I have often written about the good ol’ days. Those were the days when houses were large and hearts larger (and many such clichéd phrases I have churned out), kitchens were cavernous, hat-stands standing like a sentinel at the entrance of the house, where hats and walking sticks were hung. The furniture was almost always the heavy Victorian or Edwardian, or sometimes Art Deco (with the letter ‘V’ often stylishly fitted into the design. ‘V’ was for victory against that fellow with the funny mustache, the ‘sieg heil’ chappie who not only wreaked havoc with the world but also gave an extra lesson to students to study in history, for all the generations to come).
The walls had portraits, of course of the omnipresent King Emperor in company of a galaxy of both, the close and the distant family relatives, mustachioed men, many looking like pirates, stiff in duglas and pagris, sometimes sporting a pince-nez or a monocle, glaring down at an offending grand or great-grand child or a rebellious great nephew caught doing something wrong naughty. But along with the dark furniture there was also a dark side to those supposedly halcyon days.
Today kids have it comparatively easy. They have never experienced what Hell tastes like. We did it with clockwork regularity. Once every month we would be given a dose of Castor oil, a God-help-us-all drink that will go down in history as an oral curse to children and pregnant women alike. Children and pregnant women were subjected to this torture to give lucidity (if lucidity is the word I want – right?) to bowels movements, keep the skin fair and glowing, protect us from other minor illnesses and help women to deliver with some ease.. The only saving grace was, we were given a cup of kumri chai, (black tea) and a sweet paan afterwards to wash off the fowl taste as if that taste could easily be ever eradicated. The lunch on this obnoxious occasion would be a small bonus, dhan-dar, (sans patio) and pani-nu-achar, (small tender raw mangoes pickled in brine). It was no better when we were down with any illness. The family physician would prescribe equally fowl doses of medicine that would be concocted by his compounder. Looking at the blighter who concocted the potion, one would think he was one of Macbeth’s witches, mixing all sorts of snaps and snails and puppy dogs tails with lizards’ eyeballs thrown in for good measure! The fowler the potion, the more efficacious it was supposed to be. How primitive the medicine! How gullible the partaker! Being sick was no fun at all.
And when we were in good health there were tables. Not those large dining tables. They were fun things. One could play ping-pong on them. The tables I am speaking of are those of math tables. Remember “Two ones are two, two twos are four”, etc. That was easy but what about seventeen thirteens are….what? The most common comment one heard from grownups in those days, from masis, mamis, fuis, kakis and their male counterparts right upto bapaiji buppawaji and was “unk kar, unk!” or “learn your tables!” We had to be thorough in all the four concepts of Math till we were Einsteinian perfect, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Today there is no “unk kar.” There are calculators, and even the simplest calculations cannot be done without this electronic thingamajig.
Today a boy feels humiliated if he has to go to college on a moped. Only a sleek jazzy set of wheels will do. Imported ones preferred. We were happy with a bicycle like the ones used by paowallas, dhobis and dabbawallas; all noble vocations no doubt, but not exactly dashing or glamorous. They appeared to weigh a ton. A racer bike would improve one’s image, but a strict no-no, they were supposed to be like “vandra-na hath-ma ustero aapva jevu” (like giving a razor to a monkey). I had almost convinced my papa to let me have a semi-racer bike but the proposal was met with a firm nolle prosequi by party of the second part, hereafter referred to, as my mamma. The flaws in my character she enunciated that day pleading her case against such a rash move cannot be printed in a family weekly like Parsi Times! So till day I have been condemned to trudge the footpaths (if any exists today) or take public transport.
Fridges were few, telephones fewer and TVs non-existent (in India). The cell phones with their multifarious functions were only a part of science-fiction. The bed-time was nine. They were good days but the best are always the ones hopefully to come, or the ones that are gone by beyond the ken of our memory.