Our first house address in Baroda was 108, Vithlesh Apartment, near Jayratna building, on the first floor. I started my LKG from Shreyas Vidyalaya, Polo Ground. The school was near to our apartment. I remember walking to school with my mom or dad. We lived there until I completed my fifth standard, 1987.
Our neighbor next door was a Parsi family. I remember Adil and Beena. Both were in high school or college. I loved their aromatic veg pulav. The Parsi aunty used to put rangoli designs outside her flat religiously every day. And occasionally I would get strong warnings from her whenever I stepped inadvertently on it. She was a school teacher. When we shifted to Priyadarshini Nagar, they came to visit us. That was the last time I saw them.
We had a pleasant relationship with the Nambiar family. They were on the second floor. Next to the Nambiar’s house was Darshan, my childhood best friend.
They were one of the ‘rare’ families in the entire apartment to have a Television set. I used to go to their flat to watch ASIAN GAMES – “Appu” which was hosted for the first time in India in 1982. After a few years, Darshan and his parents left Baroda.
Later, another family stayed in that flat. We had a friendly relationship with them too. Mom used to visit their house, to see ‘mammy’. I can still see mammy’s warm smile in that wrinkled face with a big red “Bindi” on her forehead.
I remember the day when dad bought a BPL Stereo. I was ecstatic to see the stereo, and I thought it was a television set.
I was six years old when my brother was born. We went by flight to Kottayam during vacation. I was curious to see the pilot and tried to peek inside the pilot’s cabin, but no luck. I loved the food served on the flight. I took a few spoons home. In those days, it was my ardent desire to become a pilot. On our return trip to Baroda, dad was not with us. We traveled alone. Dad met us at the Bombay airport.
Vacations were a very special time for me. We used to go to Kottayam every year. I loved the train journey. It was a 3 day, 2-night journey. My mom’s mother, whom I call Ammachy, was healthy and energetic in those days. She used to prepare delicious food. I loved watching ducks and hens. I used to pick eggs from the hen’s cottage.
I was very close with my dad during my childhood. He would be with us for a brief time and was usually out of town because of company projects. When he got home, I would search his luggage to see if he got anything for me. While at home, he would teach me maths. Mom would handle other subjects and take tests.
I remember an incident when my mom tried to put notta on my fingers. In my anger, I broke the window pane with my fingers. Dad had to take me to the clinic that night.
I used to receive frequent beatings from my mom for any wrongdoing. I don’t think dad ever beat me once.
I had a good friend by name, Chandu on the same floor where we lived. We played cards and cricket. I used to visit his house often.
I remember Alpesh and his family, our neighbor next door. Alpesh was of the same age as me. We used to play cricket occasionally.
My childhood friends were Nilesh, Kunjan, Jigar, Milind, Ashish, Dolly, and Vivek. I was good at playing Cricket. Every evening, we used to play outside the apartment. If not outside, we used to play in the common area on the 3rd floor. It was a nuisance for neighbors. I remember Jigar’s mother, she always used to ask us to go to some other floor to play, but we used to ignore her.
On the fourth floor, people were strict. Occasionally when we played on the fourth floor, somebody there would come with a stick and ask us to stop the game and go some other floor. The 3rd floor was the best place to play. Once Jigar’s mom scolded us because of the noise problem, while we were playing in the afternoon. In my anger, I told her, “where do we play. Every floor we go, we get the same answer. So we will play here”. She was stunned by my boldness and allowed us to play. Later, somebody complained to my mom about it.
After cricket, I was passionate to play “Lakhoti”. I enjoyed that game. I remember once I lost the game, and I had to do “langdi” all the way from our apartment until the Jayratna shop and come back.
Occasionally, I used to rent a bicycle from Navapura. In those days, if we pay 1 rupee, we could ride for 1 hour. Once I lost my way in Navapura. By God’s grace, some nice young Muslim folks helped me reach my apartment. I was so happy to be back in my apartment.
During vacation, the flatmates used to play carom, chess, and cards. I enjoyed playing “charsobees”, “donkey”, “judgement”.
I was glued to the television set whenever there was a cricket match between India and any country.
We were fortunate to have Ashish and Dolly’s family on the fourth floor. I loved the aunty’s kadla curry. During summer, I used to sleep with them on the terrace. Many families would sleep on the terrace to escape the summer heat. We played antakshiri at night.
We would go out together for movies, exhibitions, picnic, restaurants, and wedding ceremonies. During Diwali, we used to buy crackers from stalls in the Polo Ground.
Rajdhani was my favorite restaurant. I loved their chapatis and Gujarati dishes. I would have a sumptuous meal every time I go there.
I remember the trip to Ajwa Nimeta. It was the usual picnic place in our school.
During Ganesh Chaturti, we used to go out daily to see idols. Different parts of the city hosted colorful idols, some small, some huge. People stood in queues to have a glimpse of the idol.
Uttarayan was my favorite festival with the music blasting all around. Early morning, I would be on the terrace, not only flying kites but also grabbing the ones that were cut.
I enjoyed “Phuga Agyaras”, people throwing water-filled balloons at each other. I was so naughty that I used to put it in the freezer. It became rock solid. Once I gave that to Paresh and he threw it on the fourth floor. It broke the kitchen glass pane of Sivanandan’s house. For a month, I didn’t dare to go to the fourth floor.
Navratri was my favorite festival during my childhood. I would be eagerly looking forward to start during night. I remember the song “Tad Tad tali padey, tad tad tali padey”. I used to dance with the flatmates until it got over. Amma would be sleeping at home. Occasionally, we used to go to other places to watch garbas.
During the early eighties, we didn’t have a TV. I used to watch Doordarshan movies and serials from Dolly’s house. We would be at their house on Sundays. Their house was packed with families during movie time. Nilesh’s family had a VCR. Nilesh used to invite me to watch movies at his home. I think I have watched all the Amitabh Bachan’s movies in my childhood from their house.
We got our first TV, Dyanora when I was in the 4th Standard, 1986-87. I enjoyed watching serials like Malgudi days, Nukkad, Yeah joh hei zindagi, Karamchand, Hum Panch, Sigma, Vikram and Betal, Nukkad, Chitrahaar, Mungerilal, Ramayana, Mahabharat, Param Vir Chakra, Fauji.
Every night, Mom would recite traditional Jacobite Church prayers. I used to read the Malayalam prayer verses in English. During my life in the Vithlesh Apartment, I don’t remember attending Church. There were no churches nearby.
To be continued….