NOSTALGIA


The railway tracks were right next to the building where I was sitting. The afternoon breeze would bring in snatches of the pre-recorded voice of the train announcements. The announcer was informing everyone within earshot, of the imminent arrival of the 3:17 local to VT station, on platform number one.
Every few minutes, I could hear another train pass, probably carrying another big load of people to their respective destinations … offices, colleges, movie-theatres, their homes.
There was also the clamour of metallic noises from Balwant Auto Garage, on the street below. Mr. Balwant and his army of young, grease-covered mechanics used to be busy all through the day. At any given point in time, they had half a dozen cars being repaired simultaneously, for the wealthy elite from this predominantly middle-class suburb.

Thankfully, the weather was pleasant for this time of the year, considering that it was March and this was Mumbai. The fans above me were whirring away at a leisurely pace, circulating a little cool air around the room.

There were 26 people in the room, and at least 20 of them were teenagers. And even then, being surrounded by a cacophony of sounds, there was pin-drop silence inside that room. I guess the only reason for that being that all those youngsters, including me, were facing the first ever public examination of their life – and this was the first day of it. We were all busy writing the ‘English’ language exam, of the Maharashtra State Board S.S.C Examinations.

In such a scenario, I did not expect to be using such small benches & desks, and be cramped for space. From the size of the benches & desks in this room number ‘9’, I think this classroom was most likely used by students of Class IV.

The examination-centre that I had been allocated was one of the biggest high schools in this part of the city. It was also right next to the railway lines. I was 100% certain that the first field-trip that the students from this school got, was a visit to the Station Master’s office at the neighbouring Railway Station.

The railway announcements in the background were not exactly helping me do better in my exams. Even after all that, I should say I did decently well in those exams. Atleast nothing that I can complain about now … after all, here I am, dreaming about that day long gone, sitting in an apartment. An apartment which is half way across the planet, from the city where I wrote those exams.

Having bored you all more than enough, I will stop here, for now. Wish all of my friends & readers all the very best, for the “exams” that Life keeps throwing your way.

Have Fun, Enjoy Life, Be Happy.

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Have been busy at work since a few days. So, I was mostly absent from blog-planet (except for reading a couple of posts that fellow blog-mates had put out)

MumbaiWallah (MW) had put out a post, asking for information on public libraries in India. I could not think of any such libraries in India.

Later, MW wrote a nice & informative post about “Public Libraries in India“. That was when I thought – of course, the British Council Library in Mumbai – how did I forget !!

Some time back, when I was in school and still trying to get my multiplication tables correct, one of my cousins lived with us for some time. Dave ( name changed here 🙂 ) had just moved to Mumbai, in search of a better job & a better life. Even though Dave was my cousin, he was much older than me. He lived with us until he had adjusted to the city and was able to move into an accomodation on his own.

One of the first things that he did after he got a job at an office near V.T was to become a member of the British Council Library. And then he used to bring home these wonderful books. I found them wonderful because they were neat, clean and hard-bound. They would have this tracking page stuck on the inner cover, with blue rubber-stamped dates indicating when the book was due to be returned. And, I was still very young to actually understand what was in the books, or who the authors were.
Since Dave had to travel in the local train every day to & from work, he would finish reading the books quickly. Within two or three days, he would come home with a different coloured book 🙂
I would only notice the colour change in the book’s cover, whereas he actually would have returned a book and brought a different one home that evening.

Those were my memories of a library, until a few years later, I got my own library membership. The library that I joined was a simple circulating library, opened in a small unused shop, near where I lived. It was started from the charity of a big lot of second-hand books.

And the library mainly worked during the Summer and Diwali vacations, when hordes of school & college students would drop in for quenching their thirst for Enid Blyton, Ian Fleming, Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer, Mills & Boon and even comics like Asterix, Tintin, Superman, Batman, Archies. Those vacations were days of fun – read a book within a day or two, and rush back to the ‘library’ to get started on the next one. Nothing else to worry about, nothing else to do !

Now on to something else that MW had said in the post requesting library information …
“I remember a library (or so it seemed) at the back of a municipal school near the big fish market in Chembur, Mumbai. The state of the building and the location in general did not encourage visitors”

I know exactly what she meant when she said about the location being not so encouraging to visitors 🙂     …     I don’t know if there is (was) a library behind the municipal school. But the big fish market is still there.

I had to walk past this particular ‘location’ whenever I needed to go to the Chembur Railway station. Partly due to my good luck and partly due to my love for travelling in the B.E.S.T buses, I have avoided going to Chembur station to a large extent. But when I did have to go that way, it was always an eye-opening experience.

Ok, before I proceed, would like to say this here. I am a vegetarian by preference. I do like eating my chicken and my sea-food, but I am not a connoisseur of any type of cuisine. I don’t know too much about food – I just eat whatever I get.

My only principle in eating is – I will eat whatever is readily & easily available, as long as it tastes “ok” and as long as its still not moving when brought to my table.

So, if any of you feel that in what I am writing next, I have offended your beliefs or your culture or your food – please understand that it is not so. I am just trying to explain the ‘fun’ of walking on a road where all your human senses are put to a test.

Now coming back to the Chembur Fish Market. On one side is the roadside fish market. A dozen or more vendors displaying and selling all types of fish, to people on their way home from work. Across the road – a poultry shop selling eggs & chicken. And all these people conveniently dump all their waste right there on the side – a rotting, stinking heap. If anyone with a blocked & stuffy nose was to walk that way, he would have his sense of smell back to normal even before you could say the words “Vicks Vaporub” !! 

Further up this road, there would be other not-so-pleasant sights & smells (especially in the mornings !) which I will talk about some other day.

That is enough said about stinking garbage near fish markets. Let me clean up this mess.

Talking about libraries & fish – the next book I take from the library will be “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome. I still remember a story from that book, which I studied in school, in my English class. It was a hilarious account of a trout on display at an Inn and how everyone there was bragging about how they were the ones who had caught it.

That particular afternoon, I was busy trying to understand the classification of animals – their Class, their Phylum etc. I just needed to hang on to this information for another 20 hours. The next day at the same time, I would have finished the last exam of my H.S.C Examinations (also called Pre-Degree or Plus-2 in Kerala, and probably many other names across India). After that, it would be pure, unadulterated freedom. All this only till the exam results come out, following which hell was sure to break lose at home.

I sat at my table, attempting to digest the differences between animals of Phylum Annelida & Phylum Arthropoda, when the ringing of the phone woke me from my crustacean dreams. It was Bhanu uncle, who worked with a company in Andheri. He asked me whether I had heard of it already.

Heard of what ?”
You haven’t heard of it then ! They say that bombs have gone off at three places in the city, including at the Bombay Stock Exchange
What! Oh

Now, this was a time when the satelite TV boom had just started in India. The boom had begun with CNN & its almost-live coverage of the war then going on in Iraq. So, back then, there weren’t three dozen Indian news channels spurting out the same news every hour in ten different languages. The only places to get live news about anything in India were still Doordarshan & All India Radio.

I turned on the TV. And sure, something was happening in the city. There was news trickling in, of various stories & rumours – about bomb blasts in various parts of Bombay (as it was called then)

I quickly called Brijesh, my class-mate & study-mate. He said he was about to call me. His father had called him with this news. His father worked in a building right next to the Air-India building at Nariman Point. Sitting in his office, Brijesh’s father had ‘felt’ the blast that had happened in the Air-India tower’s basement garage. The glass on their building had vibrated, and some panes had cracked.

By evening it had emerged that around 13 bombs had exploded in the city, all within a span of two hours. Scores of people dead, property worth millions damaged. And the whole city in a state of shock.

All that happened exactly 14 years ago, on this very date – the 12th of March.

Even after 14 years, that ‘Black Friday’ has left its scar on thousands of people. Scars that are not just physical, but a lot many mental scars too. So many sons, daughters, wives, husbands, siblings, parents lost that day. So many dreams blown away in a few seconds, by the dirty deeds of a handful of terrorists.

And, even after all these years, the judicial proceedings against the accused are still going on. Nobody has been punished, while the main perpetrators have evaded the arm of the law & long ago flown off to safety.

Cricinfo.com is coming out with a series about the all-time Top 20 All-rounders in the game of Cricket. And there are 2 Indians in that list – Kapil Dev (of course, everyone expects him to be in that list) & Ravi Shastri !

Initially, it did come as a surprise – Ravi Shastri, among the all time 20 all-rounders (???)
After all, at one time, Ravi Shastri was ‘booed’ by the crowd so much for his slow batting. In fact I think once he was booed at the stadium, after he had already retired from the game and was only present in his role of a commentator !

But then, one has to agree, he has given a lot to Indian cricket, as a player – as an all-rounder.  He is at the centre of one of my earliest memories of a grand victory for the Indian cricket team, from my school days —

That day, long long ago, everyone of us at home had woken up at an unearthly hour to watch the live telecast of “World Championship” final, from the grand MCG, in Australia. And even today, I feel that nobody covers a cricket match as good as the “Channel 9” guys from Down Under – on many ocassions, they have made me sit & watch even when India was not playing !

I remember how, after India won the final, Ravi Shastri was awarded the “Champion of Champions” and an AUDI car. Thanks to my poor knowledge of cars and car-manufacturers then, that was the first time I had even heard of a car called “Audi”.
I vividly recall all the Indian players bundling into the shiny new car, and some players even climbing on the outside –  for a victory lap of the stadium.

In those days, unlike now, it was not very common for the Man-of-the-Match or a Player-of-the-Series to get a Car or a Bike as a prize. It was all the more exciting to watch an Indian get an AUDI — at a time when the only cars you saw on Indian roads were Premier-Padminis & a few Ambassadors.

I recollect vaguely that Sadanand Vishwanath was the Indian wicket-keeper on that tour, and that the present day commentator Laxman Sivaramakrishnan was a permanent member of the Indian team then. 

Wow, those wonderful memories ! I need to call & ask for a sports channel, one which will telecast live cricket matches — the World Cup is just round the corner.

P.S : Need I add here that Ravi Shastri was another great Mumbai-kar !! 🙂

He stood there, at the end of the small garden. He was gazing in my direction, standing still. I also stood there almost frozen … frozen on seeing him and almost frozen by the bitter cold on this winter morning. And when I took a small step backward, he darted off. He raced through the garden, over the humble fence and was into the neighbour’s backyard … all in a matter of seconds.

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It was the start of another cold December day. Half the people at the client’s office were on vacation. Just a few blokes like me who were not going anywhere far off for the Christmas holidays. I had just finished breakfast at the small family-run hotel where I was staying, and stepped out to be on my way to work.

And then seeing this squirrel in the garden brought back so many memories of the years past.
It took me to my school years, which was the last time I had seen squirrels at such close range — during summer vacation trips to my native place .. “The Summer of 79 … ~~ those were the best days of my life~” 🙂

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It used to start with the wonderful 2 & 1/2 day journey all the way down south, courtesy Indian Railways. Like they say, there is as much fun in the journey as there is after reaching the destination … snacks, card-games & board-games, making new (but temporary) friends on the train, the sibling-fights to sit at the window seat

After reaching the ancestral family home, it was bliss. The most peaceful, happy, lazy days … time spent doing nothing, but still doing so much & enjoying. And all this getting a break from the dirt, heat and fast life back in the big, buzzing city.

Waking up in the morning at your own will … to the beautiful sounds of so many different birds. (All right … it was not exactly waking at your own will … all the kids were to wake up before the maid on the early morning shift came to clean all the rooms. And, I have heard bird sounds in the city too … but that was mostly only crows fighting)
To see all the squirrels darting across the courtyard, over trees. And occasionally on very early mornings, we even saw foxes, from the nearby hills, running across the “campus” around the house. This ‘campus’ was a mini-forest, thanks to the dense foliage and hundreds of trees.
The daily routine included a bath at the small pond, which was on-campus 🙂 and wonderful breakfast in the company of so many cousins (of all sizes & ages).

After that, we kids had options to choose from, as to how to use your time till lunch …
1. Inspecting the Mango trees to see if there were any ones fit to eat — Ripe ones would be eaten straight away. The green, raw ones would be handed over to one of the elders, along with a knife. These would be cut into tiny pieces. Meanwhile, someone would have already asked the kitchen-help servant to get a mixture of roasted chillies, salt & a few drops of oil. Then just dip the raw mango pieces in this “sauce” and enjoy !

2. Play cricket in the big courtyard — And play until some budding Kapil Dev hit a six into the bushes. In that case, search for the ball for a few minutes, admit that its lost and now go about doing option (1.)

3. Playing hide-and-seek inside the house — Given the size of the house, the numerous rooms on two levels, and the lack of proper lighting in some of the rarely used rooms, the first person who has to catch the others would take a pretty long time to find everyone. And by then, it would have been decided by a majority vote to change the game to something else.

4. One of the days (just once, in that whole month) was kept aside for an “All Cousins Hike” to one of the 3-4 hills nearby — Everyone gather whatever they can — mangoes, biscuits, fried-snacks, water-bottles — and walk/run to the top of the hill, enjoy the splendid view from the top, enjoy the snacks and walk back down.
(In those days, there were no digital cameras – to be able to click away all possible 237 views from the top. And children were not given the other cameras – too risky)

All of these activities had to strictly culminate by the lunch hour of 12 Noon. And obviously, after lunch, everyone just had to find his/her own favourite place for the pleasure of an afternoon-siesta.

By now, the few readers, who came here, have all gone off to sleep reading this long post.
And it is also time for my privileged afternoon-nap. Signing out today … but then … ” I’ll be backk … Hasta La Vista, Baby “