There is a kind of magic in the Bangla word 'mamabari' (the house of maternal grandparents). For me they conjure up images of a bygone era, filled with fun and food.
Every year during the summer holidays, I took the train from wherever I stayed to Calcutta (which was the penance part), and then from there, another overnight train took me to my 'mamabari' in Patna.
As the train slowly rumbled towards Patna Junction, I would try hard to screen the platform for the familiar figure of either one of my three mamas(maternal uncles). Being the eldest grandchild and for quite a long time, the sole grandchild of that family, I was a prized possession. Those were days of transistors and cricket commentary, and I would soon spot my mama standing with a transistor to the ear, looking at the compartment numbers passing by. Travel was by ordinary sleeper class, and hence the open window would glee fully carry my shout to him and everybody else on the platform. "Mama moni.. we are here, come on we are here, come fast, get us.."
My excitement could barely be with held as my mama walked in to the compartment and took me up in his lap, while the coolie handled the luggage and my mom asked after the well being of my grandparents. My days of paradise always thus began. Days where I was to rule, where everything would revolve around me. For every child such a place of pure indulgence is a must and I was extremely lucky to have it.
The house with its courtyard and gardens, carefully nurtured by my dadu(Grandfather), the guava tree that saw me on its branches for many an idyllic afternoon, the kitchen cabinet with its net door, hoards of pickles and chutneys, specially made by Didima(Grandma), the beds that I jumped on, the cats that I befriended , were all symbols of love and being wanted. That house and everybody there made me come alive with joy each summer holiday.
Mornings. I would sit in front of my dadu's bicycle and go shopping for the days fish and vegetables. It felt great to be asked, "what fish would you like to have for lunch today?" On return from the market, I would sit on Dadu's lap and would have a breakfast of luchi torkari(puris/Indian bread and sabji/vegetable) followed by kalojaam(Gulabjamun/Indian sweet). Pure bliss. More so because mom was always busy with my mashis(maternal aunts)and hence she did not scrutinize my plate at any of the meal times. Didima always came with a spoonful of sugar by the time I had reached my last luchi, the timing was always right, I wonder now how she managed?
Till the time for my bath I was free to do as I please. Most days I would play with my youngest mama who was still in high school then. Games included carrom, ludo, marbles and scrabble. This was followed by Didima coming to get me for my bath. The most exciting part of the day - as there was not just one but a series of bathrooms and all outside the main house. The bathrooms and the toilets stood in a line at the backyard of the house. Sitting on a pidi(a flat low stool), in the sun, I would be rubbed with oil and my hair would be brushed off its tangles. This time of the day, when I had my Didima to me was a precious time. I can still see her like she was then. So beautiful in her white and red bordered saree, her head always covered, her eyes always full of love and the the enchanting smell of pan and zarda that surrounded her. She always had a story on her lips.
The Lunch was always a lavish affair. I along with my Dadu and my three mamas sat at the dining table in the kitchen. I still remember in every detail, how the food was served. Big shining plates would be laid in front of us, with a perfect mound of rice very neatly placed. There would be a little ghee and always a bit of crunchy 'neem begun'( a bitter appetizer). This was followed by a dal and a bhaja(some vegetable, usually poatato, or bringal deep fried), and then the torkari(vegetable cooked in a gravy) and the maach(fish), ending with chatni(chutney) and doi(youghurt). Those were days when nobody seemed concerned about heart problems and weight gain. The amount of physical activity that was done ensured a fit and healthy body.
An image that I cherish even today, is that of sleeping with my Didima on her four poster bed, under a wheezing ceiling fan. She, telling me mythological stories and her fingers caressing my hair and soothing me to a peaceful sleep. The days, now are so fraught with unnecessary tensions and complexities that most nights I lie awake for no particular reason, feeling tired and drained and yet devoid of slumber, it is at such times, that I go to my childhood days on that bed with my Didima, and the memory of that simple room, so full of warmth and love, lulls me to sleep.
The house that once was so full of fun and joy, has over the years lost its occupants one by one to the greater world. My mamas are now settled in different cities in and outside India, with grown up kids of their own. My mashis, likewise have gone away with their husbands. Dadu has long back left us on his solitary journey. The only person who remains as the custodian of my childhood paradise is my Didima. She is bent with age and can hardly see properly, but the unmistakable beauty and love in those eyes still bring a sense of peace to me like nothing else can.
We all need a disciplined upbringing to fit in society, But the indulgence of a mamabari is what makes us each a king!!