Of the lost time: Sangeeta Sharma

Sangeeta Sharma

Parents are young kids’ superstars! So were mine.

Father, a pious and diligent railway officer and mother, a homemaker to the core, of high lineage. They taught us to take pride in hard work -physical and mental, honesty and warm hospitality. Physical exercises were a given in the wee hours and the reverberance of aartis completed the day.

I believe, life is like a raindrop.  Of which few freeze in the subterranean depths of consciousness and few evaporate. Sometimes it’s a blur and sometimes it’s vivid like the rainbow.

The past soon becomes a blur as we move on in life. However, few memories last a lifetime.

Staying in Canada now, the primary schooling days of India seem a far-off reality, almost a dot on the mental landscape.

Whenever I recollect the hot gusts of March-April of my early years, aka ‘loo’ in India, it reminds of the bygone, forlorn days and cause wistfulness.

The season that brings the fever of the exam days to our minds also brings in the sweet memories of the summer of the 70s. The lone mango tree in our small but cosy backyard used to be richly-laden with raw mangoes during the April month. It used to become the talk of the neighbourhood with many expectants to be receiving a basketful or two as a gift from their proximate neighbour. Stones thrown on the rich produce by the roadside, yearning urchins was not something unusual but was perilous, if it hit some passer-by or a family member within the house.

Looking back, the 20x20 sq. feet backyard seems so exotic with the green cover making it an unusually cooler place- partially shaded with sun beams straining from behind the thick, green leafy umbrella of the mango tree. The other tree that decked the yard was the lemon one that blossomed with rich yield from time to time. The cool courtyard with an enclosed squat toilet at its extreme left end, housed two water tanks - bigger one above the ground level and another at the ground level; the left side next to the neatly-flowing naali from the kitchen was earmarked for the stocking of coal and wood fuel as those were the days when angeethis (mud-hearths) used to be lit for the cooking of meals though kerosene stoves had made their way by then. The two water tanks bordered the concrete spacious scullery.

The whole area used to remain spick and span for the major part of the day, washed and dried by the sunlight.

The climax used to be on the day when some workman was called to take the yield off the tree. The kids were asked to remain indoors and the branches were shaken violently so that the fruits fall on the ground on their own and for the bunches that hung outside the boundary-wall, a net-basket used to be fixed at the end of a long stick which was then used to pluck the remaining mangoes.

When the branches were shaken, with great uproar, mangoes used to rain like heavy stones and fill up the entire open ground, the water tanks, the scullery and a delicious sour smell used to waft through the surroundings.

These countless tropical fruit-yield used to be then gathered in jute-sacks. To protect the skin from mango sap, mom used to wear gloves and prepare shares for the family-friends. Not less than 10-12 families were gifted with this mangifera indica, at least a dozen each.

The rest were rinsed, cleaned, dried with a clean cloth and chopped by the workman on a big hand-scythe or sickle, removing the hard part of the seeds. The rest was handled by the women of the neighbourhood with mom as the group-leader. With salt and turmeric applied thoroughly, the sliced pieces were put to dry on clean, white linen sheets under the sun and then in a couple of days, they were ready to be pickled with aromatic Indian spices like fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, black caraway/cumin, turmeric, chilli powder and salt.

It used to be a process of sorts. Pickling has its own sanctity that has hygiene at its core. If that was breached there were chances of it getting spoilt. However, if one followed the rules of the book, the final outcome used to be lip-smacking and long-lasting.

The aroma of the spices fried in mustard oil still lingers…

Similarly, lemons were also plucked in the fruition season and pickled. The carrom seeds (ajwain), asafoetida (hing) and black pepper lemon pickle was considered good for the gut-health. Sometimes the sweet variation also called ‘chhundu’ was prepared of lemon as well as mangoes.

These pickles then used to be the standby option for kids’ school-tiffins with paranthas and sometimes with daal rice, as a substitute for a dry veggie, for meals at home.

Even for long travel tiffins, pickles were a must, along with long-lasting (bitter gourd) karelas with namak, ajwain puris.

And also, for picnics.

70s decade did not have the digital footprints of our times nor was the colour TV common. For kids, there were not many options apart from reading comic books or strips in newspapers or magazines and playing indoor games like chess, carromboard, ludo, snakes and ladders, or outdoor games like, badminton, cricket or basketball.  I still remember the euphoria I experienced whenever I could get my hands on any colourful, pictorial comic.

Parents were stricter and children more disciplined. Maximum time was spent on studies. I and my siblings were the lucky few as we had access to railways’ recreation centre, library and were even a constant part of the recurring cultural activities. Participating in group/solo dances and enacting the role of Goddess Seeta in Ramleela open up new fun-filled memory lanes. 

 It was in the first half of the 80s decade that colour TVs made their way in the society and even then, they were purchased only by the wealthy few who could afford it and every Sunday dozens of common-folks streamed in as spectators from the neighbourhood to our drawing rooms to watch the evening movie and sometimes even on Wednesdays for Chitrahaar.

Transistors and radios were a household name and Binaca GeetMala, a mega-hit with people of all age-groups. Whenever there were festivities of any sort, people played songs on loudspeakers and that made the day of many.

Tapi river flowed barely a few miles away from our location. Speckled with big and small black rocks of varied sizes, the shallow river was fun for the frolicking children to play on them, thus, making it the first choice for picnic-spots. The serene surroundings lent immense tranquillity to the visitors there.

Life has come a long way since then but the innocence of those times is preserved in the inner recesses of the mental landscape somewhere from where they can be dug out anytime, revisited and locked up again.

Gallery: Past in Present: Few moments caught

 

Family happiness!

Blessing the daughter!

The beautiful smile!

With Ma

Bio: (Dr) Sangeeta Sharma, a Toronto-based academic, is the Associate Editor of Setu, a bilingual, international peer-reviewed journal and former head, department of English, in a degree college affiliated to the University of Mumbai. She has authored a book on Arthur Miller, two collection of poems, edited six anthologies on poetry, fiction and criticism (solo and joint) and two workbooks on communication. She has free-lanced for The Times of India (Mumbai Edition), for 15 years. A book of hers is a reference at the Clayton State University, Georgia, USA.


2 comments :

  1. Very interesting read with snippets of your childhood.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Reminded me of my childhood days in our ancestral house ❤

    ReplyDelete

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