Sunday, September 8, 2013

Travelling Back In Time : A re- post

During my younger days, (eons ago, I must admit) I had the great good fortune of traveling and living in several distant parts of India, thanks to my father who was serving in the Indian Army.

My traveling days started with my father being transferred from Bombay ( my birth place, now rechristened Mumbai ) to Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. I was barely a year old at that time. We moved into a neighbourhood called Halwasiya Market, Hazrathganj. I remember we had a spacious apartment on the third floor of an old residential building. The rooms were laid out along a straight line like compartments of a train, each opening out to a corridor running alongside :

first the kitchen, then a living room and then two bedrooms, and at the far end the bathroom and toilet, a design reminiscent again of the Indian Railways. Breaking the monotony, the living room also opened out onto to a fairly large grilled verandah, an appendage to the corridor. From here a view of the several tall minarets, a legacy of the Moghul past of this gracious city, and a vista of open terraces of lowlier tenements that spread out as far as the eye could see. And during the kite flying season, the eyes of the entire city would turn to the skies to watch the kites bobbing, dancing, and suddenly fiercely swooping down and pouncing upon unsuspecting targets, much like the bird of prey they are named after.

We were a family of six : my parents, my two elder sisters and one brother. I was the youngest of the lot. We also had countless pups and kittens roaming around the house, for my father loved to rescue stray pups and kittens and give them a home and shelter. You can read about these (mis) adventures here :

Do read it, for it will move you to tears.

For my education, I was admitted to a nearby convent school called "The Cathedral". School days very pretty boring, always dreading the arrival of my class teacher, Miss Williams, whom my mother and I nick named as “Miss Pulliams” (Pulli means Tiger in Tamil), for she would pounce on us the minute she saw us and start complaining to my poor mother how hopeless I was in my studies.

My mother would come everyday around 12 Noon with my lunch of Rasam mixed with rice and some vegetable curry. She would feed me, and I would make such a fuss saying everything was so hot with lots of chilies, and she used to somehow cajole me into finishing to the last morsel saying it was not hot at all, as she had put lots ghee/ clarified butter, and that it was very tasty. If that didn't work she would say to eat fast as she could see The Pulliams coming our way.

My nose can never forget the aroma of my mother's rasam, nor my tongue the sweet, sour pungency of the heavenly thin tomato soup(Rasam) garnished with a myriad condiments. And on occasions when I manage to recreate the aroma and taste of my mother’s rasam, I am absolutely thrilled, literally over the moon.

After lunch, I would not want to go to the students’ washroom as it always had a nasty stink like all school washrooms of the day and public toilets in India to this day. So we would quietly sneak into the staff wash room and hurriedly finish our business inside and walk quickly away with a conspiratorial grin on our faces. My poor mother, she had to put up with all my tantrums.

Later in the afternoon when school was over, my mother would come to fetch me home. And when we reached home, I would start pestering her to buy me a bar of Cadburys Chocolate from one of the several shops on the Ground floor of our building. I would simply refuse to climb the stairs to our third floor apartment without that prize in my hand. Without exception this was the sequence of events every school day as long we lived in Lucknow.
In the evening my second sister used to go to Bharatanatyam dance classes, and I would tag along with her, for I also wanted to learn dancing. But after just a few lessons, I refused to go, for I was clumsy of foot, lacked the suppleness in various body parts and graceful movements this dance form calls for. The dance teacher, never the one to spare the rod, took a devilish delight in spanking me for every single misstep that I was unable to even sit down for hours after class.

In the evenings my father would take me out with him, to free mother from my constant badgering while she cooked dinner for the family. I did not relish the prospect of going out with my dad, for he was a strict disciplinarian. But he would cajole me, saying he would buy me an ice cream and take me to his friend's place where I could play with kids my own age.

He would take me to the nearby Mayfair Cinema, famous in the city for its ice cream parlor, and buy me a big plate of ice cream. How I used to love those ice creams at Mayfair! A large thick slab of ice cream was served with two triangular crème wafer biscuits stuck artistically at an angle to each other. I can't say which I enjoyed the more - the wafer crème or the ice cream.

One such evening my father took me along to a photo studio run by a turbaned true blue Sardarji (a Sikh) since had to collect some passport photo prints he had ordered. The Sardar was a good friend of my father and never missed an opportunity to kid my father that I was so cute, (I looked a lot like the famous child artist of the day - Daisy Irani) that he would like to take a photograph of me, and put it up on the wall like you see in such shops all over India as testimonials of their craft. So the very next day my father took me to the studio dressed in lovely orange colored pants, a matching green printed shirt, and me holding a yellow and orange coloured umbrella for a prop : Colour photographs were a novelty and all the rage in those days.

The good Sardarji kept on asking me to smile, ( ismile pleej – ismile pleej ) but I could not smile, for this tall, hefty figure with the long Osama like bushy beard and moustache and the turban really frightened me. I was so fidgety, I could barely stand still leave alone smile. With the promise of a bar of chocolate and two helpings of ice cream at the Mayfair parlor, my father finally succeeded in making me stand on the bench with my colorful umbrella. The photo did indeed come out smashingly well. For many years thereafter this framed picture of mine found pride of place in our home wherever we went, till one fine day when we were living in Guwahati in Assam, it just vanished into thin air, never to resurface. I somehow suspect it was appropriated by my sneaky second sister and it must be with her in Boston where she now lives. I only have an impoverished copy of it - a small smudgy black and white passport size picture… sad really sad.

                                                    My God! how frightened I look

There is another tale I must recount which to this day makes me recoil in shame and horror. 
 For the Annual School day celebrations, the short skit staged was that of the adventures of Little Red Riding Hood. Out of the hundreds of kids, I was singled out to be part of the forest shrubbery in the background : No lead role, No Little Red Riding Hood dialogues for me, not even the big bad wolf / grandma role. A green coloured saree with flowery prints was wrapped around me and I was made to sit absolutely still in the background through the ten minutes of the play, and not so much as a whisper from me, nor the slightest movement. I daresay I played my part with great equanimity despite the Sardarji’s false prophetic words ringing in my ears, taunting me – “you are fit to be another Daisy Irani” .

Finally to my one memorable culinary experience in Lucknow, which still lingers on my mind and on my palate. Being a strict Vegetarian at home (and outside of home as well, unlike my dear husband), I am unable to make any learned, authentic comments on the much touted “Awadhi Cuisine” of Lucknow fit for debauched carnivorous moghuls. I simply loved the “Milk Badam” (Almond Milk) of streetside vendors. Yes – Milk Badam it was called and not the other way around. I am yet to taste a concoction close to that heavenly beverage of Lucknow, although I do believe MTR Badam milk today comes close - but no cigar. I also loved drinking ice cold Coca Cola and Fanta in glass bottles. Somehow it doesn't taste the same these days, - may be it is my aversion to PET bottles, and I hate drinking from a can (I am yet to master the intricate art of opening the can with the pull tab on top). In fact I have stopped drinking soda pop for a long time now.

Oh, the good old days will they ever come back? Lucknow ! Dear Lucknow ! how I miss you.

Our family next moved to Assam on the Eastern frontier of India. Can you imagine travelling all the way from Lucknow to Guwahati by train?

It is a very, very, looooong journey, with so many states to pass through, and so many trains to change.... well that is another story and another blog to come

Happy Ganesh Chathurti Y’all.
                                   My home made wheat Ganesha, eating Ladoos and Modhaks

P. S : Did you enjoy the travel back in time with me?


  1. Your Ganesh looks divine Rama!
    What a cute lovely picture you shared along with interesting details about yourself, enjoyed this post so much!

  2. That was an awesome reflection of the past Rama! Yes the Fanta in glass bottle and treats of Ram Asare in Hazratganj in Lucknow are unforgettabe:)

  3. Oh yes, i enjoyed the travel back in time and could visualize your 3rd floor apartment. Come up with more such nostalgic posts.

    And you don't look frightened in that pic Rama. You look innocent.

    Your ganesha very creative. Happy Ganesh chaturthi to you and your family. Stay Blessed:)

  4. Wow! Enjoyed this time travel. You do look like Daisy Irani in the pic.
    We stayed in Lucknow for a year too and I love the city.
    Happy Ganesh Chaturthi to you and your family too :)

  5. Rama, I love your stories of India, your childhood, adventures and misadventures!

  6. Rama this is an interesting peek into your childhood. I have also got pleasant memories of Lucknow.The sweet shop at Hazratganj,made me nostalgic.
    BTW my grand daughter is studying in Boston.

  7. Yes, I really enjoyed it. You have unfolded it here in a very enticing way,Rama. Rama was cute tiny one eons back and is now also(not coaxing).

    I had drawn a picture of my village life travelling back in the time tempo traveller. Since it took shape in the initial stages the views were practically nil.I had keyboarded it in 4 parts under the head memories and sub head '...that never returns'. Some time you drop into that, though not much charming,( if free).

  8. It's always nice to hear friend from Army Family recount their memories. I've visited many places in India just as a tourist though I've lived entirely in only 2 cities so far. It's nice to actually have a change once in a while, that way we would know how much we miss our old/previous city, as well as accepting a new way of life and finally coming to enjoying it :-). You look so cute in that Photograph, definitely this photo with worth more than just 2 ice creams with the diagonally placed waffles :-)

  9. Ah what a lovely travel back in time that was Rama!! I wish you get back the color version of your Daisy Irani pic, you look like an innocent doll :) Sorry havent been regular at the blogs, will be back soon once I settle down in Portland for now, its borrowed Internet...

  10. Trips down memory lane always makes us yearn for the good old times. Nice to get a peek sneak into your childhood adventures :)

  11. thorouhly enjoyed, and your Ganesha is awesome..your tales about Lucknow made me hungry for more...Now Lucknow has changed so much..

  12. Yes, I did, dear Rama! And I love that photo of little Rama, you are so cute!

    May I ask what does Navaratri mean? Is it a festival or a holiday?

  13. Nice! i did Ganesha and I love that photo title of Ganesha. It seems so cute and pity
    Just showing that He is hungry too much.
    Website Development Company in Hazaratganj.

  14. That was a lovely walk down memory lane :) and that pic super

  15. an accidental click on your name, led me to this and I enjoyed it..