Monsoon Mazaa

July 18, 2009

Driving to work on an unusually rainy morning, I could not help but remember the single biggest joy of monsoons in my school days; heavy rains meant closure of the school for the day. But the catch was that in those days of scant telephone connectivity, most students did not have a phone and no way they could find out, or be told regarding the school closure. So while some parents would take quick guesses and take what they thought was the appropriate decision (staying away from school), the others would force their kids to walk/cycle to school assuming it would be open. But this misery of the trek in the rains was short-lived when they discovered the school was closed. I have this memory of the Irish-American priest, the popular Father Roberts, standing at the entrance to the school with a dripping umbrella and spreading this cheering news of school closure to the kids. It is another matter that sometimes even with the most torrential downpour, the school would remain open and those who had guessed that the school would be closed would miss the classes. Which, as far as the students were concerned, was most welcome anyway!

Schools and rain brings to mind the raincoat. No school kid’s bag was complete without a rain coat. For some reason few used umbrellas, it was raincoats for most of us. Those who could afford it would use the greenish-yellow Duckback brand raincoats. But for most of us it was the regulation grey plastic affair. I wonder why there were no alternate colours, just a metallic grey. Ok, perhaps a shiny black as well. No yellows or blues or greens. And certainly no floral prints you see nowadays. The raincoat, when dry, would be packed into a polythene bag (a rare commodity those days of paper bags and jholas!). This would be carried in the school bag. If it was raining I was made to don the “coat” over the schoolbag slung on my shoulders, forming a neat camel-like bulge at the back! When we reached school this rain coat was hurriedly wrapped and tucked back into its plastic bag, water and all. The creased, wet raincoat when pulled out later in the day on its return journey home would look like a post-modern Dali; creased along crazy curves and dripping with water! But this was donned anyway. No raincoat was ever complete without the cap. That matching headgear with long, long flaps on the sides to cover the ears. The flaps affixed by metal press-buttons under the chin, sometimes very discomfortingly if the flaps were a little too short. Often the buttons would come un-affixed from their plastic substrate, “safety” pins were used as a substitute or the flap-fixing was completely dispensed with. And there was often the spectacle of the arm piece getting un-“welded” from the torso piece, it was a plastic apparel after all.

The walk back from school on a wet afternoon was a journey by itself. There were enough puddles on the way into which we would jump up and down. Never mind the shoes we were wearing becoming totally soggy. By the time we were half-way home, the wet sock against the shoe would make a squeaky noise which was a source of delight by itself! Cheek-peek, cheek-peek.. and so on it went..! Of course we got admonished on our return home. Considering we had only one pair of black school shoes. And limited pairs of uniforms. The uniforms would be taken care of by some intelligent and dexterous ironing to dry the moisture and get the creases in place, but the shoes were another story. One could not iron shoes, and they remained wet till the morning after. And that necessitated a message from parents to the teacher, making some excuse or the other. “Injured toe” was a common one. With an appropriately “bandaged” toe as the evidence under a pair of slippers the next morning. The teachers would laugh, they knew from years of experience of teaching. And most also had children of my age!!

Then, as they say, the field was open for activities. When we were real kids, sailing paper boats on puddles was a big delight. Paper was sourced from the most easily accessible class notebook! And when we really grew up, the pastime was something more lethal! That sharpened short steel stake which was used for digging garden soil. Two kids would start at a point, turn by turn with this weapon. Each would throw the length of steel on the soft soggy ground to ensure it would impale itself on it. This would go on, turn-by-turn, till someone missed. And then the winner would assign a suitable punishment to the loser. I have an unfortunate permanent reminder of this monsoon game, the stake landed on one of my toes once. The nail’s gone, the pains forgotten, but the scar still remains. With that remains the memories of the Jamshedpur monsoon.

And on the way we enjoyed “catching” those little red velvety insects, I do not know what they are called. Ladybirds? But I am sure they had more picturesque name in Hindi.

What is a monsoon without its distinctive snacks! Onion pakodas of course, but the real treat was the sauteed-in-mustard-oil black gram (kala chana). With a sprinkling of pepper powder and salt. I suppose this is popular only in Bihar. This chana was chewed upon as you watched the rains pouring down! Never mind if bits of it got stuck between your teeth.  It was divine! Not to mention the “bhutta”. Not the boiled stuff you get in Bangalore, but the nicely roasted ones! With a generous coating salt administered with a grubby-looking piece of lemon!

Maybe, one day I should declare a rainy day for myself and bunk my office. I will then sit in the balcony, get myself a roasted bhutta and watch the world go by through sheets of rains!

Tulsidas and I

July 15, 2009

This is what the picture of Tulsidas at home somewhat looked like

My introduction to Tulsidas when I was a kid was rather unusual. It was not by his written word, but by a painting of his! This portrait of Tuslidas occupied a prominent place in our drawing room on a bookshelf teetering with a load of books. It showed Tulsidas sitting cross-legged on a round platform under a tree, writing away. It was a copybook portrait of any writer-saint. This would have otherwise been unnoticeable save for the fact that it would disappear once in while. It would get borrowed by others in our town to decorate the stage for their functions on Tulsi jayanti. Or other such activities. Apparently this old, black-framed painting of Tulsidas was the only one existing in town and was in much demand during the “season”. I discovered later that this portrait of Tulsidas was presented to Pitaji, my father, after one of his talks on the relevance of the poet in the modern context. The talk was given years ago. Pitaji, now long retired, was a professor of Hindi.

When I grew up a little more I noticed a fat book in Pitaji’s collection written by the subject of this portrait. A thick brown-cloth covered tome: Ramcharitmanas. The fonts used in this book were unusually large, alternating from very large to large. The big fonts had the original text in Avadhi while the smaller fonts explained the text in Hindi. The sub-head for this book was “Sachitra, sateek- mota type”, or illustrated, annotated and with large fonts. On occasions this book was taken out, opened reverentially, and parts of it read out aloud. I was told that this book was the fount of all wisdom.

As a kid I used to amuse myself with its unique “Shri Ramshalaka Prashnavali”. This was right in the beginning of the book. A grid of letters, like a pre-filled crossword. You were required to close you eyes, meditate on Lord Ram, think of the problem bugging you, and place you finger “blindly” on the alphabet grid. Then you open your eyes and trace your path ahead on the grid based on a particular “formula”. The combination of words you finally traced would spell out a choupai from Manas and this choupai would reveal your future! That was so much fun for us, kids!

I discovered later that this big fat large book also had a much smaller-sized version. While this version had the entire text of Ramcharitmanas, it was bereft of annotations and was in much smaller font. This version, called the “gutka” did not have the “Shalaka” grid. And, I think, there was an intermediate-sized version as well.

Little did I know that this “Book” would dominate much of what the North Indian Hindu society believed in. And for virtually every occasion there was a quote from Ramcharitmanas. Which was recited four times for ease of understanding! My father, for example, would recite an appropriate choupai from Ramcharitmanas in its original. Then he would repeat it this time breaking it up into small pieces, explaining the meaning of each piece. The third iteration was the full Hindi translation. And the closing version was the original one, the entire choupai all over again to round off this pithy lesson in human behaviour, or a salve to the sufferings or a solution to one’s problems in life. Like take this one:

“Jo vichar karihun man mahin

Prabhu pratap kachhu durlabh nahin.”

Round one would be a verbatim repeat of the choupai.

Then Round 2, the broken-up choupai with Hindi translation:

Jo vicharjaisa tum soch rahey ho, chahte ho, Pitaji would elaborate and also check whther I had understood or not. “Samjhey beta?

Karihum man mahin- jo tumhare mann mein hai. Pitaji would recheck,” theek hai na?”

Prabhu pratap- bhagwan ke parakram se.

Kachhu durlabh nahinsab kuchh mil jayeega; Pitaji would conclude. “To yeh hua matlab iska.”

“Phir suno”, he would say. Round 3 now:

“Jaisa tum chahate ho,jo  tumharey man mein hai, Bhagwan tumhein awashya dilayengey.” Pitaji would translate the full choupai together In Hindi.

“To yeh kaha hai Goswami Tulsidas ji ne, ab phir sey suno, beta“. And then he would repeat the original.

Round 4, to round up this homily.

“Jo vichar karihun man mahin

Prabhu pratap kachu durlabh nahin.”

And so on and so forth it went. Every elder in the large circle of family and friends had some choupai or the other to narrate, whatever be the issue involved. And we  kids would be agape with astonishment (and part due to our inability to absorb such a gem) with all this wisdom flowing in!

Sometimes I wonder if this four-time repetition is why this was called a choupai! I am joking, of course!!


Like most traditional Hindu families, as I have mentioned earlier, ours too had the fat edition of Shri Ramcharitmanas in our pooja room. My mother, who hardly read any other printed matter would pull out the Book and read parts of it in her halting manner. Apparently, the ability to read Ramcharitmanas was a major qualification for a bride in the old days. As in the following example. The eligible bachelor’s mother would see a see a prospective bride in a temple or at a relative’s place. She would then convince her husband or her son (the eligible bachelor), “This girl is well-mannered (sushil), she can handle all household work (ghar key saarey kaam mein nipun hai), she can stitch and embroider (silayi-kadhai kar leti hai). And as a clincher, the propective mother-in-law would add, “Manas bhi baanch leti hai” (she can read ‘Manas- Ramcharitmanas- too). That would be the clincher. The ultimate sign those days of culture and literacy!

Hanuman Chalisa, that forty line ode to the power of Lord Hanuman is what any North Indian Hindu kid learns early, I was no exception. Pitaji taught each one of the words of this. He also added an interesting “historical” background to Hanuman Chalisa. He said that Tusidas had two kids (baalak) staying with him in his ashram. They were scared of darkness and ghosts. Tulsidas specially wrote Hanuman Chalisa for the benefit of these two kids and told them that regular recitation of this would keep evil spirits and harm away from them. (Bhoot-pishaach nikat nahin aawein, Mahavir jab naam sunawein). We kids were asked to follow the same advice. And indeed most of the Hindu populace across the globe still does.

My wife has placed a copy of Hanuman Chalisa in her pooja room, and she carries a copy in her purse when we are traveling. I am not a great believer in ritualized religion (I do not “pray” in the classical sense) but I do make it a point to listen to Hanuman Chalisa the first thing when I board my car to travel to work. A bonus is that I teach my kids whatever little I know of the story or Hanuman, and Ram and indeed Hinduism to my kids when I drop them in the mornings to their school on my way to work. Which also gives me an opportunity to teach them some advanced Hindi: like meaning of words like “Ram doot”, atulit, “sookhsham” and ‘roop” etc. My kids are habituated to it enough to ask the driver to play Hanuman Chalisa on their way to school even when I am traveling they. Though I am sure they would have also loved some rap or heavy metal music! (On my travels I play it on my laptop early mornings.)

There is something in Hanuman Chalisa which makes me a “believer”, so to speak. Hanuman I have faith in. Lord Ram has said that it suffices if one to think of (sumiran) Hanuman. The very thought of Hanuman is enough to propitiate Lord Ram himself. Hanuman, the all powerful, and the very epitome of devotion to Ram Himself!  And I think of Hanuman as someone who is with you in vanquishing all problems: “Sankat kate mitey har peera, japat nirantar Hanumat veera.”  No wonder then, that whenever I board my car driving to work in the morning I have Hanuman Chalisa playing in the car audio system. I could do with some divine intervention in the rough- and-tumble of my life!!

Besides Hanuman Chalisa, we were taught some more bhajans when we were kids. Meera, Surdas, Kabir and Tulsidas. But my most favourite was,“Shri Ramchandra Kripalu Bhajuman” fromVinay Patrika by Tulsidas. This was also the first bhajan all of us siblings got to learn. We would recite this in the evenings before we got to sleep. And sometimes as a demo of our singing skills to some important guests. I was considered to especially good at this. I would clasp my hands, close my eyes, and sing the bhajan at the top of my voice. Voice still a child’s, not broken yet. Some others bhajans we learnt were “Tu dayaalu deen hon, tu daani hon bhikhari”, “Koi Udaar Jag mahin” etc. “Tu dayaalu” was also a handy piece for cracking the elocution competitions at school!


Here I am, decades later, sitting in Kamani theatre, Delhi, 6th July 2009, awaiting the screen to open for a play on Tulsidas. This is closest to the flesh and blood of Gosawmi Tulsidas I can come to. I see vividly his trials and tribulation, the struggles he had to go through. And what all he stood for. Tulsidas suddenly was not the writer of a famous book, but as someone who took on the dogma prevailing in his time and stood his ground. Never confronting, always reasoning. And always full of bhakti towards Ram.

I shall not tell more about it, I have said my piece in an earlier post just after I saw the play.

Anshu Tandon has done an immense service to those like me who thought they knew it all given their north Indian background. Now I do know what the idea of Tulsidas was!

(This post was inspired by a reader’s comment on an earlier post of mine, my take on Anshu’s play, “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar”. Thank you so much, dear reader. You were so perceptive and generous with your comments  too. And I do not even know you! Thanks you so much!)

PS: You will discover a lot more about Goswami Tulsidas and Anshu’s play on the play’s website:

Jo Chaho Ujiyaar: A Triumph of Bhakti… and Reason

July 11, 2009
Tulsidas reasoning with the mahants

Tulsidas reasoning with the mahants

The lights dim, a hush falls over the audience and the distinctive voice of Gulzar comes on the auditorium loudspeakers. Starting with a quotation from anachronistically- in a play about the 16th century Tulsidas- the great Russian writer Maxim Gorky. “There are very few good things on earth. What is good is to think about doing good things.” Or something to the effect.

When the curtain opens to “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar” I am struck by the elegance of the stage design. A large and deep stage split into three parts, the area on the left a hut, mostly Tulsidas’ residence, the section on the right a raised platform under the shade of a tree which alternately serves as a public meeting place in  a village; a chaupal, a dalaan, a worship place even as we discover through the course of the play. And the central portion, steps leading on to a large platform representing alternately Varanasi town or the famed ghats of Varanasi. Clean and dramatic, that set design.

One would have expected Tulsidas to enter early in the play, but all we see in the beginning are villagers and their struggles and vicissitudes in life. This quickly establishes the status of the exploited common villager. Very critical to the development of the idea that was Tulsidas. More about that later. The entry of Tulsidas happens a little later, so well conceived. The stage dark, a glow of golden-yellow spot on Tulsidas standing on the central platform. With the song “Bar dant ki pangati” playing in the background. The young Tulsidas ready to unleash his magic on the world.

What follows are the conflicts he has to face. The mahants of Kashi thunder as to how he could do the blasphemous act of narrating the story of Shri Ram in the commoners’ language! The hidden sub-text is that Tulsidas is taking away their command over the populace by narrating the scriptures not in Sanskrit but in Avadhi, the common village householders’ language. And there is also a sub-sub text to the clash between the Kashi mahants, who are traditionally Shaivites (Shiv Bhakts) with the Vaishnavites, the Ram bhakt followers of Tulsidas.

Multiple intrigues and sub-plots later, the denoument is reached with the arrival of then Delhi emperor’s- Akbar’s- emissary who congratulates Tulsidas for spreading religiosity among the people. He also presents him a boxful of “Ram-Siya” coins which Akbar has specially minted to express his solidarity with Tulsidas’ mission.

What some may miss out on in this intricately woven story is the relationship which Tulsidas shares with the two most influential persons in his life- both women- one his mother and the other his wife. The mother appears on stage only in flashbacks. The relationship between the mother and the son is tender and loving. The background score of “Ram, haun kaun jatan ghar rahihon” when Tulsidas is conversing with his -now deceased- mother is so poignant that can not help but cry. And the beauty is that the roles of the son and the mother are reversed when the scene is being enacted. The son become the mother and vice versa.

Ratna counselling Tulsidas

Ratna counselling Tulsidas

That Ratna, Tulsidas’ wife, was a strong influence in the poet’s life is very strongly established. In a quirk of fate, the young Ratna is her husband’s soulmate only for a few years. Her demise is fleetingly indicated in a touching scene when Tulsidas is told that she may have drowned while trying to cross the river in a stormy monsoon flood. Ratna was on her way to her maika, to celebrate the saawan month. But even in this relatively short period she has had a telling influence on the course of Tulsidas’ life. Ratna’s ghost appears some thirty years or so later, to reassure the reformer Tulsidas’ that his chosen path in life is correct. The parting of Tulsidas and the ghost of Ratna is very touching. Very inspirational for Tulsidas as she exhorts him to carry on his mission of taking the scriptures, and indeed the Hindu way of life, to the masses. To the grihasth, the common householder.

And all this grand action is highlighted by the most wonderful Tulsi sangeet you would ever hear. Some of the best pieces of Tulsidas have been selected, right from the “title song”, “Ram naam mani deep dharoon…… jo chaahas ujiyaar” from Ramcharitmanas, to stanzas from his other celebrated works like Vinay Patrika, Geetavali, Kavitavali. Tulsi “pads” like “Tu dayalu deen haun”, “Kou udaar jag mahin”. Hanuman chalisa is there of course. And his famous stuti to Shiv, “Namami Shamishaan”. Namami has been composed to a pulsating, nearly war-like beat which I had never heard before. In fact I have even heard a version in a recent film called “Dharm” which is sung as a lullaby! But in the context in which this is used (the confrontation between the mahants and Tulsidas) in the play, it seems to be most apt. . Ditto with Hanuman Chalisa. Very different compared with the various versions I have heard. And many, many more songs. Folk songs, mantras, even an old recorded piece of Kumar Gandharv. And yet another recorded dhrupad of Gundecha brothers.

The songs are sung by none other than the celebrated Pune-based Hindustani classical vocalist Sanjeev Abhyankar, the one who received the national award for the best playback singer for his very first Hindi film song way back in 1998. A voice of someone who is in complete control of the octaves, a voice suffused with supreme devotion. And guess what this great singer told in the press conference! He said that all the credit for the success of this music should go to Anshu (the man behind this project), as it is his passion which shows up in the final music. What humility on part of this great singer!

This music is superbly composed by the music director, Hem Singh, who is little known outside the Lucknow circles. But this gentleman has done a wonderful job. I met him before the play and complemented him on his work. I told him what I felt, “kaljayi kriti”, a work which transcends time.

And the celebrated sound designer, K.J. Singh? I have no competence to judge, or even figure out, what he has done. But I do know that he has put together one of the best musical compositions ever. And this jolly sardar from Mumbai, the guy who too is a national award winner for his sound engineering for Omkaraa a few years ago, was confabulating with the auditorium sound guy till the last minute before the play started. Giving them appropriate suggestions, I suppose. And KJ also took Anshu’s family, and me as a hanger-on, for a late, late dinner that evening. Chatting with Anshu all the while as to what all he needs to do before the next staging.

Tulsidas narrating Ramkatha

Tulsidas narrating Ramkatha

And in this thing about great music it would be naive to forget about the performances given by the actors. That the actor who plays Tuslidas, Varun Tamta, has entered the soul of his character is undoubted. The effortless ease with which he straddles the stage playing a 30-year old Tulsidas in act one and then in act two, Tulsidas at 60 years and beyond is enthralling. Tulsidas narrating Ramkatha to the common men in one scene, reasoning with his detractors in the other, a husband in the third and a son in another. The pains and struggles of Tulsidas, and his innate humanness, all reflects so clearly on the actor’s face and movements. The strong counterfoil to Tulsidas is his young wife, Ratna, played by Manisha. A simple village girl with a mind of her own. And an ability to engage someone of the stature of Tulsidas as an equal. Strong, yet loving. The tenderness of the relationship is well brought out by the director.

The director duo of Parijat Nagar and Suresh Lahri have put this large cast together to weave an altogether enthralling story. A story which seems very relevant even today. The story of reason versus religious bigotry. A story of the voice of sanity among the cacophony of maniacal cries.

What about the man behind the show, Anshu Tandon himself? Well, he was seated between his wife and I, and “enjoying” the show. He was hoping I would not notice his tears, as I hoped he would not notice mine. We both kept our hankies ready, but at strategic distances from our respective eyes.

And Mr M Gorky? Well, his words were prophetic. True, there are indeed very few things good on earth. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I must say Jo Chaho Ujiyaar is one such. And Anshu is one guy, who keeps thinking about good things, and sometimes doing some great things.

Take a bow Anshu!

PS: 21st Jan 2010.

Anshu has posted a “trailer” on You Tube. Here is the link:

Chalo, Mela dekhein (चलो, मेला देखें)!

July 4, 2009

One of the most sought after events of the annual calendar was the Ganpati festival, popularly called Ganesh Puja. This was not due to any religious fervour, the attraction being the associated  mela with the Puja. All publicly celebrated Hindu festivals have a carnival-like atmosphere around them. Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja, Vishwakarma puja and Kali Puja, no Puja is complete without the loud film songs on the PA system, the eateries and the toy-wallahs. But the Ganesh Puja mela of Jamshepdur was something else altogether. While virtually each street corner had their Ganesh pujas, the Puja I am talking about is the one which was celebrated in the Kadma area.

To start with, for a kid, the focus of this Ganesh Puja was on the mela and not on the puja. Unlike, say, Durga Puja, where moving from pandal-to-pandal and admiring different versions of Goddess Durga’s statue and the pandal decor. Worship being the focus during Saraswati Puja. Ganesh puja was total mela, total fun.

The fun lay in the multiple “stalls” laid out around the Ganesh Puja pandal. These would start springing up weeks before the D-day. They were the standard ones, but that did not stop us from feverishly anticipating them as the day neared. Little tarpaulin-covered stalls ready to unleash their magic!

Nandan Kanan Kala Bhavan (नंदन कानन कला भवन) was the major attraction in the mela. This was a most wondrous collection of clay statues magically brought to life by ingenious use of electric motors. The statues dealt largely with scriptures and mythology, like Ram’s vanvaas, Sita’s agni-pariksha etc. They would be so constructed that each limb or part of the body could “move” at a pre-determined trajectory, repetitively. For example take this tableux of the treatment meted out to a sinner when he reached hell. There would be this petrified sinner sitting right in the middle with two fiercely mustachioed, bare-torsoed  giants on either side of him. The giants would hold a mean-looking hacksaw with which they would proceed to decapitate their victim. Their movements were programmed to move in unison with the hacksaw going through the pre-slitted throat of the sinner. Rrrrriiippp, they would move left, and then return to their starting point, stopping with a shudder. And Rrrrriiippp again, this time to the right. And so on it went ad infinitum. The thick red “blood” oozing out of the throat was life-like, the burning eyes of the giants enough to scare the daylights out of a kid. We would be petrified and would stay rooted to the tableux, till the exhibitors nudged us along to the next one. Which would probably be an equally blood-curdling one like this one about an alternate punishment for the sinner, getting dunked into a large karahi of boling oil! As I would exit the “Kala Bhavan” I would solemnly resolve to myself not to commit any sin, not even an innocuous lie.

It was time then to go into some light-hearted stuff. The hall of mirrors. This was an array of mirrors of different curvatures placed alongside the walls of the stall. In one mirror you would look very fat, very thin and tall in the other. And then in the third, you could see multiple images of yourself. And a totally contorted image of your body in the fourth. None of the images ever failed to evoke delirious laughter among us kids! I had not studied optics then, and indeed not even physics. So, there was no urge to figure out the curvature of mirrors. Sheer, unadulterated joy of seeing distorted images of your body! And your friends’!!

From mirth and laughter it was time to move on to some real action. The ever scintillating “Maut Ka Kuwan” (मौत का कुआँ). Or the “Well of Death”. Just 25 paise for the show! The well was an overground one, maybe 70-80 feet tall and about 25 feet in diameter, a creeky wooden structure laid out for the mela. The spectators would climb up on the rickety staircase constructed on the outside of the wall and peer into the well below. And- after what seemed like hours-  the motorcycle rider rode in, on the “floor” of the well. The biker would circle all around the periphery of the well and then with a sudden swift movement, clamber onto the wall of the well. Yes, nearly perpendicular to the wall to start with and then navigate his way to the upper part of the wall -totally perpendicular to it. Why did I say “he”? It was often a “she”! Round-and-round the biker would go. The bike would make a raucous sound on its ambulations and the well would shake and rattle resonating the motion of the bike. Adding to the effect the show was having on us, the spectators, clinging to the parapet on the top of the well watching the spectacle below. Sight, sound and vibrations. What a sensory delight! The biker would swoop up at nearly a handshake distance from the spectators leaving all squealing in delight. Biker number one was often joined by another biker, but of the opposite sex. Each dressed in flashy silk shirt/ blouse. The whirr of the silk, the sound of the bike and the rumbling of the well “wall”. The denoument when they scaled up the wall with a ferocious speed nearly within the reach of the spectators whose collective hearts skipped several beats! And then the time to wind down and descend to the safety of terra firma. Boy, that was some experience, each time!

Then there was the next one. The one which allowed kids to behave like “studs” by themselves! The jhoola. The innocuous jhoola was a major one to display one’s “abilities”. It was a wooden four-cradle affair being spun manually by the jhoola-wallah. 4 to a cradle, 16 in total. The jhoola-wallah would initially give a few slow spins to all the “travelers” and check if each one of us was feeling OK. No nausea etc. Sure enough, the tough ones amongst us would say, OK, and rarely, if anyone, demurred. And then began the rapid whirl. Each as exhilarating as the other. Remember there were no electric jhoolas those days. Grunts and shrieks and hands clinging tight to the cart handles. The more adventurous ones amongst us (not me!!) would throw down their ‘kerchiefs down on the ground on the way up and then lean down and pick it up on their way down. There were even competitions among friends as to who would pick-up the most drops of the ‘kerchief! Till the jhoola-wallah slowed down and let all of us off cart-by-cart to accommodate the next batch of the impatient queuing “passengers”!

The mela also had a chidiyaghar (चिडियाघर) a zoo. With some very tired looking tigers, lions and hippos among many others. The biggest attraction for all of us- Jamshedpur had no permanent zoo till then- were the multiple species from the simian family. Those multi-coloured bandars!

What is a mela without toys and food! After the excitement of these shows was over, it was time for some snacks. Golgappas, of course, were the most popular. And the side-dish of ghughni. Some even preferred the tikki and aloo chat. Some of the off-beat ones were Sohan Papdi, khaja (a very Bihari sweet) and . The popular peanuts, or chiniya-badaam as we call them in Jamshedpur, were handy snacks as we strolled around the mela. Then there were cart-loads of ice-cream, Kwality being the most popular brand.

Then there was these toys to be bought. There were the standard mela ones. Like the yo-yo. That water-filled rubber balloon tied to a rubber chord. You would twirl the chord around your fingers and throw the balloon down only to pick it up on its way back. Up, down, up, down. Till the balloon ruptured and sprayed its contents, water, all over the observers. And the damroo. And the modern-day damroo equivalent. The one with no name which I call the rat-tat-tat toy. And the metal tic-tic-tic toy. Looked like a whistle sheared into a half with a lip to press and depress alternately to give its defining “clack-ety” sound. And my favoritest of all- the spring monkey. A plastic monkey slung on a tightly wound spiral chord held securely on a frame. I would go berserk on the spring monkey. Holding the contraption down so that it slithered down. And then overturning the contraption so that the monkey went the other way. And back-and-forth, and forth-and-back. Endless hours of entertainment.

When I went to Jamshedpur for the Durga Puja last year I had resolved to buy a few of these spring monkeys. I found none. Even after a major hunt across several Puja pandals, by the entire family.

And then I realized, that was a bit of my childhood lost, forever! Gone!!