Sprang a surprise on my uncle. They were not aware that I was going to be in India. The highlight of a trip to Durgapur is of course spending time with Rana – my first cousin, once removed.
After our usual conversations, we moved on to puzzles. I gave him a puzzle involving a clock face.
As you can see more than one person was trying to solve it!!
There are so many memories… This is where I slept every three months when I came to visit him. This is where he was shifted every time he got very sick. This is where he was surrounded by all his grandkids who came to see him after his stroke in 2017. Lonely (mom passed away a few weeks), completely out of any zest for life and beaten down by too many physical ailments, he was finally granted his wish to transition. It was sometime in the dark of the night that he quietly breathed his last on this day last year.
I still miss him a lot!
… on this day, the sun rose in the east in its fullest glory like you see it today.
Only that my dad did not rise.
He passed away in his sleep after going thru a lot of suffering for about five years and then having been dealt the biggest emotional hit – losing my mom a few weeks before. I was not there with him that day (was not vaccinated yet). A year later, I will be there at the spot where he passed away (although the exact time of his departure is not known).
There are too many memories that floods my mind. For whatever reason, the one that I remember most is the last video call I had with him when he asked the same question he had been asking me over and over again … “When are you going to come?”
This morning, during my daily call with my brother, somehow the topic veered towards the excitement we used to have brushing our teeth when we visited our village (Debipur). This might seem very ancient to my friends here in America, but we would actually break a twig from the Neem tree, chew one end of it to soften it up (we were told that it made our jaws stronger) and then used the softened end to brush our teeth. As an aside, today, you can get modern toothpaste made of Neem tree that you can use on your toothbrush.
While the experience of brushing was a tad long and tedious and the bitter taste made us squint, the fact that we were on vacation and in our grandma’s village and the novelty of it all left us with very fond memories.
BTW, this might gross some of you out. Somedays, when we did not have so much time, we used to use the ashes from the previous night’s cooking fuel – which was usually coal or cowdung cakes to brush our teeth. There were no brushes – you held the ash in your left palm and used the right index finger and thumb to brush your teeth. Much later in life I learnt how charcoal has the wonderful property of absorbing odor, color and killing bacteria. Back then, the ash tasted strange!
Coming back to yesterday…
“So, do you remember what we used to brush our teeth with when we were small and not in the village?”, I asked my brother.
After some thought, my brother remembered “Monkey Brand”!
I had completely forgotten about it! That black colored powder that would make you revolt if you saw stuck in somebody’s teeth was actually very whitening and refreshing. Found on the internet that I can buy it even today and that too in the USA!
“Do you remember what we used before that?”, I asked him.
My brother could not remember but some of you may remember the original version of Binaca. I could not get a picture of the original yellow and green box it used to come in. The best part of it all was the small plastic animal that came with every box. Like every child of that age, my sister and I collected them and had dreams of opening up an elaborate zoo some day. We even used to use a generous portion of the paste to see if we could run thru it fast!
My other grandma (mom’s side) used to live in a small town (Kalna) in a house made of concrete. In line with that, their toothbrushing ingredients were a little more advanced than my villager relatives. The paste was not to be found – since you had buy brushes. So, there was this old tin of Colgate powder that many might remember for its white color and minty taste. And how it had no other details on the tin than just declaring that it was a tooth powder and was called Colgate! I was able to get a picture of that from the internet too.
While researching for pictures, I ran into another brand that I had again forgotten about. Some of my friends used to use it – Forhans! And that unforgettable orange color box that it came in!!
Well, so much for brushing up the ’80s.
BTW, if any of you find a picture of the original Binaca box (yellow and green), please do shoot it my way.
You probably remember from last week that to celebrate my mom’s life, I went and visited every single house she had ever lived in. Three of them were in Durgapur.
You probably saw them as very big houses with colorful walls. Which is what they are now. When we lived there, they all looked the same. They were the living quarters given by the steel factory that my dad worked in. Eventually, they let the residents buy out their quarters and then add their own improvements.
Growing up, they all looked the same. And the walls would come in only one of two colors – yellow or red. Now, for us, who lived in Durgapur, finding a house was very easy. All we needed was the address. It being a planned town, the roads usually ran in the cardinal directions and intersected in roundabouts.
The very first house we lived in was 6/2 North Avenue. All you needed to figure out was where was North Avenue. Once you found that, it was very systematic. The streets came off the road like a fish bone. Odd streets sequentially from 1 on the left and even streets sequentially from 2 on the right. Once you were in the street, similarly, houses in the left would be odd numbered and on the right, even numbered. So, once you got to North Avenue, the third street on the right would be our street (6th) and the first house on the right would be our house (6/2). In case you had any doubt, there were helpful markers at the beginning of every street and every house.
By the way – and this is relevant for the story – where our road started from, about a hundred yards offset from that were the only two cemeteries in Durgapur. One for the Muslims and one for the Christians.
You would think that would make finding a house to be a breeze, right? Yes, if you were from Durgapur. No, if you were not. Our relatives who would visit us from the big city of Kolkata or the small village of Debipur were more used to instructions like “oi saamner do-tola bareer paas diye je gali taa jachche – oi galitey – laal baaritar porer baaarita”. (“That two story house you see? Take the lane next to it and you are looking for the house next to the red house in that lane”).
This would lead to some hilarious situations. Like the one in 1974 or so. My grandmother and my great aunt were visiting us to attend a wedding (my dad’s mentor’s – Sen jethu – daughter – Kasturidi – was getting married). Both of them wore white sarees like you see in the picture. My grandmother of course wore it due to prevailing social customs (she was a widow). Not sure why but I had never seen my great aunt in any other color but white.
One of those evenings, they had gone out for a walk together and managed to get themselves completely lost. It was getting dark and a sense of helplessness was drawing upon them. It did not help that every house looked exactly like the next one. They were truly lost.
My grandmother apparently asked a couple of passers by if they knew the house of “Damu”. Now Damu is my dad’s pet name at home. Nobody calls him by that name other than in the village. But in that intense moment of being lost, my grandmother completely lost sight of the fact that she had to give his real name.
According to my great aunt, my grandmother was on the verge of crying. Which my grandmother completely denied. My great aunt had a brain wave. The one anchoring point she knew was a the cemetery. From there she knew how to get to our house. Both of them approached a bunch of young kids who were still playing in that last bit of dusk – “Babara, amaader ektu kabarkhanay pnouchhe debey?” They pleaded the kids to accompany them to the cemetery.
You have to imagine the situation. It was getting dark. One small street light thirty yards away was offering some respite from total darkness. And there are these two characters completely dressed in white asking to go to the cemetery…
It took only one kid to ask the question that was at everyone’s tip of the tongue “Bhoot naki re?” (“Are these ghosts?”). And before you could cry Uncle (or great aunt for that matter), each had high tailed like their life depended on breaking the then Olympic sprint records. I understand the kids waited till daybreak to come back and retrieve their danda-guli (play paraphernila) that had been unceremoniously dumped the previous evening.
Eventually, the two old ladies entered a nearby house and asked if they knew the house of a school teacher called Manju. They were escorted dutifully and reached home in a matter of minutes.
That evening, as they narrated the story to us, the peals of laughter that roared from our house could be heard from a long distance. Even from the cemetery, I am sure.
The siblings, their families and myself – we all settled down in one far corner of the JW Marriott lounge. Of course, this being a Bengali group, the first order of business had to be a cup of tea. Satyabrata – one of the most helpful folks around (I had made friends with him during my last trip here) – materialized from nowhere.
“Ki neben, sir?” (What do you want?)
We then went thru a now familiar routine. My brother, sister, sister-in-law and brother-in-law all looked at each other waiting for somebody to make a decision, then discussed quite a few options and finally got to the exact same order that they ALWAYS order.
First my brother went “Masala Chai”.
My sister follow ed”Amaro” (me too)
Ditto for my sister-in-law.
My brother-in-law did not even bother opening his mouth. He just nodded his head to signal “Amaro“.
Why we go thru this rigmarole every single time, I do not know.
In any case, I said “Ekta cappuccino”.
With that, Satyabrata was on his way to the coffee/tea station at the bar.
My sister suddenly demanded to know “Cappuccino-t ki?” (What is a cappuccino?). I think that was preceded by a flash in her head “Dada jeta khachche ota miss hoye gelo na to?” (she was perhaps wondering if she was missing out on something).
Now I do not know about you, but I am not entirely equipped to explain the nuances of cappuccino. If I made short shrift of it “coffee and milk with foam”, I was afraid she would come up with “like in South India?” (if you have not seen this, you should watch some Youtube videos of how filter coffee is mixed with milk and sugar in two metal tumblers in places like Tamil Nadu – it is quite a sight).
“Satyabrata?”, I called my friend back.
“Take my sister to the bar and show her how a cappuccino is made.”
Say what you may, but intellectual curiosity runs deep in the Roy siblings. My sister followed him and observed every step as the three members of staff – all enthusiastically explained… “Cappuccino – ki ebong keno” 🙂