Finding ExtraOrdinary In the Ordinary

A peep into the past on Children’s Day…

The world of packets and bottles, has not only endangered the environment, but has also robbed our children of an important slice of undiluted life. Many of you might not agree with me. May be you haven’t experienced that life then. May be you were not born in the eighties then.

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As a small child, summer vacations and Diwali holidays were packed with so many beautiful experiences that their memories warm me still today, after 20-25 years. Going to meet the family in the holidays was a super-exciting event. But, it was not just the final meeting that made it so eventful, but the whole journey. Earlier, there were no packaged water bottles available at the train stations or provision stores at every nook and corner. Mummy would fill up giant water coolers with a plastic cup (there were no disposable plastic cups either) attachment and added some ice to it. And, travelling in AC train coaches was considered aspirational. It wasn’t as if there was inadequacy, but it was definitely not what the middle class did. Decades after, even the definition of the humble middle class has gone for a metamorphic change. But, let’s not go into that.

So, yes, in the train journey, we would eat puris and pickle that mummy prepared specially for the train journey. And, in between, more to satisfy our tongue, than our tummy, we gorged on the chana chaat, sev puri, puri-aloo, kulladwali chai and cut fruits that the various vendors on the train and the station platforms sold. After all, in India, a train journey was all about eating. Those were the times when ‘THE’ Lays’ and other chips packets weren’t sold so flagrantly at the platforms as they are done today. When the enormous water cooler emptied, we waited for the next station to come and requested papa to take us along with him. It was fun to get off the train and stand at the public tap to fill the cooler. We watched and observed people with interest; their dressing, their language and their behaviour. All of it unconsciously. Those beautiful train journeys are etched into my minds for FOREVER.

One of the other beautiful memories that I carry with me is of sleeping on the terrace on cotton mattresses and charpoys. There were no air conditioners, and we never missed one. If it were the summers, sleeping on the terrace, under the stars was the norm, and something we looked forward to the entire year. And waking up to the soft early sun and dew-moist blankets felt so good and refreshing. Then going with nani, a milk can, in the hand, to the nearby tabela (cow shed) where the milkman milked the cows before us. The part of the charm was that none of it was staged, planned. It was a part of everyday life, mundane, may be for some, but for me, it was what made my holidays. No one planned for us, kids or thought what new experiences they could give to us everyday. They went about doing their chores and we tagged along and still learnt and experienced a variety of things. They were simple joys of growing up, and yet so precious.

Today’s world is a disappointing contrast to the yester years. Today, journeys are planned and planned in such detail, they lose their spontaneity. And then the journey itself seems so hurried, that there is no opportunity to lose ourselves in the moment. No wonder, we get back home more exhausted from the holiday, than we were when we set out on it. There are no long train journeys now, cheap flights have taken care of that to some extent. And a plane journey, seriously, can hardly be called a pleasant journey with bland flight food or no food, obnoxiously crammed seats and tight smiles and suspicious eyes of the air stewardesses. No, I wouldn’t call it a journey, of any kind. As for the less frequent train journeys, they are just a watered down version of their earlier times. The water cooler and the puri-pickle is conspicuous in its absence. Why carry so much from home when everything is at our disposal, whenever and wherever we want. So we buy packaged water and juices, boxed food and snacks in plastic bags. We like to let the world pass by through the solidly packed windows of the AC compartments. And no vendor dares enter the prohibited confines of the airconditioned coaches, where their humble wares are considered lowly and thus frowned upon.

Summers come and go, and no one even sets foot on the terrace. Charpoys are long gone, and so are the kids who clamour to climb on them. Summer holidays are not the same anymore, because houses have shrunk and families don’t visit. There are no gangs of cousins who go to the nearby market in the evenings for an ice lolly or a colourful gola. And as for the milk and the milkman, there are no cows and buffaloes, only packets of milk delivered at the doorstep every morning.

Yes, it’s a world of packets and bottles…started in a very innocent fashion…but has taken over our lives sinisterly, COMPLETELY.