When we are old and failing, it is the memories of Childhood, which can be summoned most clearly“-Dan Simmons. I wish someday I could move back in time, not to exchange anything but to feel a few things twice. Yeah, that Childhood of mine the most beautiful of all life’s season- that boundless freedom, endless imagination, the bruise from the playground, share in the food & above all the innocence waves of laughter. The simpleness of Childhood has inestimable stories of ours, our parents & grandparents. So let us look back.
My parents were the first generation, born in Independent India. The 1950s & 1960s seem like a long time, but it’s not, our parents grew up around them through the succeeding decades. It was a time when India was taking a child step into complex nationhood, so were our parents who were entering their wanderlust called Childhood. They owned the essential amenities to comfort, hardly any luxury, but that did not ruin their carefree Childhood. Significantly, they distinctly remember memories of their raising with cousins & friends, running barefoot in the sprawling garden of their grandparent’s house, climbing trees to pluck mangoes, guava, or berries, playing different games, primarily outdoors or learn to swim in a big pond, if all cousins put together, my parents were ten kids or more in the house. Woo, that’s huge.
It may sound like a story to today’s kids, growing up in high rise constructions of modern India. Nonetheless, the 50s & 60 was about Anna, do anna or paisa which exhorts chuckle out of you, when you hear your parent talk about eating ten Golgappas of an Anna. Since there were no supermarket or shopping malls, eating out was rare. It was, by and large, two samosas of a 1ana with any sweet of 4anna from local sweet cum snack shops.
Most cuisines were Muglai or Punjabi, something vaguely remembered by my dad was European food served under the named of Continental Cuisine was gluey soup with hard bread. Later few restaurants started serving Idli-Dosa known as an Udipi restaurant in cities; however, there was still no Chinese or Italian or any different cuisine. The distinct flavour that my dad remembered was of Glodspot & Coca-cola the aerated drink, even Goli soda in grape or lime flavour. Agreed! Cold beverages cannot be forgotten. But families were large, with at least three generations living together with no concept of the nuclear family, so mothers, grandmas, or aunts had the best recipes in place. So hot yum food was always available. Ah! What a pamper.
The ludicrous comparison of past & present brings fond memories, my parents remember this period fondly, probably because of the simplicity that life offered. In most of the ordinary houses, there were no air conditioners or even refrigerators, kerosene stoves or coal burners were available & taps had running water. They slept on charpoys on the terrace under the stars, & woke up with morning call of a rooster. All India Radio was the best source of entertainment for news, cricket commentary or Binaca Geetmala on radio Cyleon; as television was a luxury which few households owned. The national channel Doordarshan was broadcasting pretty much everything from News to Krishi Darshan; Hockey or Kabbadi to endless Flok dance or songs. As it was televised for a few hours, taking in the grainy black & white images would mesmerize my parents as a kid.
My parents were fond of movies, and talking about cinemas which were significant to the cities where you can go to a cinema hall & enjoy the 35mm screen, but need to stand in a long queue for a ticket. However, in small towns or hamlets, it used to be an open playground with a white cloth as a screen & a projector for screening, beautiful stories, good acting and lovely songs. These motion pictures were often about real issues faced by India at the time instead of being only about Bollywood romances. All sighed with joy when they used to see Dilip Kumar and Madhubala lip-synced to Majrooh Sultanpuri’s lyrics and Naushad’s in Mugal-e-Azam released in Aug 1960.
Most important filmy fashion was as much of a fad as it is today, notably the clothing & hairstyle. I think of singing songs like Nani Teri Morni ko more Leo Gaye or Ichak Dana Bichak Dane par Dana or Lakri ki Kathi Kathi PE Ghoda during my Antakshari game are the 60s or 70s music, which my parents grew up listening. Phew, that’s like a tradition being handed on to generation, now. Even The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin made its brand in India, thanks to Binaca Hit Parade on Radio Ceylon. And the walls of my aunt as teenager’s was covered with the cheeky face of Paul McCartney and the brooding visage of Mick Jagger. The rock bands had mushroomed all over the nation and became a part of youth culture despite the odds.
I have heard this line multiple time, that the present generation is spoilt for choices, as my parents had limited options, whether in terms of clothing or shoes, watches or even automobiles. HMT was the only watchmaker, where the wait time was a couple of months to get a watch. Same was with motors; just to models Ambassador and FIAT whose design remained unchanged over a decade. The principal mode of transportation were buses, cycle rickshaws or trams rattling down the street ringing bells. On the other hand, the only shoes available were in black & from Bata, hardly any designer clothes, only colourful ribbons or buns as hair accessories. Even To make calls was not only expensive, but the selection was limited, due to time limitation of maximum 9min & minimum 3min. You hold to book trunk call, or demand call or lightning call for emergency & wait patiently for your turn. My mom set out working with Post & Telegraph, & she had numerous stories to share.
Childhood was not all play, with play also came obedience, discipline and sincerity. Education was an integral & essential part of my parent’s Childhood, which started from home. As generation lived together, having grandparents around was benefiting, as they had all the time of the universe. If grandpa were to solve math puzzles, answer all crazy questions, recognize trees, birds, or even constellation of a star; then grandma was the best secret keeper & a great storyteller of all faraway & imaginary worlds.
In those days, books used to be the best friend of children, as going to the library was a part of the everyday routine for a school project or college notes. Even the sleepy summer afternoons were spent blissfully poring over books, fighting over film magazines or comic-like DC, Marvel, Gold Key, Manzarek or maybe a table game where everyone honed their skills at cheating at cards. The concept of peer pressure or generation gap did not exist; instead, elders & teachers lead example of being respectful, honest & truthful, learning was given to control one’s greed, temptation & anger.
If there were many pros while growing up in the first two decades of an independent India, then it had its cons too. Life was more straightforward, with less chaos and more peaceful, fewer needs & more happiness. The uniqueness of this period was the constant optimism for the future, as the spirit of Independence was infectious. It was a golden era where life was celebrated, as we progressed, the burden of living has increased to the point that it feels tiring now.