Unwinding on the Jayanti Janata Express, all the three of us obviously for three different reasons; Amma overjoyed at the thought of meeting her kith and kin at the affectionate Maratha Mandir(my beloved maternal uncle’s domain at amchi Mumbai), my brother, God knows for what and I am still in the process of deciphering his thoughts and myself, on a post annual exam traumatic stress buster in the exclusive company of the aristocratic near to one’s heart cousins!
Dad was only too glad to see the trio off for a good one and half month of freedom dedicating the non nagging time to the annual accounts closing ceremony of the office and trying out the different countries and continents on his rotis, relishing and savouring his accomplishments and Colombus like conquests!
The two and half day trip on the AC coupe was a breeze with a multitude of kids emulating spiderman, (the talk of the town in the early eighties with the animated show spiderman, spiderman, your friendly neighbourhood spiderman…)the swinging skills did beat the master webber in his own den! The other recreations including eating stuffed home made puris, playing cards, and of course sibling rivalries! Amma, in her true inimitable style made friends by the dozen and succeeded in shrinking the globe by establishing a relationship network, somewhere, the Palakkad Tambram would pull a string and strike a chord!
The coterie would be there in full strength at the VT station to give a rousing welcome (akin to our medal winners and almost on the verge of podium finishers from the Olympics) to the southies (afterall amma was the only one uprooted from the western world!). Mama, that is my uncle fondly showed off his flashing red new Maruti 800 into which all of us were squeezed and the drive to Cheddanagar was filled with fun, frolic and fervour.
The Chitrahaar on the B&W Weston brought the entire household to the carpet area along with all the chota and bada Muralis, karthiks and Subasris of the twin Ganga Jamuna enclave, jostling for space in earnest anticipation of the then super hits of Jackie dada from Hero…ding dong..oh baby sing a song and pyar karne waale kabhi darte nahin..and the teenage trimurtis (you will get to know shortly who they are) were lost in the platonic love of the 6 footer hulk next door…
The adorable grandparents, the north and south poles of a magnet, diametrically different but hit off as a pair, were a pleasing entity that added vibrancy and sparkle to the house. The typical quintessential Thatha and Paati who charmed their way into the hearts of the young and the old alike with their demeanour and attitude! The latter, as a resolute, firebrand and vociferous lady bestowed with the superior powers to admonish the former, a good humoured thick skinned man, who was absolutely insensitive to her taunts and tamashas!
The rotund, cherubic Mami, my aunt was a picture of grace and patience tolerating the adolescent teenage trio comprising of her daughter Radhika, her niece Savita and myself and the preteen pranksters, again a terrible trio of son Rajiv, nephew Rajesh and my bro Shankar(to balance the equation). She skilfully managed the accommodation in a Bombay flat and the cuisine, whipping out favourites from the kitchen with the support of her sisters in law and granny!
Grandparents along with mama and mami stayed in the ground floor of Ganga and my mom’s elder sister and family stayed in the third floor, this arrangement gave us the comfort of owning the entire apartment and alternating our boarding and lodging facility savouring the hospitality and we edged out the Marati manoos sandwiched in the second floor! They were like refugees in their own kingdom. My uncle along with mama had the incredible habit of giving nick names to all and sundry which were outright funny and humorous. Absence and distance can indeed make the hearts grow fonder and Mama pampered his pet sister with goodies and she had the first say to choose colour of the saris, I must hastily admit that he gifted all his three sisters and the nephews and nieces without any bias! I remember fondly a fluorescent green pleated skirt that he bought for me from Nepal!
He took all of us, packed like sardines to Juhu and Chowpathy, Borivili national park, gateway of India, Elephanta caves, Siddhivinayak temple, Haji Ali, the planetarium and to a host of delightful places and these picnics are etched in my brain as beautiful memories and the piece de resistance was the Bombay Bhel and ice dunked in cola (kala khatta)The foodies that we all were, we never gave a miss to the exotic restaurants, an extended table ,with the magnanimous mama heading it and footing the mammoth bill for the mouth watering thaalis with umpteen desserts and ice creams!
Radhika, Savita and myself explored all the shopping avenues especially linking road, we left no stone unturned in the search for the latest and trendy outfits with matching accessories to boot; these were promptly showed off to my buddies back home. We used to take a taxi home(taxis were damn cheap in those days) after the hectic shopping accentuated by hard bargaining and parleying.
I can never forget the Grammy nights telecast live on television and we used to sit up ogling at the galaxy of stars and watch thriller MJ, Whitney Houston, Cindy Lauper, Madonna, Abba and BoneyM time and again…I relive those priceless and precious moments by tuning into Retro hour on FM radio even today!
There was this Agarwal stores nearby and the entire jingbang walked in the hot sun after a game of cricket and hide and seek to get the famous sip up, the ice candy in different flavours sealed in a polythene pouch. We never missed out on the A1 samosas and the vada pavs that was and still is a rage, a delicacy of Bombay and Mumbai…
Amma’ eldest sister and family stayed a little far away in Sion and the meetings with the elder cousins are coming alive like flash backs for they are filled with fond and affectionate memories – reflections of the glorious past!
In the meanwhile, amma would slowly slink away to her bosom childhood friends’ house – Rajam and Baby with whom she would reminisce her glorious SIES days and the umpteen cinema shows at Maratha Mandir.
During the fag end of our vacation, appa would join us at Bombay and that brought about more pandemonium. The boisterous gang led by dad and his counterparts playing games of cards, cracking sardarji jokes and the quiz sessions literally brought the house down. On one such occasion, the havoc wrecked by “alla ponakka gang” (roughly translated as ‘how about otherwise’) resulted in the milkman’s repeated knocks and ringing of bells falling on deaf ears, the outcome – no milk supplied and when Grandma came back from the temple to find the milk bag empty, she gave a mouthful to appa for the uproarious behaviour and the since deaf ears resonated in the sonorous tunes of Aunt Agatha!
I still see the tears in my Thatha and pati’s eyes when we bid goodbye after the long camp, all of us yearning for the next annual entertainment at Maratha Mandir, the temple of love and affection.
These pleasant remembrances of the Bombay talkies make my heart pine at a excruciating time when our grandparents and one of my uncle and aunt have departed and the cousins have drifted apart physically and mentally. I dedicate this post to my maternal family for the nostalgic times at Bombay and for inculcating the value of relationship built on the foundation of love and affection!