for I was that sort only …always !!
I was very poor at by-hearting/ mugging up things. When we were in Class VI, a Lady Teacher joined – she was pretty attractive and used to teach also very well. She used to teach us Science and her notes were great. One day she had asked us to learn a set of questions with their answers for she will ask the next day. It was a homework. Who had time for home work huh!? – I forgot completely and the next day she randomly started asking questions and many of us could not reply.
We were asked to stand outside holding our ears ! It was fine – there were many others so I stood BUT my sister saw me. I think she was more embarrassed than me for her friends had pointed it out to her that ‘Hey look – you sister is punished!”.
That day after retuning from school , she reported it all to Mom – with a great amount of hype. Thus from that day onwards (for a couple of days only of course) I had to show my diary to my Mom and later sis and had to complete all my homework !
This punishment giving habit became a fashion later in the school for even our Hindi Teacher started punishing us that way !! There was this poem ‘Hawa hoon hawa main , basanti hawa hoon, suno baat meri,anokhi hawa hoon’ (I am the breeze heralding Spring – listen to my ‘unheard of’ ways).I did not mug it up – it was too long a poem – again punished – again seen by my sis – her class was diagonally opposite to my class actually – strange are the ways of Gods I must say !!
There was a Capt Rao Uncle belonging to the Infantry …. or Artillery – well I don’t quite remember and his Office was quite near our house – we all lived in the same enclosure – and he had a small son – Chetan…then another son was born and my Mother kept his name – Chayan. His pet name was kept Chaman – for Uncle had some Chaman Lad Daku in his village and he did not quite like the name Chaman for a proper name – Uncle was called Chandru by his wife – so we all called him Chandru Uncle!
Chandru Uncle’s wife had been a Sister and was posted in the Asylum once for 2 years. She had told us that maximum patients were either Judges or Lawyers or were the ones failed in love ! I was amazed to her that – I mean Judges are okay – for they might have punished innocent people as well – based on evidence brought by Criminal Lawyers..but there is no escape from guilt pangs…but failed in Love !? She said there were men who used to silently stare and their case history – that she had read – said that they were jilted in love !I was amazed to hear that! for – the men or boys I used to meet or had met – well…they hardly looked as if they could be so lovelorn that they might go mad for not having got their Lady Love !!
Anyways, Chetan was just 2 years old when I saw him – he was the latest arrival to my gang of kids – well I was around 11 at that point of time. I used to be the ring Leader since the rest of them were in the age group of 2 to 6 – all younger to me. They listened to me and I used to conduct games etc. Their names – well whatever as far as I can remember – Bujji, Munni, Parveen, Sapna, Rocky, Robby, Shilpi, Moon, Chetan, Chaman …all used to report to me basically. Rocky & Robby wee Kang Uncle’s son – whose job was to wake up the entire colony at 4 pm sharp for playing badminton! We used to quickly go to sleep in the afternoon for we knew that the clock might fail but Kang Uncle wont !! He was the one who introduced us to Punjabi Folk songs and Jagjit Chitra gazals – he used to sit and explain us the meaning of the Punjabi songs – and we had bought many cassettes of the same !!
Well, Capt Rao once brought an unknown breed of bird which was found in their Office premises. Afzal Bhaiya took the responsibility of rearing it up – he was very fond of pets – so a cage was made out of Tin and bamboo sticks – Afzal Bhaiya made it. Some of them commented that it was an Eagle’s chick – Baaz – as they call it in hindi. Anyways we pampered it a hell lot – our new entry – whenever anyone went close to it – it opened its beak wide open – for it always thought that some ‘food’ has come its way – Afzal Bhaiya named it Sikra. Bhaiya used to collect worms and crickets from the backyard to feed it plus ‘besan paste’ (crushed pulses) was also fed to it.
When we got posted to Binnaguri – Sikra was taken along with all our hens. We did not take the cats but I told all the bhaiyas to give them food in their Langar.It so happened that in the new house that we shifted, we had to spray ‘Bagon’ for the pests (cockroaches) to die. More under Topic : Uncanny Dream about Sikra.
Since the kids were small, I used to kinda cheat them in a number of ways! While playing ‘ hide and seek’ – for example – I used to scream ‘ Ready’ and they used to scream back ‘Ready’ – thus hearing the direction of their voice , I used to find them in a matter of seconds but I had given them the understanding that they will just count 10 and begin searching for me for I will not scream back ‘Ready’ ! – the innocent kids used to do exactly that – thus I was in hiding for a longer period of time.
One day my brother must have arrived after playing his games – cricket etc. – he used to play with bhaiyas and other officers as well…and observed how exactly I was befooling them. So after counting I screamed ‘ Ready’ – suddenly I felt someone tapping my shoulders. It was my brother – he said ‘Yes, they are ready.’!. Immediately I screamed back (a defense mechanism) “I am not playing with you”! He coolly said – ‘Tina, how long will you continue making them a fool eh!? I am on their side – they just included me – saying this he followed me wherever I went in search of them !! He was having the most wicked smile – he had asked them to hide in a secluded place and boy! that was my longest search ever ! I was highly irritated that day !!From that day onwards, I used to be pretty alert about my brother’s arrival – for he knew how exactly to foul up my tricks !!
There was an MI Room ( A room in Military language where First Aid things are kept). There was a huge Mango tree there . Me and the rest used to throw stones to get some mangoes – but whenever some mango fell the children used to quickly pick up – they were least bothered about the fact that I was older to them and was entitled for bigger mangoes. Often my Mother used to scold me when I screamed at them for mangoes saying since I was older , I should give away the mangoes to the younger children !
Afzal bhiaya (our Helper provided by the Army – my father was the Commanding Officer there) must have noticed me cry so one day – he got up early in the morning – must be four-ish and got all the mangoes from that tree ! He woke me up saying that there is something interesting in the balcony – I got up to see what was so interesting and I was surprised to see some more than 400 mangoes lying in a heap ! My mother was devastated – she told Afzal Bhaiya not to spoil me so much. She then made some 4-5 kinds of pickle from that and it was distributed among all the other Officers also residing in the enclosure !
Sometimes my brother was asked to teach me mathematics. Afzal Bhaiya could not stand the fact that I was beaten or scolded for homework etc., he was extremely sympathetic towards me. In fact most of the Helpers were very sympathetic towards me – even in Delhi – our helpers – Laxmi, Vaijayanti, Maya,Sunno, Bina – they used to help me with whatever little knowledge they had. Like ‘how many 25 paisas are there in Re.1? I used to say 4 for Laxmi had already made silent gestures with her fingers – but my ‘Hawk eyed’ sister was too sharp to miss it – she used to come in front and then ask me again – the same question but with raised eye brows now – confusing me ever more…and then I said 3,5,2 as a reply to the same question…I tried all possible permutation and combination…but (deep sigh) couldn’t convince my sister !Similarly even Afzal Bhaiya tried to help me – he pretended that he is reading a magazine but was giving me discreet hints on Tables and multiplication – but my brother suddenly saw him and asked him to go else where to read the magazine !
During Raksha Bandhan I used to buy many Rakhees – for all the Bhaiyas – also I knew they would give me money in return and I would have ‘churan’, Til sticks and Ice cream – available in the school! They used to give me Rs.20 each also..but suddenly my Mother used to come in the scene and asked them to take back the money and only give me Rs.5 – Just imagine …from Rs.100/- my earning came down to Rs.25/-…all Satyavaadi Harishchandras had to come in my life !!
There were two young bachelor Uncles who always used to keep Eclairs for all the children in the locality. Mukhopadhyay Uncle used to give me toffees and Kohli Uncle, who was the Dentist used to ask him not to give me so many toffees!
Kohli Uncle had taken out most of my milk teeth for they had all gone rotten because of too much intake of sweets ! He often used to start saying things like – you are the most prettiest girl around..while he injected the ‘benumbing’ (no word like this – just I mean ‘to make numb’) solution on my gums….little did I know then that it was just a way for men all over the World to get things done from Ladies…..in my case to make me quietly sit through the entire ‘tooth extracting’ process !
Anyways later my father used to get a packet a Parry’s soft chocolate toffees – instead of sweets – for they were easier for my teeth ! The packet was brought and handed over to me – I used to hide it and it was my discretion whether to give to my siblings or not. I used to be very stringent while giving toffees to my siblings…somewhere even I had to have an upper hand. But often they came to know of my hiding place – I never used to come to know that – for they were clever enough to keep the packet just in the same position as I kept – but Afzal Bhaiya – my informer – used to tell me that they have been stealing my toffees ..then I had to hide it else where .
After reaching Binnaguri , after around 4-5 days or so , I dreamt that Sikra is bigger in size and its talking to me in a Human language ! It was crying – and I could see big tear drops falling from its eyes – like they show in cartoon TV! When I asked why it was crying, it said that “I will have to leave you now but don’t worry I’ll again come back sooner to you – in some other form”. I could see a big sun set behind Sikra and many birds were flying towards it – it was quite a scenic beauty – as we usually see in drawings etc.
Next morning I told this dream to my parents and went to the bathroom . Suddenly I heard that Afzal Baihya was speaking in a low tone that ‘ Sikra is no more’ !- It was left free in the garden (Afzal Bhaiya used to cut its feathers so that it cannot fly – feathers are like hair and nails – it does not hurt them when cut) to eat worms etc and most probably it must have eaten a ‘bagon’ infected cockroach – thus it died !So my dream was true after all !!
It was the era of Abba, BoneyM, Andy Gibbs,POLICE…..which we had picked up from the Army Officer’s Institute. And of course there were Hindi film songs – so most of the time those were played at home. Once when we came to Kolkata on holidays – Mom bought some Bengali songs like some ‘Kali re` Kali re`, then ‘Khukumoni go shona’ sung by some child Artist. And we found her voice so very shrill. Anyways I danced on that tune as well ! There was a time when just the music had to play and I would start dancing. I always though that music should be accompanied with dance.
Then we were shown some Bengali movies – and we saw Uttam kumar – and our relatives were all swooning while they saw him. Well folks , I failed to get impressed – I had already been exposed to the looks of Gregory Peck (Roman Holiday) – although very young …but I definitely had this understanding who is good looking etc. Later of course when I came to Lady Brabourne college and started seeing more of Bengali movies on TV – I understood why exactly he is so much sort after – he always plays a ‘no nonsense Bengali male’ character – thus Bengal loves him…Bengalies are basically ‘ No nonsense people’ ….any doubts or suspicion?
Since my childhood we were in Delhi and later in Dehradun – so the Durga Puja essence was not known to us. There used to be just one pandal – and we all wore new dresses and went there – had prasaad and came back home.
But Hasimara, being in West Bengal – people were very much involved. The Air Force and Army base were very close knit and we had our own life – which was made fun filled with occasional parties, picnics and get togethers.
So during Durga Pujas – for the first time we went and saw every little detail of te Puja – started form Panchami. The new dresses etc. followed by dance drama to bhog etc. It was really a whole lot of fun.
There used to be this BIG mela (Fair) where individual Units used to participate . My Father’s Unit had participated as well and I remember , we had hired an Elephant for giving rides to children. I had got up many a times – since it was ours and we could get as many rides as wished. Then we bought so many things – from dresses to decoration pieces to playing games…then we ate – it was a new experience altogether – and I used to look forward to it !