The influences in our lives of some path breaking stuff doesn’t go away easily. “My Fair Lady – the iconic film based on George Barnard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” was one influence which refuses to go away. It has been part of my growing up, fuelling the feminist in me, helping me win debates, elocutions – well, one Paper Reading too @ Panjab Uni, Chandigarh. At this last outing I acted out one song-drama sequence of this film and came on stage copying Eliza Do Little’s – the iconic Audrey Hepburn’s – “Just yooou waight Henri ‘iggins, Just yooou waight….”.
I could not be ignored amongst other seasoned third year speakers in my English department @ the Uni. They had to give me a 2nd prize!!
My title heading takes flight from this same movie, too – the egoistic Henry Higgins a.k.a Rex Harrison singing: “I am a Simple man…” to boost his egoistical and pompous idea of being the better person in the relationship.
Well, thus satirizing from there, we did have a Simple Life!
When? Not so long ago.
Why? Extremely difficult to answer but very easy to see. Is it the 10-year challenge with words?! I wonder…….
Tuning in into CARAVAN – the Saregama’s period offering with 5000+ hit oldies of Bollywood in a retro look, I am left wondering why we are in a hurry to change to something new-fangled and then get nostalgic about what had been with us earlier and want that back?
The 8 pm Chitrahaar on Doordarshan had all five of us cousins lined up in front of the TV each Friday, religiously and without fail. We gobbled it up with a yearning which could compare only to us being off food for a week.
Nazia Hassan’s original Disco Deewane album had me reminiscence about the new Sonodyne music system my father got for us one summer and the umpteen recordings we got done on the 90 minutes Sony cassettes.
The allurement of the Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven books and the Hardy Boys of the Franklin W. Dixon collective pseudonym as well as their female counterpart Nancy Drew had the charm and mystic which no Harry Potter nor Geronimo nor a Roald Dahl could ever get back for me. Not because of the content, which happens to be first rate and enchanting in all the newer ones too, but because the late 70’s and the early 80’s reading scene was opening to the classy and more sacrosanct young school readers like us who were exposed to the polished convent culture of the Irish nuns. And these books just fuelled our urge to pick up more and more books of a varied kind and I became a voracious reader around these magnetically imaginary yet tangible world of books.
I remember vying with my father for the Army library cards and often getting books issued slyly on all his four allowed cards!! It is from those readings done in the famed dusty shacks of libraries that I read about the fascinating African wild life Sanctuaries, the Angkor Wat temple, the Australian Universities, The Iceland Northern Lights, The Prairies of North America, The famed Ski slopes of northern Europe and countless such places in the National Geographic issues (which we weren’t allowed to take home) and spent hours reading and pouring over the fascinating and breadth-taking photographs of each issue. It was around this time that reading through those wonderfully written descriptive articles that I picked up a flare for writing and possibly, my first mental bucket-list of places I would like to visit before I die, if I ever get a chance. The goose bumps have appeared again as I recollect those day-dreaming Saturday and Sunday mornings spent endlessly in the army libraries hungrily and breathlessly devouring information from around the world, from publications which sadly my own son hardly ever had access to, as he grew up.
Well, he did have access to information, for Google had stepped in. But the magic of looking for books by understanding the library code of conduct, by ascertaining their worth from the synopsis on the back cover, by often reaching out for the same magazine from the shelf which were accessible from either sides and not letting go till the other person relents, loving to whisper and giggle to friends from behind books while the librarian glared at us disapprovingly, feeling all grown up while getting four books issued and loving the admirable glances of the elders around as they looked approvingly at us, searching and gleaning information for our projects through innumerable Encyclopaedias, coffee table books and the ‘reference’ section – none of this kind of aura and mood can Google match up to.
That character and atmosphere was different, distinctive and unparalleled. The Funk & Wagnalis New Encyclopaedia, still my prized possession, sits regally on the top shelf of my book case till today. Needless to add that they helped us bring in a dash of chic and that something ‘extra’ to all our projects and academic activities.
The road trips as opposed to taking flights on vacations was again something which has been relegated to the not so distant past. As opposed to a day’s 600 km journey to ones ‘native village’, we took 15 day trips during our Dussehra breaks to cover a large geographical area in and around the places that my father was posted to.
It was trips like this which taught us vital and important life skill lessons which I used with ease as an economics student as well. One lunch stop, on a really hot afternoon, at a ‘dhabha’ ( = road side Indian highway eatery) saw the hand-pump not work as we pumped to get water for drinking (Aghast? Are you? So am I as I recall now as I write!!) and then my father poured a mugful of water into its main shaft and told us that it was called “pump-priming” and that small addition of water gets the hand-pump to start gushing out water; how the government uses a small interjection of funds in either an industry or the economy to ‘jump-start’ it to start running on its own steam was hardly difficult for me to understand in an Economics lecture years later – that’s one of the examples.
Such experiences were numerous, each different and unique from the previous one. A double flat tire in the armed gangs infested eastern India gave us frightening insights into the daily routines of the villages in those parts of India while at the same time taught us reassuring lessons in human kind-heartedness all at the same time. A rare delayed schedule in our itinerary (which in itself was atypical of my father’s planning) had us stopping at a near deserted ‘dhabha’ ( = road side Indian highway eatery) which had the owners – dislocated Bengali workers – scramble to lay out the best fresh-right-from-the-vegetable-patch lunch for us with such warmth, hospitality and love that we’ve spoken about it several times, over these last 30 odd years since it transpired. A carelessly explained route to my father, on a trip to Darjeeling en-route to Sikkim, had us taking a steeply inclined downhill road which required Dad to brake frequently. This led to the brake slipping and we had to procure a triangle shaped piece of log of wood which I would slip in front of the rear wheel as dad slowed down for the frequent stops needed. It not just taught me to become answerable to the trust reposed in me but also that on a descent the car should be driven in the same gear which would be used while driving up on an ascent. This was long before I took the wheel, but I remembered when I did.
Nostalgia comes in many different forms. One more throw back to the olden days are the photographs which we took through life’s journey and each photographic roll helped us to expose just 30. Its paranormal charm cannot ever be replaced by seeing the digital version downloaded from the SD card of my DSLR after each trip. This latter exercise is instant but that exhilarating wait for those 30, 4×6 prints in that ‘KODAK’ printed yellow, red and white envelope cannot be substituted at all. Hence, my trips always have me getting the prints of all the unique encounters that we do either with the koalas, the penguins or the hot air balloons and my home walls adorn those irreplaceable memories as relics nonpareil from trips done in yonder lands! Each time I stand and stare at them, a new thought, an old memory always lights up my face with a smile. Then it is worth-the-while, I conclude.
The photos section of MSN always has a pop with photographs of stars asking us to recognize who they are now or telling us how they looked then and now – random stuff like this. While it may be of interest to all or some of us always or at some point in time, one thing which again takes me to recall the ‘simplicity’ of it all is the way we dressed.
Brands existed in the up-scale fashion magazines for us and in trips abroad for the rich. Have not been much of a brand seeker still as I grew up on my mom’s expert and dexterous seamstress skills which always ensured that whatever I liked in a magazine photograph, I could point out to her and she would start looking for the right kind of material and correct colour combination and voila! my dress would start to take shape at her reliable Singer sewing machine. Of course, there were tailors for those who did not have such accomplished seamstress moms and they were always in high demand especially those who had accomplished and polished their art.
Now I know why I find my travels fascinating and riveting. It is because of the intriguing ways the old-world charm has been kept intact by people and nations around the world. They have gone to great lengths to capture that moment from time and make it riveting for their children and future generations to hold in reverence and high regard.
The fairy-tale is in that, not so long-ago Simple Life which we have lived and experienced. And our kids have only heard about them, in our stories. Much like the spell-binding and open-mouthed way I read through Enid Blyton’s the Faraway Tree and wished that as I played with my cousins in our ancestral home’s mango orchard trees, the washer-woman’s’ bucketful of soapy water would come tumbling down on us one day!!!
Alas, that remained a dream and now THAT life has turned into one too!!