Kolar, a small town in the state of Karnataka was known for its gold mines. Likewise, it had carved a niche in my heart with some golden memories.
My father was an Executive engineer in the Public Works Dept. in the erstwhile Mysore state. When he was posted to Kolar, he was allotted quarters next to that of the Deputy Commissioner. This was the house which formed the hub of all our activities in our childhood. I spent 4 years there between the ages 3 and 6
About four decades later, the school I was working arranged to send us on a visit to David Horsborough’s school at Rayalpad in Andhra. I was thrilled to find that we would be passing through Kolar. Imagine my excitement when our Matador passed right in front of ‘our’ house! The house, though well maintained, looked smaller and the driveway shorter to my now grown up eyes. But what a cornucopia of memories did the house hold!
The house had a verandah with wooden trellis work painted green. There were three halls one after another with rooms on either side. Next was the long covered passage leading to a perpendicular unit containing storeroom, kitchen, dining room and bathroom. The dry bogs were way out in the compound.
Apart from my parents the family consisted of my 7 siblings (The eldest, a sister, was married and was in Bangalore. The wife hadn’t joined my eldest brother yet, but would come during holidays.) So, my three elder brothers and one elder sister formed the senior brigade and the two juniors i.e., my niece (a contemporary of mine) and I formed the tail. The house used to be always full of aunts, uncles and cousins in transit. We had a cook, a driver (for our Austen) and a number of servants.
There was a big garden behind the house with 4 tamarind trees-3 red and 1 white, a jack fruit tree, a huge mango tree, a guava tree apart from mulberry bushes, a Lemon tree and some Pomegranate trees. Outside the garden, we had a custard apple tree right behind the kitchen and a fig tree in the inner courtyard. We had Togari (Arhar) plant, Curry leaves, turmeric and ginger plants along with jasmine, champa, rose, chrysanthemum, tube rose and other flowering plants. The front compound had a green lawn with a big neem tree near the side gate under whose cool shade we used to play games. Once my father even erected a big tent under it for us for the summer holidays.
More than the house, it was the garden and the trees that have stayed on in my mind. Since the school holidays coincided with the appearance of the raw mangoes on the trees, my brothers and cousins would collect them, take them to the outhouse in the garden with a knife, salt and chilli power and hold mango parties. Being the youngest, we were also tolerated –I with my niece would be seated separately with a limited quota of mangoes, tamarind and guavas. There was certainly no deficiency of Vitamin C in the family! Ripe mangoes of course, were always bought in the market in huge baskets.
My niece and I formed such a self contained unit that it floors me even to this day that I just don’t remember seeing my mother pregnant, her confinement (except for the presence of my grandmother and grandaunt) or the birth of my baby sister . It is surprising how selective one’s memory could be. My first memories of my younger sister were not as a baby in the cradle but as a three year old going to Pre Primary school in Bangalore when I was 7 years old. All my earlier memories are only of me and my niece. We were devils. We were angels. We would fight. We would giggle a lot too. Sometimes, my father would threaten to tie us one each to the two tall Road jasmine (a fragrant long stalked white flower) trees outside our gate.
We were very fond of climbing the short and sturdy custard apple tree which had two cozy natural seats. My niece always believed that bowing to God 12 times would wipe out any sin knowingly or unknowingly committed. One day she was making fun of the names of Lord Rama’s sons. When I pointed out that she was committing a sin, she started bowing down 12 times. But she never reached the 12th one because by then she had lost her balance and fallen down the tree and thus perhaps remained unforgiven that particular time!
We both were very fond of throwing slices of ladies finger (Bhendi) and Radish (mooli) on the sweaty, sticky, jet black body of our cook Ramachandrappa to see how they would stick to him and make him look funny. I wonder what he used to do with the slices later. Put them in Sambar? (yuk!)
We would be taken to our pre primary school in a big blue plywood perambulator (no dainty strollers those days). We would get down like two princesses to the envy and admiration of our school mates.
I also remember the two of us boycotting an old cane chair in the house as in the house as we had seen one of the uncles (whom we had named ‘Quite right’ mama as he used the two words very often in his conversation) passing wind unabashedly while sitting on it.
Some fruits would drop from the wood apple tree in the Deputy Commissioner’s compound on our side of the compound too. Collecting them and waiting for them to ripen used to be a major occupation for the two of us. The ‘dropping of the baby’ to a count of ten used to be a favorite game of ours. This we used to do with the long, thick woody skinned fruits that hung from the ‘Aane Bela’ tree.
The third point in our triangle sometimes used to be our neighbor’s grand daughter. Her mother was the famous Kannada humorist. Her maternal uncle became an IAS officer serving all over the country .Eventually he married our friend (his niece). The three of us would pinch roasted chana dal and jaggery from their store room. In those days of childish innocence, the celebrity value of our neighbors was never an issue with us.
Like all good things, our paradise also had to come to an end one day. My father got transferred to Bangalore, where we lived in a rented house.