I had a very eventful childhood, the vivid memories of places far and wide that I have lived in have not yet banished from my mind.
I was born in Dhanbad, earlier a part of Bihar, but now in Jharkhand. The closest reference to the city were the coals mines depicted in movies Kala Patthar & Gangs of Wasseypur. When I look back, I feel blessed because my life was predictable and simple; I didn’t have to go to a fortuneteller.
Starting with education, I had two choices of schools- missionary or convent school and Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV). Since my father changed city every three years, Kendriya Vidyalaya was a convenient option. The CBSE board was standard across the country and had elaborate syllabus. However, during my early years, I went to convent schools such as St. Joseph’s in Allahabad, Bishop Conrad in Bareilly & Good Shepherd School in Siliguri. In those days, there was an emphasis on learning and conversing in English and convent schools were visibly better at making students more proficient in the colonial language. Such grounding helped me in making the transition to Kendriya Vidyalaya. I had best of both worlds during my school days. Selecting a school was never a problem, making new friends every 3 years was. Unlike my wife, I don’t have friends that I have grown up with.
My summer breaks were in Patna, where both of my grandparents lived. My brother and I generously shared the two month holidays with our cousins, many of whom didn’t have the pleasure of moving across the cities. As far as I remember, the city remained largely the same, only at times road became better or the traffic became worse. We had the same set of shops to buy articles from, same store to pick up books, same place we would visit to eat at least once once during our 2 month holiday. However our experiences differed in every visit. As we grew up, tried different activities. I have fond memory of listening to Pink Floyd on the ghat of Ganga river near the university and having Golden Ice Cream Orange bar after our visit to Patna Zoo.
The only option available for us was to travel by train. We had to change two trains, when we were in Siliguri, a halt of almost 8 hours. My father would roll out a type of luggage called Holdall, which had a soft mattress and a pillow. It was offered only to my mother. In those days we would use the station floor to roll out Holdall to take rest, while my father watched out for the train. The train tickets was to be purchased in advance, since many people traveled through trains. Going to Patna was filled with excitement, while coming back was sad. I loved meeting my grandparents and enjoyed time with the cousins. In fact for a very long time, I didn’t know the definition of cousins, I always thought we belonged a one big large family of brothers and sisters.
Though I didn’t realise how much we relished food, however the flavor is still fresh in my mind. Both my grandparents had very distinct flavors. My Dadaji, paternal grandparents were larger family, 3 sons and 3 daughters. The food preparation had to reflect the tastes of each and during holidays, the grandsons and grand daughters. The gathering on the table were in shifts, first for our parents and then for the rest of us. Lunch was mostly dal, rice, vegetables and cut onions. We eagerly awaited the day mutton was made, which was mostly Sunday, because it took a long time to cook. My grand mother used garam masala and ghee very liberally. Night was roti and vegetables. The big gathering on the table was filled with discussions, while we played in the courtyard outside.
My Nanaji, maternal side grandparents had smaller family and therefore were more experimental with food. The lunch had an elaborate spread of chutney, mashed potatoes, papad, tilori (made of urad dal), vegetable, fries, and dal. We ate rotis first followed by rice. Saturdays were special, because my Nani (grandmother) made Khichadi, a preparation where rice and dal with spices is cooked together. Evening snacks was another delight. We were offered a range of snacks such as fried potatoes, chops, chana etc. Here too we ate mostly at home. Our Nanaji always insisted to eat with his grand children.
We did all this religiously every day of our holiday, until we visited one of our cousins, where the food taste would change, but the offering would remain same.
My father was in a transferable job, which was rare in those days. Government job was preferable to private, since stability, perks and retirement benefits compared to private was better. The epitome of success was getting through an engineering examination or Indian civil services exam (read as IAS). A large number of my cousins were rank holders in civil services exam and now advise the government on how to better run the country. Fortunately liberalization opened new avenues and I never took any government service exam.
If I reflect on my lives today, I have plenty of choice. With the advent of technology and internet, I have the information that I need to find out solution for my need. Sometimes the most difficult decision is make is to which restaurant to go to. Or which hotel to take while on a holiday, which earlier was provided by a travel agent, which my father knew of. Technology and internet have given us scale and right to information, but have they made our lives more easy?
Do choices restrict us or liberate us? Are we more happier with choices or without it?
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