The other day I was in the car with my daughter. The old familiar Pizza Hut had been shut for some time and a new restaurant is coming up in its place. My daughter read out the name loudly – ‘Indigo’. Next to it, the name was written in Hindi, ‘Neel’. All of a sudden I remembered my school days when routinely my mother used to dip all our white clothes in a bucket of blue water to make it whiter. I don’t even remember when we stopped the practice. Do they still sell the indigo powder in those small paper boxes? I have not seen any for a long time. Does my daughter know anything about indigo cultivation and its use? Do they still teach about the Indigo farmers’ revolt against the British in school?
When we were growing up, we did not know what a Green Index is. Our teachers did not tell us to save the environment. Everything was naturally green to a large extent. Lack of money and facilities made us recycle and reuse stuffs naturally. We didn’t have to read text books to learn these things. We were not exposed to use-and-throw culture. We grew up with fountain pens, Sulekha ink bottles and droppers.
I am sure the green index would have been much higher in those days. It was in late 80’s when companies started selling bottled mineral water. We would take a train from Howrah station to home and see mineral water bottles being sold at Rs. 14/- at the stations. We wondered who would buy water of all things!! India was still the country where refusing water to a thirsty was seen as a sin and no one imagined asking for money for a glass of water.
Today without realizing we have got used to a completely different lifestyle. So many things have gradually disappeared from our lives. There are many household things that we grew up with cannot be seen anymore. Our kids have never seen most of them. I thought of documenting some such items just as a fond memory.
1. Alna ( Clothes Rack) – A very common piece of furniture in bedroom. Used for hanging Sarees and all other kinds of clothes. Looked very clumsy if the clothes were not arranged properly. Now completely replaced with wooden cupboards. I don’t remember seeing an Alna in any of the furniture showrooms anymore.
My mother was a proud owner of a radio that was gifted by my grandparents at her wedding. I think it was a Bush, with Long Wave and Medium Wave. A powerful one, where we could sometimes connect to various European stations. It sat on a small table top, decorated with a nice lace cover. It was used for family entertainment – Man Chaha Geet in the afternoon, Saaz aur Awaaz followed by Hawa Mahal at night. Often it would not work (already more than 20 years old by the time I was a teenager). Then my dad would open up its complex circuit and try to fix it. My eldest sister was the main user of the radio. So it was kept in the bedroom that we three sisters shared. Much later small transistors came into being and we started listening to Chhaya Geet with a transistor inside the bed.
3. Four Poster Bed
We saw these very heavy and bulky four poster beds when we visited our village or our grandma’s place. The beds were not only bulky, they were very high. One had to literally climb onto them. They used to be beautifully carved on both sides.
4. Moshari (Mosquito Nets)
Moshari’s were integral part of our childhood. Our parents could not imagine us sleeping without them. Even now many households use them Mosquito Nets regularly. We just stopped using them once we went to hostel. It was too cumbersome to fix them every night and untie them every morning. Some hanged them permanently on top of their four poster beds. It made them look all the more shabby. In summer months they were too uncomfortable. All said and done, it was the best way to save oneself from mosquito bites without any side effects of mosquito repellents.
5. Black and White Camera
My father was a photography enthusiast. While in college, he received money from home for buying text books. He bought an Agfa camera instead. He had his own darkroom in the house where he developed the photos on his own. The camera stayed with him lifelong. He even tried to teach us photography with it. However, I was not very much impressed with it. I was just too happy to buy a hotshot camera with my scholarship money while in college.
6. Arm Chair (or Aaraam Kedara?)
50 years back it would be found in each and every Bengali house. Although the English name was Arm Chair, in Bengali it was more aptly called the ‘aaraam kedara‘, something that makes you extremely comfortable (aaraam) when you sit (or almost lie down ) on it. Somehow it was always used by the elder male members (retired mostly) of the family; e.g. the grandfather or the eldest uncle. I have never seen any lady in the house resting on it.
7. A traditional Kantha
In the last three decades, Kantha embroidery from Bengal has become very famous and popular. A kantha silk saree is a must have possession for every Bengali woman. Kantha embroidery can be found on sarees, bags, dupattas, cushion covers and many other things. However, no one remembers about the original kantha the embroidery was meant for. Kanthas were the soft comfortable padded small rags meant for new born babies to sleep on. They were mostly stitched from old sarees. Ladies used to decorate those kanthas with various figures stitched hurriedly with simple straight stitches. When my first daughter was born, my mother made a huge stack of kanthas for her. I preserved them for long and even used some of them for my second one. With diapers coming into market, kanthas have disappeared completely. Thankfully the embroidery has been preserved as an art and has given rise to a thriving industry.
8. The kitchen world
Sheel Noda – The heavy stone grinder for grinding spices manually. Needed considerable amount of strength to use them. Now completely replaced by mixer/grinders. I preferred them for a long time to grind my poppy seeds. Now even domestic helps refuse to use them.
Bonti – Used in every household in eastern India for cutting and chopping. I prefer them even now, for greater speed of chopping. One needs to sit on the ground with folded knees to use them.
Pidi – If you are using Sheel or Bonti, then you have to use pidi, the wooden seat to sit on.
Now very few people have the physical fitness to use these kitchen tools.
Every month end, when our gas got over, my mother brought out the coal oven and lit it with great difficulty. We always had a sack full of coals at home. It took days and sometimes weeks for the new gas cylinder to be delivered.