I get up groggily at 8 am having had a very sound sleep. I remember I am in a village 4 hrs. from Calcutta in E’s uncle’s majestic house. I get ready quickly in the living room sized, green marble bathtub bathroom. The house is quiet, obviously, since it so huge and I’m in one of its corners. I see that the first floor has 4 bedrooms, a common lounge room, a work area with a sink, a study room, a gym and a balcony. I quickly click a few pictures and go down.
I spend the morning with E’s eldest Uncle seeing his Europe pictures. E’s Jiju joins us and we have a lovely conversation about history, travel, photography, etc.
After lot of yelling, confusion and general chaos, we stuff ourselves into 2 cars and proceed for E’s Nani‘s place. The family ancestral home. I have been waiting to see this place because of my love for vintage and historic buildings. We go to a nearby village, named Bahula, through narrow lanes lined with huts, small shops and water bodies. We dodge dogs, goats and cows sitting and walking on the road.
How much ever the quaint huts and old structures enchanted me, I did notice the visible poverty. I would have loved to walk around the village and look at the houses, but neither did we have time for that nor was it advisable, according to E.
After crossing obstacles like coal piles, all kinds of speed breakers and animals, we enter the area where Nani’s house is located. E’s late Nana is a well known personality in the village having done lot of good to the villagers. A lot of land owned by their family is given away to villagers for their shops & stay on rent.
I don’t have words to express the level of delight I had when I entered the premises. It was quite like I imagined it to be. A huge brick house coloured in different shades of rust and cream, with tiny green and blue coloured heavy, wooden doors and windows. A huge aangan (compound) occupies the centre of the whole plot. The two-storied main house is on 2 sides, servant quarters on one and porch and a well on the fourth. We are greeted my E’s sweet Nani (Dida, in Bengali) looking totally delighted to have her whole family around her. She specially calls out my name, looking out for me, as her special guest, and I am sent in front of her. ‘This is my house’ she says in broken Hindi. I’m given a warm reception and E shows me around the house.
The house contains several interconnected rooms, each complete with beds, cupboards. Old framed photographs adorn the walls. Several old items, representing memories, I’m sure, are decked up on window sills and table tops. It is a typical grandparents’ place – displaying photographs of children, their childhood and wedding photos, their grandchildren’s photos, grandchildren’s old toys and books.
I get enchanted and go into a clicking frenzy. It felt good seeing the whole family reunite. Their family reminds me of my own family.
Ground floor comprises of 4 bedrooms, 3 store rooms, a pooja place (prayer room) and the kitchen and washing area. My favourite place here happens to be the long corridor that leads to the kitchen. The corridor has 2 doors leading to the aangan and some windows. It was easy walking barefoot as the floors are extremely clean, dust and trash free.
I have fallen in love with rural India, traditional Indian architecture/designs and everything rustic more than before.
Nani is a very sweet lady. Old, but a dynamic lady she is, I tell you. She wobbles around the whole house, looking extremely happy and refuses to sit at one place. She speaks very softly and understands all that’s happening around her. It’s no joke maintaining such a big house and she’s taken good charge of it. Of course, there are more servants than you can think off, to look after the house. Nani makes sure I am always in the vicinity. She keeps calling out my name, asking everyone around me if she can’t see me. I’m indeed getting special treatment here!!
The house is almost 50 years old. This is the house where E’s mother and her siblings (7 of them in total) have grown up and E and her cousins have spent their vacations. Reminds me of my own Nana’s house, where I and my Sis spent several exciting summer vacations with my Nana, Uncle and Aunt.
We are served traditional breakfast on the corridors, which is, Gughri (potatoes and white peas) and pooris and boondi laddoo. Traditionally, ghooghri is to be eaten with muri (murmura).
Almost the entire family is here and I am beginning to finally understand who is who for whom. I had a good time because there are many cousins of the same age group and it’s easy to relate to them. All the family members are very nice and simple. I do not feel an outsider at all. I feel, in fact, like a new family member. E’s cousins seem to be very surprised that I can’t understand Bengali. ‘You really can’t understand Bengali? Not even little bit? Isn’t it similar to Hindi?’. Well, what about so many people there who don’t understand Hindi? So, when I and P (E’s cousin) got into talking about what I write, should I have gone all ‘You haven’t read my blogs? You haven’t? You don’t know about my blogs?’
A grand lunch is being prepared in the customary kitchen on chulha (stove made of mud) burning with the help of coal. Lunch consists of bhat (rice), Shukto (mixed vegetable), Aloo and khas shaak (Potatoes and poppy seeds), mushroom shaak and kheer. One of the cousins ask me whether we have rotis during lunch too. Bengalis don’t consider chapati a must in their meals; rice is the primary item. The food has a distinct flavour which I can’t quite place. I later talk to E’s mother and she tells me that they use Jeera and Rai prominently. No chillies are used since many family members do not prefer spicy food (that explains the bland food). The food is cooked in sarso ka tel (mustard oil). The food is too salty for my taste. I am content that I am able to taste the traditional Bengali cuisine.
The rest of the day is spent is chatting with each other, going to Durgapur to see off a cousin and to the mall (the mall!!). We eat Egg Roll (priced damn cheap at Rs. 25) at a hawker’s. Though I’m dead tired and sleepy by the time we’re back, the start of antakshari in the aangan makes me want to join them. I go out of my hiding and join the elders group. Like all Gujjus are born garba dancers, all Bengalis seem to be born good singers. Almost all of them sing so well. We have a great bengali-hindi musical session which ends with 2 songs by me and we head for yet another meal in the dimly lit corridor.
I crash on one of the many bedrooms on the first floor, which incidentally looks quite eerie at night because of the silence and dim lights but I am too tired to notice anything. I want to fall asleep but not before I write down the whole account of my exciting day.