Memories of life in Manas (Part 1)
I guess I will be going on a long, sentimental journey.
My Aita (grandmother)
This is one of my all-time favourite photographs, although I have no memories of it. I am being carried here by my grandmother (now expired), who was and will remain the person I loved the most. She must have treated all her 16 grandchildren equally and yet made me feel so special. I still remember her small kitchen, within a larger block of kitchen, where she created magical dishes and let me sample them surreptitiously. I remember waking up early to study and she would sit by me while the whole household slept. She would come and stay with us in Manas sometimes and the room she occupied in our bungalow came to be known as ‘Aitar room’ (grandmother’s room) even after she left. My biggest regret in life is that she never lived to see me with a job, married and with my child. Aita expired when I was just a year away from my job. She always wanted me to earn well.
The others in the picture are (L-R) my mom, my Mumbai aunt (next to Aita and me) about whom I have written so many times, my cousins with whom I share a very close bond, and my youngest uncle (my dad’s brother). This was clicked in front of the Inspection Bungalow at Mothanguri, Manas.
Our Manas home
This is the bungalow where we spent our childhood in Manas. It was a wooden affair and stood on stilts. The wall skirting deceptively makes it look double storied. Deta had built two ornamental ponds in the garden. One had lilies while the other had lotus. I remember looking out every day for a blue whistling thrush who would visit the lily pond to take bath. A pair of barn owls had taken up accommodation in the space between the ceiling and the tin roofs and would scare me with their heavy footsteps (dhoop dhoop dhoop). Finally, Deta got fed up with my constant bawling and got rid of them.
The kitchen was located on the ground and wooden stairs led to it. I hardly used the stairs as I used to slide down the railings. I remember Ma cooking on wood-fired stoves (chulha) along with the domestic help, and the food would then be brought up to the dining table upstairs. Most of our food was home grown in a large plot behind the kitchen.
Oh and the two white dots that you see in the picture? That’s my sister and me. Deta just used us as props in the picture.
My Friend T
That’s me, my sis and T, the only friend we had in Manas, although he lived in Barpeta Road town. He had an enviable collection of cars, mostly foreign ones. Whenever we visited T at his home, he would take out his cars and we would play ‘car racing’. But he had decided on a hierarchy – the best cars would be his, the ones a little older were mine and the chipped ones with broken wheels would be my sis’s. Once, while playing hide-n-seek, he told me that he knew a great place to hide. That was a smelly poultry farm and I remember holding my breath while chickens clucked around us angrily.
I recall another incident which had taken place in the Inspection Bungalow in Mothanguri. The beds and pillows there were very soft and we used them for pillow fights. Suddenly, a bright idea struck T. “What if we hid your sis and nobody could ever find her?” That seemed brilliant and we asked her to lie down on the bed and dumped all the pillows over her and spread a bed sheet over the pillows. After some time Maami (T’s mom) entered our room and we started off with “Have you seen Sis? She has disappeared!” Maami was unperturbed at first but our repeated queries made her a bit suspicious.
“Where is she?” She asked T sternly.
“She is not here,” T replied earnestly. “She is not even under the pillows there.”
With a cry, Maami had flung away the bed sheet and the pillows covering my sis. She was fast asleep.
We lost touch with T when he left Manas. The last time I met him was when he had come down for a few hours to our home in Dehra Dun in 1991. Both of us were of the same height when we had parted in 1988, but he had grown by leaps and bounds in the intermediate period. He was shocked to see me still so short. The last time I had heard of him was some 5 years back and that he had become a lanky guy of 6.2 feet.
To be continued…