BY RUCHIRA GHOSH
I was born twenty years after India, my motherland, attained independence from British Colonial rule. Nevertheless the impact of approximately two hundred plus years’ regime and socio-cultural interaction was so deep rooted that it took many more years to gradually lessen the impact.
In a personal vein, I was born during this period of transition and turmoil; and now more than fifty years later what remains with me are blurred memories…
I remember those miniscule cut glass goblets into which my parents poured measured doses of syrups and other prescribed medicines when I would fall ill. More memories… My father smoked Capstan cigarettes which are defunct now. He also had in his possession a cylindrical tin boxful of cigarettes. The moment he opened it with a twirl, a cigarette would pop up to his lips. As a toddler I was greatly amused by this activity. On most afternoons a baker’s man would slowly bicycle his way into our lane and nearby alleys .There was a huge metal chest fixed in front of his bicycle. And out of this magic box he would fish out freshly baked loaves, scrumptious patties and delicious tiny pastries with pink sugar icing which delighted us kids no end. Loaves have long been replaced by packets of sliced bread colloquially known as double roti in the northern parts of the country. Loaves are now available in upmarket bakeries. At fancy prices of course. A look around the good old kitchen back home shows how it has undergone changes. Gone are the paper straws we sipped juices and other chilled beverages with. Also gone are the biscuit, drink mixes and confectionery tins in myriad shapes and sizes. The household names e.g Glaxo, Horlicks, Ovaltine, Morton’s, Parry,’s, Bournvita et al are not familiar anymore. Only Cadbury’s and Britannia fortunately managed to retain their pride of place. Giant tea brands such as Lipton’s and Brooke Bond have been pushed aside by numerous local manufacturers. Nevertheless, they are still valued and patronized by connoisseurs. Talking of tea, few Indians nowadays drink it the way the British used to. The Indian avatar (aka chai) is an exceedingly sugary concoction doused in milk, and laced with garam masala (aromatic spices). Trust me.
Out on the streets, Burma Shell petrol pumps have been overrun by their Indian counterparts. Band box dry cleaners-cum-laundry shops gave way to local brands; tailors & drapers are now only tailors. Pharmacies are rechristened as chemists’ shops. Signboards above shop entrances now display English sentences interspersed with Hindi or other vernaculars. Only hi-fi, chic, sophisticated outlets are found to be sporting pure English signs. The signboards and hoardings lining the streets and roadsides screamed of famous and popular consumer products – Signal, Forhan’s MacLean toothpastes, Brown & Polson butter, Murphy radio / transistors, Colgate-Palmolive, Vaseline, Pond’s cold cream and shampoos, among many more – are conspicuous by their absence. Likewise Cherry Blossom shoe polish and Colgate toothpaste have taken backseats in the arena of consumer goods.
Honestly, I miss those solid looking red & black post boxes which patiently stood at street corners and bylanes. It was fun dropping letters into their deep interiors. Occasionally one caught sight of postmen emptying their content into spacious khaki bags and carrying them away to the respective post offices. These iconic structures are nowhere to be found. Inland letters, post cards as well as aerogramme/air mails have passed into oblivion forever. Same is the case with telegrams which, for the common folks, acted as harbingers of both good news and the bad. In the present day milieu of online banking and electronic money transfers even elderly people pay scant regard to money orders.
During the days of the Raj, sending boys and girls from elite families to study in prestigious boarding schools – located in picturesque hill stations across the country – was in vogue. In the post independence era this trend has greatly dwindled. Today even the most affluent of Indians prefer to educate their wards in “public schools” located in the cities where they happen to reside.
While still on the topic of schools, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a few of the English medium + missionary + convent schools – much sought after during the 1960 s and 1970s. There was great emphasis on the English language and its prolific application in our daily lives. We read Verse Time an anthology of poetry penned by the best and most famous of British poets. Decades later, I gather from authentic sources, that work of chiefly Indian poets (both in original English and in translation) occupy pages of English text books followed in the so called English medium schools which have mushroomed everywhere. Ah… for people of my age, Walter De la Mare, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, R.L Stevenson are now like a distant dream…How many school kids have heard of them? I wonder.
The exit of the British sounded the death knell of the basic element of discipline in the country. We grew up listening to anecdotes of how our grandfathers and great uncles would rush to their workplaces, braving rain thunder and lightning lest they be admonished by their Sahib bosses. Fast forward to the last decades of the last century…I have personally witnessed uncles, aunts, cousins, acquaintances and peers sauntering into their offices after the clock has struck 11a.m. with a nonchalant air…