“Should we take the bus or should we just take a rickshaw instead?” asked by grandmother. Walk, just walk I kept repeating. The reason being quite simple the more we walked the more time that we had together listening to stories of her childhood and of course Indian version of fairy tales.
It was around 1985 – 1986 and I had just joined St. Lawrence High School in the junior section. Being very sentimental school was not that very attractive for me. Seeing my mother vanish beyond the curve near our house every morning on my school bus ride to school was always a very teary affair. Often tears would roll down my eyes and the boy sitting next to me would console that the school would be over in no time and I would be back home soon. I still remember his name “Piu”, I am sure it was what his parents called him home but he stuck with that. And the best part was that Piu was of my age and in the same class. I have never ever met Piu after leaving that school.
I do not know why but the return trip was not done on the school bus but either my father would come with his Luna Moped or my grandmother would come to pick me up. My grandmother would be around 68 years then and still had the strength to walk all the way from Ballygunge Circular Road to Bondel Road. She would be more concerned whether I would be able to walk all the way.
The reason why I loved the long tedious walks were that she would stop in front of old houses and mansions and tell their heritage and often would weave that into a fairy tale of sorts. Since I was very young I do not recall much but still, can remember a house with different sized stones plastered to the outside wall. The stones were smooth and were probably from a river as flowing river water had made them smooth. My grandmother would touch each one of them and tell me their history and which river they came from.
For a six-year-old child who fortunately did not have Internet connectivity or television, these were like a goldmine. It’s now I realise that she used to make most of the stories but what were accurate was the history of the rivers. Moreover, those were incentives for me to keep walking as by then we would have only covered half of the way back home.
Ballygunge Circular Road had many houses belonging to famous personalities from movie stars to businessman and my grandmother would stop in front of them and tell me about their business empire of the various trivia of Suchitra Sen. Often she would stop and ask if I was tired and would like to avail a rickshaw to which I would always say a big no.
Some of the old mansions would have old cars mostly vintage parked outside, seeing those she would narrate some old stories of pre-independence era and how she used to see Bada Sahibs come and visit her father who was a Daroga in the narcotic department under British India Calcutta Police.
Sometimes there were breaks which would definitely include enjoying Pepsi. Don’t get me wrong, these were not the cola drinks but ice lollies in plastic tubes which one would need to keep licking till they would turn complete white with just the ice remaining. There was orange, kala khatta and lemon flavours available but we would always stick to orange which was just 50 Paise. Sometimes on very rare occasion, we would have strawberry stick ice cream from the ice cream cart which would be for a princely sum of Rs. 2.
Crossing Ballygunge Phari was not that chaotic, with limited traffic it would be an easy crossover from Dhaba towards Phari Park. There would be occasions when a tram would pass by and then for sure my grandmother would talk about horse-drawn carriages and trams.
Moving towards Bondel Road would be quite a different affair, a stark difference from the posh Ballygunge Circular Road. During that time there was no Bondel Road flyover and often there would a traffic queue at the railway gate. Reaching near to home would also mean passing by the small tea shop which used to also sell kites. During those days a kite would just cost 25 Paise and I would have to beg her to buy me one. She always obliged even knowing that I was too young to fly a kite and at most would get it tangled with the television antenna.
My stint at St. Lawrence High School lasted just two and a half years after which my father had shifted to Bangalore and we had to also shift with him. What was left behind were the long empty roads of Ballygunge Circular Road and stories of my grandmother.