This happened on a special Sunday morning during our recent vacation in Kolkata, India. That was when I woke up leisurely and switched on the local FM channel and heard the old Bengali folk song “Bhor Hoilo Jagato Jagilo”. The popularity of various FM channels is on the rise nowadays, as many of these channels have repositioned themselves, based on the trend and the liking of the target audience. In addition, options of multiplicity are also available. However, listening to that old song not only surprised me and made me happy, it also triggered memories of my childhood days. That was when my uncle used to tune in to the radio in the drawing room early in the morning just before 6 AM. We, the kids, would wake up to the tunes of radio station beginning its morning broadcast with “Aakashbani Kolkata”. I remember this song that I heard on radio for the first time during my childhood.

My mind went back to two-storied house I grew up in. It had a long veranda, a large courtyard and nice garden in the front side, with a number of plants, such as roses, jasmine and couple of seasonal flowers to add to its beauty. There were other trees as well, including a huge mango tree, a coconut tree and a couple of vegetables trees in backyard. A cement lawn bifurcated the front garden and added to its beauty. I remember how we walked through it, often barefooted. The sunlight that poured in through large windows brightened the bedroom as we woke up and started our morning activities.

The joint-family concept prevalent during those times provided me the opportunity to live together with lots of cousins to mingle and play with. The ladies of the house, aunties and occasionally mashi's (meaning maternal aunts), used to be active in the kitchen after having their bath early in the morning, wearing cotton saris, sindur and red bindis. The kitchen activities used to start with making breakfast for everyone in the house followed by cooking meals for lunch. The aroma, the beautiful smell from cooking delicious dishes pervaded the house, which used to make us hungry for lunch. The proverb “Baro Mase Tero Parbon” for Bengalees – meaning festivals during all twelve months of the year - was typical for our household, with many relatives and friends visiting and enjoying various delicious foods together to observe those festivals.

My mother died when I was very young, and so I missed the opportunity to know affection of a mother. But my aunt who brought me up did her very best to compensate for my mother’s absence in my life.

The men in our house would go to work every day. However, the women stayed at home and remained busy with household work chores cooking, cleaning, listening to the radio, gossiping and caring for children. The arrival of relatives, guests and friends to our house was quite common those days. There were always some guests at every meal, and no one went unfed. The ladies would eat together after serving food to everyone in the house.

Thereafter, entering into the bedroom and spreading a mat on the floor, they would lie down, resting their heads on the thin cotton pillows covered with homemade pillowcases. This was their leisure time - resting, gossiping and reading novels. Occasionally, they would go shopping together, wearing nine-yard saris (handloom and silk saris were popular) with long-sleeved blouses, and letting their thick black hair over their shoulders, with sindur and red bindi, glittering ear rings and silver toe-rings on their bend toes, wearing thin chappals. These were the most common and traditional dresses of typical Bengalee ladies or housewives in those days. Gariahat Market and New Market were the most common and desired destinations for shopping. Occasionally, we (the kids) had the opportunity to accompany the ladies, and when that happened, we considered ourselves lucky. When they went shopping, the ladies hardly missed the opportunity to see movies of their famous heroes, for which the matinee show was the most convenient and popular.

In the evening the men would begin to return home from work. An uncle or a cousin - someone - would surely bring home a box of sweets or seasonal fruits. Some of us did not have our own study tables. So, to study during the evening, we would either share a common table or sit on the mat spread on the floor. At night, the dining hall was once again a common meeting point to share togetherness with all living in the house.

There were dozens of books, mostly hardcover, of the old, graceful orange and cream Penguins. I remember how, after dinner every night, my uncle would sit up late reading — sometimes Gandhi, sometimes Sean O’Casey, sometimes some other author. I was amazed how he had managed to read all those books.

The day passed by, after slipping into night. Every morning, we used to wake up hearing the sounds of radio station starting its day's programme. Listening to the chirping of different birds in the early morning, walking about without a slipper on, rolling and playing on the ground, plucking flowers, eating food on a banana leaf, listening to the silence of the dark and watching the beautiful moon and stars through the midst of the trees ... Now I only have fleeting memories..

All these memories now sound nostalgic but that was our childhood, our upbringing full of memories of togetherness, which are missing in our today's nuclear family life, particularly for those of us living away from India.



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