Memory lane

Some pictures from my home town of Kolkata
where I spent my formative years

Howrah House The Howrah house (called Abinash Dham) where I grew up. The Family factory (Chemco India) was on the ground floor, the next two floors were living quarters and the must have for the Indian climate – the open terrace at the top. A bog standard bricks and mortar building with italian marble in many of the rooms.

This house was sold a few years ago and now has been replaced by a building more suited to current needs… a high rise in other words.

My nanny, Prativa Basu, the matriarch of the family. Educated up to the 5th grade, married off at 11, first child at 15 (I think!), she was quite forward thinking for her time. Well known in the locality for dispensing free homeopathy (brown box); the pots of sweets (on the table) were also (nearly always) ready for those who arrived unannounced. The bell was a later addition when mobility became an issue. My nanny, Prativa Basu
 Howrah junction The famous Howrah junction. Follow the bus and it’ll take you into the heart of Howrah, a maze of lanes and side lanes. How so much traffic can fit in such a small space as the existing roads has always fascinated me.
Howrah Bridge (the old one) in the background was for decades the main bridge linking Kolkata to Howrah and its suburbs. A section of Howrah Station’s lines in the fore. The Indian Railway system today, a fantastic legacy of the British, is a vast network covering a large part of India.   Howra station and Howrah Bridge
 Trip to Kolkata Zoo (Shirley nearest camera) Going to the Kolkata zoo – those were the days. Nanny sitting on the bench with my sister and me by her side. Preparations for the picnic lasted a day. The whole drama of people packing themselves inside 2 or 3 cars and jetting off to this exotic place full of animals was exciting to a small child. I have only visited that zoo once as an adult.
 In the West cutting vegetables is an action done standing up. This lady was one of our lived in ladies. She is cutting vegetables the traditional way. You have to sit on the floor and hold the knife with your leg bent over it. The knife is called a “Boti” – pronounced “bow tee” with the “bow” sound being nasal and it is basically a curved blade which is fixed on a block or rectangular wood. The knives come in different shapes and sizes for different jobs. I have never done what she is doing – looking up while cutting. Those knives are extrememly sharp and dangerous. In all my years in Howrah, I am happy to convey that there was never a serious accident that I can remember involving the Boti  Cutting vegetables on a "Boti"
Another view of the "Boti" This picture shows another angle of the above knife. The lady in the white sari would visit us periodically to helpout. The other lady is a visitor from a village in the state of Bihar.
Nanny at her usual place for her main meals. Note the counter to her right with some of the familiar sights I grew up seeing. The stainless steel jug of water, the essential red torch, the photos of gods, the square wooden homeopathy box and the ever present Lovage seed concentrate or Joaner Arob (two largish bottles with pale and dark green label – behind the stainless steel jug) to aid digestion. A cap of the concentrate diluted in a glass of water and that’s it! Also note the sweet box wrapped in the yellow plastic bag to Nanny’s left (waiting for the sudden arrivals). Sometimes the sweets didn’t last that long. Westeners love choclolate and Bengalis love suggary sweets. Well, or so I thought. Now people are becomiing more health conscious and so instead of sweets they have developed a taste for pizzas and other such food (ha!ha!). Nanny eating dinner
Shirley and nanny  Once I had moved to the West trips to Kolkata were infrequent. This picture was taken during one such trip in the 80’s. Trips were usually for 2 weeks of which most of the time was spent taking about and actually just eating or drinking something. Nanny did pamper us a lot as you would expect a grandma to do. Even into her late 70’s Nanny had a lot of black hair. And who can forget that plaited braid. She also had a distinctive smell to her and once she caught hold of your hand there was no letting go. Unfortunately I don’t remember her ever being very able. She was short and rather on the large size. Much of the time was spent sitting on the bed as you see in the photo unless she was lying down because her back was hurting.