Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Life in the 1990s

They say it wasn’t an easy time. From vehicles to seasons, from postal mail to relationships — everything moved much slower than they do today. Things took its time and rolled in when the time was right. I remember the 1990s as the golden years that I try to reinvent today. Even two decades later, its charm still lingers in its blue inland letters and the old radio that’s now tucked away in a corner storage room. 

The house I grew up in was located in an old part of town in northeastern India. It was a white-walled house with a slanting green tin roof, a courtyard lined with flower beds and a gate over which dangled a Bougainville tree. The main door of the house opened up to a veranda that overlooked the residential street in front. One of the morning rituals that my grandparents had was to sit in the veranda with their cup of late morning tea and read the newspaper, talk, or simply watch the world go by. During the time, roads were void of the hustle bustle that we witness today. But if one sat at the veranda for a while, they’d soon know a little more about the families in the neighborhood and be prepared to receive a wave or shout out every now and then. 

Most households in town consisted of extended families. This meant that we never came home from school or work to an empty house like we do today. For growing children, there’s something about the love and warmth of grandparents that cannot be explained in words. Their quiet presence and indulgence is something I still long for. On Sunday mornings, my grandmother often walked into my room in-between her chores and called out to me for breakfast as she drew out thick curtains. Afternoons were meant for her narrations of local folk stories until her words trailed off and we, the grandchildren, had faces carved into pillows in an hour-long siesta.

Even 20 years later, early mornings from that time are still etched in my mind. Faint voices of my mother and grandmother in the kitchen reassured me of a familiar place when I was still faraway in-between dreams. At the time, eating together was an important family ritual. We ate together like we didn’t know any other way existed. Meals were usually elaborate — nothing like the express meals we have today. And most fruits and vegetables were grown at home. In our backyard, guava, banana, jujube, and mango trees grew next to vegetable patches of potatoes, tomatoes, and carrots. For us children, the backyard at night turned into a world where green-eyed monsters and witches appeared mysteriously. On friendly dares, in pitch darkness, we’d walk in a huddle towards the vegetable patches and then dash back to the open kitchen door bursting into peals of laughter.

Our green-roofed home was more often than not teeming with people and pets. It had housed cows, dogs of all sizes, and cats of all temperaments. There were cats napping on muras, dogs at dusk chasing crows away, and cows grazing in the backyard chewing grass around the cowshed. Frogs, crickets, and long-legged spiders roamed freely in the backyard. 

Guests often arrived in hoards during the weekend. Short visits turned into extended hours of conversation and feasting for adults and numerous games of catch and chase for children. Come what may, guests never left without having a cup of tea and freshly made local delicacies. Festivals and special occasions carried an irreplaceable charm. There was a mounting anticipation and eagerness for these occasions as they drew to a close. Food menus were carefully set, shopping for groceries and other knick-knacks were done days in advance, sleeping arrangements for all guests was meticulously planned, and all corners and spaces of the house were dusted, cleaned, and reorganized. When the day arrived, the house reverberated with fevered activities, music, and mirth. 



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These days, with the way our lifestyles have shaped up, we don’t get many visitors. The trees in the backyard have now made way for a parking lot. Where the green tin-roofed house once stood now stands a four-storied apartment building. The flower garden has been replaced by concrete floors where children from the apartment building play cricket in the evening. However, if you glance towards the main gate, a tree still stands. With its branches tangled in knots, it hunches over the gate like an old woman standing in wait like any moment now a visitor will walk in. 


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First published in The Gravel Magazine in the Winter of 2017.

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