Memories of the urban life
N J Ravi Chander
A torrent of memories engulfed me as our childhood home in Fraser Town, Bengaluru, made way for high-rise construction. It was in the mid-1960s that my kin moved into the quaint, colonial-style ‘Monkey Top’ building with whitewashed masonry and red oxide flooring.
A pair of guava trees towered over the dwelling, spreading its leafy arms and serving as a haven for avians and squirrels. We learned the ropes of tree climbing here; an art sadly lost to today’s generation. Flowering shrubs that lined the compound wall let off a heavenly fragrance and tingled our olfactory senses.
One entered the bungalow through a small verandah where a sepia-tinted photograph of my late parents, M N Jayaraman and Padmavathi greeted visitors. A Belgium-make, circular mirror, embellished the wall on the left. The verandah led into the central living room adorned with a grandfather clock, sports trophies, medals, battle sword and other memorabilia. But the most precious of them all was the ‘Order of British India’ (OBI) conferred on my paternal grandfather, M Narayanaswamy, who fought in World War II.
Alas! This souvenir went missing a decade ago. The walls bore framed paintings and a family picture comprising three generations. A teakwood box and L-shaped sofa skirted the wall. The living space served as our ‘den’ where the whole family gathered to relax or entertain themselves.
Other curios included a large Burma teak storage trunk, with multiple compartments inside, and an ornate chest of drawers made of rosewood and topped with a mirror, inherited from my paternal grandpa. Besides, portraits of Hindu deities and archaic oil lamps, the pooja room displayed the photo frames of my long-dead ancestors, whom we revered. The place also doubled up as a meditation room and a few hours spent here in the company of the Gods helped calm frayed nerves.
Dad used a coal-fired iron and a wooden table to press our clothes. The colonial-style shoe stand, bicycles, grinding stones, mortars, pestles and rice-pounder that sat in the backroom, reminded us of a bygone era. Antiquarian vessels stacked over one another in order of size grabbed eyeballs.
A copper boiler fuelled with dry twigs and coconut shells dominated the bathing rituals. We raised fowls in the backyard and never ran short of eggs or meat. A makeshift shed passed as the sleeping quarters for the pet dogs, and the compound became their last resting place.
Catapult wielding brats felled guavas when the tree was in fruit, and we had our task cut out in shooing them off. Squirrels, bats and parrots raided the orchard and often left a messy trail. But the real showstoppers were the monkeys, and the kids relished their antics and delighted at the way the primates pouched the fruits thrown at them. When we taunted them, the simians would resort to gnashing of teeth and petrify us. With the town turning into a concrete jungle, the monkey troops have disappeared.
Another ubiquitous visitor was the house sparrow. They cherished their grains and were frequent intruders. The monkey-top roofs offered them the ideal setting to build nests or raise a family. Small-time hunters snared the birds and caged them, besides, making a meal of them.
The black beauties – crows and ravens – were the other guests. They arrived during breakfast time and enjoyed the feed of chapatis (Indian flatbread), which dad flung over the low, sloping roof. The crow feeding was his daily routine before proceeding to the office, and he delighted in the exercise. As someone put it, “You never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory”.
(The writer is a former banker. He writes for the Deccan Herald, The New Indian Express, The Tribune, The Hitavada, The City Tab, The Hans India and Kashmir Vision)