I’ve lived in Bangalore for 18 years and my early interactions with the city mainly happened while I was following Maa and Baba around. My old Bangalore reminds me of discovering new hobbies, weird family traditions and some deeply Bengali things.
Shorsher tel summers (Mustard oil summers)
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the mustard madness started among Bengali households. It was a known fact propagated by all grandparents that mustard oil was the standard cure for all physical ailments. If you visited a middle-class Bengali home back in the mid-2000s, you’d find weekends dedicated to the shorsher tel massage.
Mothers heated up a considerable amount of oil with garlic and gave one bati (bowl) to the in-laws and the other to their husbands. This would be followed by the opening of balcony doors and sitting directly below the summer sun while the concoction was heavily lathered on.
Some macho men would even rub it all over their face and say it was “refreshing” while their eyes turned blood red from the sting. Cold cement floors would turn greasy from everyone lying on the ground while they waited for their turn to take a shower. No matter where you lived, summers were always filled with the stench of mustard and the horror of accidental oil stains on furniture in our homes.
Maa’r hisheber khatha (Mother’s Receipt book)
All Bengali housewives are unpaid accountants.
When we lived in Kolkata for the first three years of my life, Maa wrote in Bengali and quickly changed to English after we permanently moved to Bangalore. Once Maa began getting her hathkhorcha (money to run the household) from Baba, the big brown receipt book was born. Bills would be spread out on the bed as she recorded every amount that was spent at the end of each day. Innumerable books were born and piled onto one another on side tables and stray bills would fall out every time they were opened. All housewives I knew did this record keeping and very rarely did they use any calculators. Receipt books multiplied with every marriage anniversary and they were all just similar shades of brown and maroon. However, Maa always knew which one had the account Baba was asking for.
Connector sketch pens
Around the time I was in primary school, Faber Castle came out with their new connector sketch pens. They were connected by joining their caps to one another and came in neatly arranged rainbow schemes. These pens were never supposed to be purchased separately. One had to buy the entire family pack and it was only brought to school on special occasions. Bringing the connector pen packet to class would automatically make you the coolest and most artistic person ever. You could get your otherwise bitchy classmates excited on the simple prospect of putting back the pens inside the packet – putting them back meant arranging them according to any colour scheme one wished, which in those days, was the most fun people had in SUPW periods. Sometimes people got creative and made giant circles with the pens by connecting one head to the other’s tail and groups would make competitions out of who had the biggest circle. Towards the end of the year, one would be left with only half of the packet full and different colours squished next to each other and a few beatings from mothers.
A year after moving to Bangalore, Maa had found her favourite place in the city. It was a cd rental store in BDA. Located in the back, next to a shady looking parlour, the rental shop rarely had any customers. Once in every two days, (pirated/burnt) CDs with flimsy covers that the shop themselves had made were rented out and enquiries were made about others that were not found. We saw one movie during lunch and another during dinner. In the time between the two meals, Maa checked the newspapers for movies that had come out that week and some of these titles would be later added into the store’s list for ‘cd burning’. The shop had some DVDs with better-looking covers and probably better quality but Maa always went for the CDs. The only real difference is you don’t have to get up to change the disk. Other than that, there’s no point to DVDs, she’d say.
JVC video camera
My father’s biggest aspiration, a secret of course, was that he would one day make his directorial debut, like all fathers. This is often manifested through impulsive purchases of the latest camera models and going on trips to some hill station which somehow turn into spontaneous photo-shoots.
Baba’s venture into cinematography began with a Kodak camera – the one that made the kachaaak sound, followed by violent rolling of the film reel to get the next picture. Unable to fully satisfy himself with such basic gadgets, Baba asked his circle of FFs (friends who were also fathers, aka father friends) for advice and purchased the best one middle-class money could buy – a JVC video camera. This camera quickly became every aspiring director dad’s best friend. Not only was it great at capturing videos, but it also served as a heavy lifting instrument and generously gave very very small biceps as rewards. A typical director dad shot three things with his JVC – house tours, videos of them annoying their wife and children, and hours and hours of scenery through the car window. Finally, the whole family would be called into the living room and after an hour spent on technical troubles, Baba’s raw, shaky directorial project was open for viewing.
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