This used to be my playground…
Thanks to Google Earth, which now has pretty high-resolution images of Indian cities, I have been indulging in a bit of nostalgia today: looking at a bird’s-eye view of the place where I spent the majority of my growing years. Due to my dad’s constant job transfers, growing up I spent time in various Indian cities and even a brief period outside the country – so we never had a fixed home so as to say. But if there is any place in the world I can call my roots, it is this area in the southern part of Kolkata.
(For a larger sized image with more clarity go here)
(Fair Warning – the rest of the entry might sound totally alien to non-Kolkatans – and the post is soaking in sappy memories that might not really interest anyone else)
The region roughly between Rash Behari Avenue in the north (the wide road on top of the map) and Southern Avenue (now called Hemanta Mukherjee Sarani ?) and the Lake in the south (just outside the map on the bottom); Gariahat Road all the way from the Rash Behari crossing to Gol Park (just outside the map on the bottom right corner) on the east and Dehsapriya Park on the west – this area, for many years, used to be my regular haunt.
( Actually, I should also add the Ballygunge area slightly to the north-east of this map, as I attended a directionally named famous (notorious ?) school in that area. )
So much memory lies scattered through those streets and by-lanes. ‘Home 1‘ is where we moved in (having lived in Lucknow till then) when I just a wee little pre-school kid. In fact, I started my kindergarden schooling from there and lived in that house all the way till middle school. Most of my earliest conscious memories are of this place. We had within the limits of the house compound, a humongous area for us to play in (actually when I revisited as an adult, I was stuck by how small it looked – but at the time it was our Eden Gardens). The area was half cemented and half grassy – so that we could play cricket (of various field sizes depending on number of people present), football, badminton (with a court properly painted, lights installed and all) or simply run around like crazy (we were kids). The first friendships of my life were of course stuck there – the large play area was a magnet for the kids in the locality. And then there was this guy S, lived in the upstairs apartment – he was some 5-6 years older than me – but turned out to be my best friend, philosopher, guide, mentor, punching bag etc – filling in the role of an older brother I did not have.
Later on, after an interlude of 4-5 years spent elsewhere, we moved to ‘Home 2‘. The majority of my adolescent and teenage years was spent there. Old friends were still there – a few new ones made. We were a little grown up by then and the pangs of puberty were affecting us all. Still, sports remained our main passion – the action had shifted to Vivekananda Park (marked on the map), where we would seasonally play cricket or soccer. Monumentous battles were fought out on that field of play (especially in cricket), records kept that no one outside our circle would really bother about, heated arguements indulged in over dismissals – especially run-outs, favorite players’ styles emulated and so on.
‘Jyotibabur Bari‘ on the map refers to the residence of the erstwhile Chief Minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu. When I was a kid – he actually used to live in that house. It was a landmark in the area (along with Kadambari and Punjabi Stores – clothing shops – located up the street) for providing directions. If anyone got lost, all they had to do was ask for Jyotibabur bari to be back on track. Additionally, small localities in Kolkata were like a village or town onto itself – most people knew each other. All you had to do was mention the surname and profession e.g. Ghosh-daktar-er bari or Mr. Das, the boro engineer (Dr. Ghosh’s house or Mr Das, the big-shot engineer) and you would be shown the right house.
And then there is so much more…..a whole stream of consiousness…..egg-rolls at MyClub and Campari, dosas at Southclub, phuchkas from this guy at the corner of Keyatala Road near the Ballygunge Girls school; playing cricket on the footpath alongside Keyatala; buying new school books from Chaitanya Library (a book shop in spite of the name), browsing old fiction among tattered books on the footpaths near Gol Park (I found my first Asimov there); accompanying my grandmom to the Ramkrishna Mission, or the dakat-Kali-bari opposite the Mother Diary outlet, early-morning/late-evening walk with grandparents on the Lake – later a hangout spot with friends; buying cards for friends’ birthdays and that special someone from Archies Gallery; walking aimlessly with the special someone; shopping for fish and veggies in Gariahat Market with my father (a very different experience from the sanitized environment of the supermarkets I frequent now); forcefully led by mom during her window-shopping on the streets of Gariahat and getting crushed in the swarming humanity that packed itself between the brick and mortar stores on one side and the temporary hawkers on the other; the ringing of the tram bells and the metallic grinding noise as they lumbered through the raised track on RB Avenue…….
Oh well – those were the good times – when much fun happened – a few heartbreaks now and then – but mostly fun.