“Kattil, katill, kattil”. I swiped my thumb under my chin after every kattil, and finished it off with a flourish of my hanging tongue ‘oooeh’. I ran home fast, aware of the hot welt of my cheeks being moistened by big fat tears. I stumbled as I took the last flight of steps, blinded by the warm stream of tears I was so desperate to hide. I was NEVER going to play with them again! They always made me the ‘moosa’, the one in the middle who had to run both ends of the play to intercept the ball being thrown by the two key players. I had had it. It’d been a week of playing ‘moosa’ and I had had no chance of intercepting the ball and taking the lead. And to make it worse, they laughed and threw the ball even higher. Ramey and his friends were taller than me, older than me, and were in no mood to let go of their ball.
I scurried into my room, and realised that I had dropped my blue bandana with a wide side bow-knot on the way. My sister was home playing ‘bhada-kuti’ with her friends, and I slided into a corner. My sister had inherited my sets of ‘bhada-kuti’ too, most of the pieces now with dents and scrapes. There had been some new additions, like the kadai she was cooking her tarkaari in. “What are you cooking, bahini?”, I asked. “Bhuteko bhaath,” she said. Bhuteko bhaath, fried rice, the almost-everyday breakfast- ‘khaja’ and perennial favourite food of our childhoods.
The next day was Sunday. We woke up, and grumbled taking our weekly bath. The only thing I looked forward to was the very strong-sweet smelling dollop of blue Clinic Plus shampoo for my hair. I had a short bob, ‘boy’s cut’ they called it, and though I wasn’t very happy with it, it was better than the ‘helmet’ cut some girls in school had got done, the latest fad doing the rounds at the saloons lining Bata-ko-ukkalo bato. Sunday was funday. The one day in the week we got to switch on the TV by ourselves. “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” I roared along with the TV show holding aloft my invisible sword; it was an exciting Sunday ritual. But that was later in the morning. The sword-wielding followed only after a certain rite of passage every Indian lived through for 35 minutes every Sunday.
By 9.15 am there would be over two dozen pairs of slippers of every size, hue, level of tear at our front doorstep. The neighbourhood would be quiet, everyone having dropped everything they were doing and gone to the nearest home with a TV. Our house had a colour Natron TV, and we would have visitors all the time. But more so on Sunday mornings. Mama-bajey and maiju-boju, being the oldest amongst us, were received with respect and got to sit directly in front of the TV on the sofa-bed. The kids had to sit on the floor in front; it was my job to roll out the carpet by 9 am. Ramey and his friends were here, and we avoided looking at each other. By 9.25, a hush would take over, and all of us would fold our hands in anticipation of the biggest blockbuster we and Indian television had ever witnessed. Arrows exploded and gods smiled benignly, the older generation weeped quietly, their saggy rheumy eyes lost in the bliss of what they witnessed, the youngsters cheered during the wars. Ramayan created history, commanding an 82 per cent captive viewership of the television audience in those days.
Those days, the days of my childhood, as we grew up in the ‘80s.
One always tends to over-romanticize their childhood. But truly the ‘80s and early ‘90s were something special. It was a splash of neon colours, of breakdance, synth sounds, Madonna-bands, shoulder pads, big hairdos, side ponytails, mullets, everything was larger than life!
We were less supervised. We had no Internet to give us the answers, hence we never stopped looking for them. We spent time with our friends, played together – we didn’t have Facetime or Whatsapp. If we wanted to spend time with someone, we simply walked to her house and knocked. Instant gratification was a vile luxury not yet discovered. If we wanted a book or comic, we had to walk to a rental library and rent one. If we wanted to watch our favourite show, we’d have to wait all week to watch a new episode. We didn’t have PUB-G, and video games were unheard of luxuries. We sweated it out playing many many games in the alleys around our homes. One had to wait for a film roll to be fully used to take it to the lab for developing and then wait a week to have a look at that picture we had taken of a happy visit to the fair probably months ago. The time spent on things made us slow down to enjoy the end-experiences.
And growing up in Darjeeling was a privilege – we had the best of influences, we were at the crossroads of learning to fly, and how.
The recent re-telecast of Ramayan (March-April 2020) stirred old memories. The magnum opus lit up television screens after more than 30 years. There were very few people on the streets again during the re-telecast, this time on account of the lockdown. But what a fantastic re-run! According to BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council), the re-telecast garnered the highest ever rating for a Hindi GEC (General Entertainment Channel) show since 2015 when BARC started measuring TV audience. It garnered 170 million viewers worldwide with just the first four episodes. DD National stated that on April 16 77 million people across the globe watched the show, thereby becoming the highest-viewed entertainment programme globally! For the record, the final episode of “Game of Thrones” had shattered single-night viewing records, with 19.3 million tuning in to watch the finale episode in May of 2019.
Ramayan brought us our first impression of the Cosmos we live in, much before Carl Sagan piqued our imaginations. We witnessed Vishnu on his seshnaag and the gods throw flowers from the galaxies above. Our dreams were in technicolor. And as I remember the Wonder Years, it doesn’t take long for the years to unfurl, memories as warm as the leg warmers we wore.
Let’s take a walk, Back to the Future?
Read Part 2 here.