Ten years a home

Duliajan is also known as the Oil Town of Assam. Digboi, the place where the Britishers dug the first oil well in the country is situated just 80 kilometres away. Oil India Limited found oil fields in Duliajan and established a modern0town with quarters and various other amenities for their employees. I was born in a hospital which had the words Oil India in it. C-Type, our first quarter was a cramped 2-BHK house which was excruciatingly hot during summers, owing to the asbestos roofs above. It was the house where I watched Teletubbies and Kaun Banega Crorepati as a toddler for the first time while my father struggled with the TV antenna outside to get a good signal. Cable hadn’t arrived till then. It was also the house which housed our vomit yellow FIAT Padmini in the cane-walled garage while the red Hero Honda gleamed beside it. Most importantly, it was the house whose walls were abused with crayons by yours truly in such a disgusting way that the occupants after us were traumatised.

 

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Somewhere in Duliajan. Credits: http://dada.theblogbowl.in/2012/11/the-badminton-chronicles.html

 

I was a particularly shy kid, as my parents tell me. Babu Dada was my favourite relative. His mother used to call me out from the back of their gate in the evenings while I stood behind our gate looking like some lost puppy, drooling. Sometimes she opened the gate and advanced to pick me up and that was when I ran inside. They lived opposite to our house. Babu Dada was a teenager at that time and he had a lot of good toys, especially that green truck which was my favourite among the lot. He gave me that truck when we left C-Type as a parting gift. I was ecstatic. I attended a play school for some time before going to Tiny Tots for kindergarten. My father used to haul me up on the petrol tank of our Hero Honda and drop me till the school, which was actually a house. On a hot summer day, the tank used to burn my bum but I seldom paid any attention to it. A few passers-by giggled as they saw me sitting awkwardly on the tank and not on the back seat. I was too young to sit back there without falling off. When my father napped in the afternoons, I used to go near the bike and twist its accelerator while making bike noises. I could never reach the seat. One foot rested on the ground while the other used to stay at the footrest. There is a picture of me doing that when one day my father saw me and got very fascinated. We had a Yashica back then and father used to take a lot of pictures with it.

Outside our quarters, we had a small garden in which big, yellow dahlias bloomed during spring. My mother was fond of gardening and there was space to do all that. We also had a few jasmine plants and chrysanthemums. Then one day, there was a storm. We had been reading the papers that a cyclone was imminent and we were terrified. Father was out of Duliajan for some reason and my mom and sister were even more worried as to what was going to happen. None of us even knew what a cyclonic phenomenon was. There were high-speed winds that day and it rained for hours. We stayed inside and I think my mother was praying now and then, she is immensely scared of thunder and lightning. The cyclone didn’t blow us all away but it decimated the garden outside. It was pitiful to look at all the dismantled flowers which my mother painstakingly grew. She was upset. I had experienced a cyclone for the first time and survived through it.

Father got a promotion and we had to leave C-Type by the time I enrolled into a nursery. We moved to the quarters named DD (pronounced Double D) which were a few kilometres away. DD was resided by people who belonged to the ‘executive classes. We got free gas, free electricity, free water, a maid, and a small patch of a garden, a large 2-BHK house which had a terrace which made the house hot yet again and three families as immediate neighbours in the block. Parul Didi was our maid and she used to take me to Tiny Tots. She was from Andhra Pradesh but she had lived in Duliajan for many years and had learnt Assamese. She used to bathe me, feed me and tolerate all my not-gonna-go-to-school tantrums early in the morning while my mom shouted in the background; I hated school from the very beginning. I walked with her to Tiny Tots for three years. She introduced my mom to idli and even got a cooker from her native place and taught her the process of using it. Back then, my mother was one experimental cook. We got a microwave oven and I was fixated in just opening and closing the damned door of it. It was probably the best invention I had seen till then. Mom even made dhoklas in that oven.

We lived on the first floor and DD-39 had a balcony too. Overlooking the balcony was a badly maintained road and across that was a high concrete wall with barbed wires on top. Beyond the wall lay a stretch of tea plantations which extended all the way to the horizon. Sometimes we saw women and kids plucking tea leaves and they waved at us when we stood in the balcony. I waved back at them but my mother was a bit reluctant to do that for some reason. There was a road on the horizon which went to this place called Tinsukia and the vehicles plying looked like fireflies at night with their headlights. My mother got a lot of potted plants and decorated the balcony to match those of our neighbours. Our neighbours were nice people but I never had the kind of toys their children had. They had Beyblades and Hot Wheels sets while I was only permitted to have a small blue Maruti Zen and a yellow Tata Sumo. Sometimes I felt that gross injustice was done to me but I seldom protested in front of my parents. There was this one incident in Oil Market. Everything in Duliajan had Oil in it, even the market. So, Oil Market was this enclosed bazaar that we frequented. There was a shop named Pick-Me which we crossed on our way to other shops. It had a glass-paned counter and behind that were chocolates. There was one big blue pack of Dairy Milk which I will never forget; it is perhaps the biggest Dairy Milk I have ever seen. I don’t remember how many times I begged my mother to buy me that, but she never did. One time, I got so hysterical that the shopkeepers inside looked surprised as to what was happening outside. My mom, on the other hand, did not budge.

Our neighbours included our family to the executive life by taking us to Zaloni Club. The place was a hangout place for many of the people in our colony and others. It had a movie theatre which was also an auditorium, a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, a bar, a restaurant, a canteen, open space with a stage for events that happened, a gym, a place for aerobics, a venue for table tennis, a small cricket pitch and a lot of rooms behind which I don’t know what lay. None of us had seen a place like this and we were surprised by the openness of culture over there. Kids were roaming around in shorts, speaking fluent English because they were from DPS (I was in KV and there was a rivalry with them) while their mothers walked around in high heels with short hair and smeared themselves with red lipstick. All the kids in my neighbourhood did some kind of coaching in Zaloni Club, some did tennis, others did squash or swimming or TT. Naturally, my parents expected me to do something as well. My father joined the gym and found his long lost love for swimming and so did my sister. Mom joined aerobics and gym for a short time as well. Everyone lived a very healthy, active lifestyle. I tried swimming but failed miserably due to hydrophobia and I screamed and wailed in the swimming pool and made life hell for my father. “I am not taking this good-for-nothing back there again”, he told my mom one day. I enrolled for TT instead because tennis was beyond my physical capabilities. I was the only noobie in the TT department and the coach ignored me because he already had some ten kids who were playing quite well and deserved more attention. I learnt some of the basics but failed to catch the attention of the coach. My first time of watching a movie in the theatre happened here as well. It was The Polar Express which was screened as part of Club Week, a week long fiesta involving a lot of food, games, competitions and other upper-class stuff like flower shows and all. Most of my friends in the neighbourhood went there while I was forbidden to do so. Kids were allowed to buy ice cream by just signing a coupon and writing their parents’ name. They didn’t have to pay money because it got deducted automatically from the parents’ bank account. I was strictly forbidden to do this as well.

In the Club Week of the year 2004, I decided to take part in a children marathon race. It started from Zaloni Club went through the DX quarters, took a U-Turn, beside the Golf Course and back to the starting point. It was a beautiful stretch, shady with trees and shrubs along the side of the road. There was a kid who lived in a couple of blocks from us named Riki. Now, the news was floating that Riki had been practising for the event with his father in the Golf Course every evening. Everyone in the neighbourhood was sure that he will bag the first prize. I didn’t do any practising but my father gave me a couple of tips. Start slow, keep your stamina for the final 400 meters, let everyone pass you first but they would eventually die out, regulate your breathing and do not open your mouth at any cost. I did the same, I was in the third position for quite a long time and was content with that. The organisers gave everyone Center Fresh before the race. That’s when I got greedy. I stopped and my fingers went into the pocket to get my chewing gum. I looked back and saw a few kids but they were far. I forgot the last rule my father said and ate the gum and started running. Naturally, I inhaled from my mouth and that’s when my lungs got tired and the lactic acid crept in. There was a shooting pain and I lost my speed. There was still around 300 meters to cover and my breath was gone. I saw a kid run past me and then another until some four kids crossed me. Ricky was in the first place as expected and he won. I sipped the glucose which was given after the race dejectedly, cursing myself. Back home, I told my parents what happened and they face-palmed themselves on my stupidity.

Duliajan was one terrific place. After father got a transfer and we shifted to Tezpur, I and my sister got a tremendous culture shock. We had to leave our executive lives behind and move to a place which was ordinary and mundane, didn’t have clubs or swimming pools or round-the-day electricity. It took me around six months to assimilate with the new place but I missed Duliajan a lot. Many years down the line, I occasionally gave a thought as to how life would have been like if I grew up in Duliajan as a teenager. It would have been exciting and active and fun-filled maybe. But in some ways, I was also glad that I was able to grow up in a much humbler setting than Duliajan, amidst the common folk. I left Duliajan in 2005 and haven’t seen it ever since. From what I have heard, things are pretty much the same. There are still Club Weeks and other stuff which happen every year. Many of the kids I knew played with are doing different things in different places. Duliajan was my hometown for nine years but it gave me moments worth writing for.

 

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This doesn’t happen often

Yesterday evening brought a strange feeling within me. I had just woken up from my afternoon slumber to remember that we didn’t have any food for the next day. That meant going out again and buying more junk to have a bowl of breakfast. The room was dark because it was almost 6.30PM and my roommate hadn’t bothered to switch the light on. The fan was whirring on top of us but that didn’t make much of a difference because I felt the stickiness on my body as I tossed and turned. The room was warm and the windows were shut. The door was ajar. I tried to get hold of my phone to check if I had any notifications. I had been waiting for an email to arrive but for the time being all I got was some SMS from BOX8, asking me to use my coupon.

I exhaled and the reminder to buy breakfast came back to prick. Typical breakfast for me when there is no college mainly comprises of one thing – instant noodles. It is absolute junk and highly unhealthy but it is cheap and it is food. The logic makes no sense whatsoever but it is breakfast, although it fails to qualify as one. I craned my neck to look over at my roommate. His face was illuminated by the light pinkish screen light from the laptop. He was living elsewhere, as usual. I turned back and stared at the ceiling. For the first time in quite some time I wanted to go home. Just throw everything and go home. I was tired of going through the whole cycle of buying Wai Wai everyday and filling myself with junk, whether it was in the canteen or the spiced up Biriyani. It all seemed unnecessary for me to go through all of this. For a split second I wondered if I should book a ticket and head home in May. Screw the internship and everything else; sometimes home food is all that matters. This was happening after a long time as I do not feel homesick every now and then. Perhaps, it was because life wasn’t hectic for a few days now. The mind wasn’t preoccupied with things to do and so it was occupying itself with things like this, which you thought about only when you’re staring at the ceiling without the lights.

As I felt my stomach grumbling, the thoughts shifted away and realization dawned upon me. I had to get food and that meant I had to go out and feed myself some junk, obviously. I decided to think practically, like we are always taught, and dismiss everything by repeating to myself that this is all part of the struggle. That, skipping a visit to home for a month will be fruitful in the long run, and that sometimes you have to just eat Wai Wai for days on end because we all compromise on things and prioritise accordingly. I decided to not think about it again and felt that getting some fresh air would help. I got up, dressed and went out to get some breakfast for the next day.

Mother called after an hour but everything was soon forgotten by then.

Family anecdotes (Pt. I)

I feel that I should write about my paternal grandmother. She is around 72 years old. Both me and my sister aren’t emotionally attached to her in any way. She is not like the grandmother that you hear stories about from your classmates. I somehow refuse to believe that she was emotionally connected to her children, to say the least. She is one of the most complex characters I have ever encountered within my family, a person who is undecipherable. Whenever we used to go to Jorhat, where our grandparents used to live, we rarely used to spend time with her. My grandfather was a jolly and cheerful person while she was always a hazy being who managed her time between the kitchen, doing chores and looking after the cows with whom she used to talk a lot. Human interaction was somewhat a rarity for her. Somehow, I feel that the cows understood her as well. She used to milk them and take care of their food. We never heard any stories from her nor any lullabies. She was a lady who always had a serious look on her face as she passed her days, rarely smiled or looked amused by anything. She was always old, as long as I can remember. She rarely went out of her house to go anywhere until and unless it was absolutely necessary.  She is a woman who never mingled with anyone in particular. I once asked my mother if she ever had any friends in her life and to my utter surprise she said yes. She told me of the time when she had a friend who was the polar opposite to her, who used to talk a lot with everyone while my grandmother used to stay quiet most of the time. It is a mystery to me as to how they got along with each other but I guess the friendship didn’t last long because we don’t know that friend’s whereabouts and nor has my grandma mentioned anything about her. This wasn’t surprising to me. My mom got to know this story from my father apparently.

My grandmother was superstitious and believed in magic and voodoo that other people could apparently do to harm someone. I am not sure how she feels about it now. My mother told me about this one time when someone got a dress for my sister when she was very young. At that time, my parents used to live in Jorhat. This relative got a red dress for my sister. After the relative left, my grandmother took the dress from my mom, poured some kerosene and turned it into ashes saying that it had black magic in it. No further explanation was given. I remember my mother saying to me that it was a very beautiful dress, something which caught her eye on the first sight. Many such instances have happened. She has ended up blaming the maid countless times for indigestion that occurs after eating something too spicy. All this sounds too bizarre for us but we cannot do much about it. She belongs from a different era and we can only nod in disdain.

Her life revolved in a monotonous cycle which she followed ever day. She never read anything, never sang, never went out, never showed excitement  over anything, and never showed happiness or any kind of expression of love towards anyone. She is cold and somewhat devoid of emotions. I do not know if she has the characteristics of an introvert. Maybe she has. But it became more profound after my grandfather died. She somehow made up her mind that she won’t do anything for the rest of her life except the basic human processes. She gave up cooking, interaction with people unless it is absolutely necessary and important or if someone is willing to interact with her. She left her home where she lived for around 60 years, left her cows without thinking twice, forever.

Kitchen in my house

P.S This piece was written as a creative writing assignment for college. The information shared is not fictional.

If the truth has to be told, I have seldom paid attention to what actually happens in our kitchen. I am talking about my home in Tezpur and not about Bangalore. But now, after getting this prompt, it has actually made me think. And while I write this, my mother’s picture comes back to my mind. Somehow I can see her inside the kitchen, doing the everyday cooking, as I visualize everything. My mother does all of the cooking in our house. Right from the morning cup of black tea to the evening dinner which always has rice and daal, among other things. If you ask me how the kitchen looks like then I will say that it looks like any other kitchen in every other house. I don’t think there is anything really special about it apart from the fact that life turns upside down if the kitchen is out of operation for even a single day.

As I write this, I remember how the kitchen gets really hot, especially during summers and how it becomes difficult to cook in it with all that heat emanating. I have seen my mother cook for relatives who used to visit us during my summer vacations. Relatives always meant more people and more dishes to be cooked and more energy to be spent. Humid summers didn’t help to that cause and I have seen my mother working inside that kitchen all alone while sweating. She used to keep the fan in the dining room on so that there was some air circulation but I guess, that didn’t help much either. We don’t have a fan inside the kitchen, if you were wondering. Surprisingly, the food always tasted good.

I have rarely helped my mother in the kitchen. The only thing in which I did my part a bit was chopping onions, capsicums and tomatoes. Sometimes, potatoes as well. I loved chopping all these vegetables. So, after I grew up, guests in the house meant I was there to cut these vegetables. Apart from that, I have helped my mother make pooris and stir the curries or vegetables in the karhai. And that’s about it. There has never been any kind of major contribution made by me. I never washed my utensils after eating nor did I ever even pick up the plate and put it inside the sink. As I write this and as I think about everything, I remember the countless times when I hadn’t helped my mother when she asked for it, out of sheer negligence and boredom.

I think my mother has spent a very large part of her life inside this kitchen of ours. She has devoted a lot of time to cooking. Mostly, for us. Sometimes, for others as well. Whenever I try to do something on repetition, it becomes mundane and irritating for me. It becomes uninteresting and you start asking yourself as to why on earth are you doing the same thing? Why should anyone just do the same thing over and over again? And as I write this, I think about how my mother has repeated the same task of cooking everyday for us, without questioning as to why on earth she is doing it and why only she has to do it. Her source of happiness and satisfaction lies in feeding her children and her family and she has been doing it for almost 30 years now. Perhaps, she thinks that doing this monotonous task everyday is the purpose of her existence. Perhaps, she also feels bored and irritated by it all. But last time when I went home, I saw that she was busy making my favorite chicken curry for me. With that same eagerness and smile on her face. And as I write this, I come to realize that kitchens hold so many things inside them. Things, which are silent and perhaps shrouded under a veil forever.

 

The many expressions of my father

My father is one of those people who has a nature which is nothing short of a puzzle. I haven’t been able to decipher that puzzle in all my 20 years of existence and I don’t think I ever will. Sometimes, it is difficult for me to understand what actually is going on inside his mind and the fact that he likes to keep certain things to himself makes the task even more difficult. Nevertheless, I have admired him for everything he is and for everything he has achieved in his life. His stature is a driving force which pushes me forward to stand up to him in all phases of life.

Simply put, my father is a person who has one central virtue governing his life, being practical. He has always been a no bullshit, no sloppy behavior kind of a person. He hates it when people behave like a wuss, he expects everyone to be active and energized. He goes for morning walks everyday at 5, need I say more? He searches for the essence of practicality in everything that he does; the clothes that he buys, the food that he eats, the money he spends upon himself (which he rarely does). He is short tempered, I guess that comes as a part and parcel in the persona that he has. He gets irked off at the smallest of things and approaching old age has increased this phenomenon. Nevertheless, he has a serious minded character and people who know him know well that bullshitting is not his thing. He probably isn’t the best person to have fun with and I feel that I have inherited some parts of all these traits from him. I can gauge the similarities which we have based on these small aspects that we share. His short tempered nature is something which I failed to inherit from him, something I am thankful about.

My father came from a very poor family. My grandfather worked as a junior engineer and earned a meager salary to support his family consisting of three children. My father had been quite meticulous in his studies and worked hard during his university years to get himself a job to support his family. He has told us stories of how he spent his college years having only two shirts and one terry cotton pant and how he had to borrow notes from his friends and teachers because books were something which could be afforded by only a few. All of this seems surreal now but that’s how his life was. His childhood consisted of fishing as his favorite pastime activity in the two huge ponds that we had in our ancestral home, indulging in farming activities, playing football with musk melons, eating mangoes and a wide variety of other fruits while lazing under the simmering sun. Not even close to how my childhood was.

But his hard work enabled him to have the pleasures of life. It has enabled us to have a decent life, a privileged life. When you think about it, you get a sense of how fortunate you are. And how grateful we should be for everything our parents do for us. Although my father has achieved a lot in his life, he has never hounded behind the pangs of luxury. Luxury is not a word that one would find in his dictionary. Living life contently with the basic, essential necessities is what he believes in. And he teaches us the same. We find it boring and shrug it off. After all, most of us crave for a luxurious life, filled to the brim with all the amenities this world has to provide. That’s the very purpose in everything we do, our education, the degrees that we obtain. Everything to have a life filled with fun, frolic and fancy Italian dinners every weekend. Isn’t that what we are? My father has never believed that.

The thing that my father isn’t a very orthodox or a conservative person makes me proud and happy. He isn’t one of those close minded people although he belongs to a generation which has many of those sorts. He has always supported us in all the decisions that we have taken in life, however bad they have turned out to be. He has always put our priorities first than everything else; he has always bought two or three pieces of clothing in an entire year; he has provided me and my sister the education which we have desired, never questioning any of it.

He might show signs of introversion sometimes, he might be a person who doesn’t have a lot of fun, he might be downright mundane as well but I think that all those traits turn pale in comparison to the things and virtues that I have learnt from him. I have adjusted to how he is as a person, I respect his persona and his behavior and I don’t flinch to point out at times when he is wrong. But still, he has given me a wonderful childhood, he has a big role in whatever I am now and I can never think of disappointing him. Maybe the puzzle in him will remain unsolved but I guess that is what makes each of us beautiful in our own way.

Petrichor

I belong from a small city situated in the north-eastern part of India. The place is good and also happens to be my hometown. I always get happy when it rains after a long gap. Because you get to experience the petrichor. There is something that makes ne utterly joyous with the heralding of the dark clouds. And so, after a long gap of maybe 3 months it rained yesterday. I was taking my afternoon siesta as usual after having my lunch. My mother was cleaning up the dishes when the next thing I know, it was pouring outside. My mother immediately rushed upstairs to the terrace to get the clothes, wouldn’t want them to get wet now would we, while I jumped from my bed and ran outside. The landscape had changed. The trees and plants around were starting to come to their natural colors after enduring the dust for months. It was nothing short of a blessing to them. Some of the cows that graze near our house were running helter skelter. They were quite confused as to where the rains suddenly came from. A few people were screaming to their family members to take the clothes inside. I was quite amused watching these turn of events. As I sat in the verandah I was feeling the petrichor seep within me. It was as if my lungs were vacuum cleaned. I had waited for this moment from the past 3 months. I saw a few birds flying by and looking up saw the clouds converging with a few rumbling of thunder in between. Yes, the rains had arrived and so did the sweet smell of the soil.

8th December