“Childhood is the most beautiful of all life’s seasons.”
– Author Unknown
My dad is from Baripada ,this small town in north Orissa. His late mother was one of eight siblings. His grand-mother and grand-father lived in this odd-shaped , aluminium tinned roof house with a typical-of-those-times courtyard in the middle of the house and a huge backyard with big trees ,dense foliage and a dhenki( an old style rice-mill). This house was located at the the top of a long winding road that sloped down over a little dirty river eventually into the ‘Muslim’ colony. So even though their house was just one level, because of the slope the bedroom was elevated and part of the house had to be supported by extra strong wood and also concrete.
My father’s grand-parents had 8 children; five daughters and three sons. And each child had atleast 4 children each. Except the eldest brother, everyone lived in Baripada, around each other. So when we would take those over-night bus trips to visit the village, it would be one big ,happy, loud gathering of grand-parents, parents, aunts,uncles and cousins and a lot of camaraderie . I loved visiting Baripada so much. I felt like that was where I was a real child- free, loved and protected. I loved my dad’s grand-mother ,whom I called budhi aie (literally translated old grand-mother), so much. She was the glue that held the whole big family together. I never saw her husband. He passed away when my dad was still in school. She was a very active and talkative old lady back then. This is the early 90s I am talking about and she was in her mid-seventies may be. I would always be near her, hear her talk and we would all simultaneously laugh at some of her sayings and feel proud of how intelligent our budhie aie was.
The best parts of our village visits apart from family bonding would be the delicious food cooked by my dad’s aunt. She was actually Bengali and she was genetically blessed when it came to cooking fish specially. We would sit on the floor by the kitchen on mats, hot food on our steel plates and my dad’s aunt and ma first serving the males ,the sons and the little children first before serving themselves. After that we would retire to the bedroom, eat aata (sita-phal) ,gossip about everyone else ,of course in a fun loving way, and soon plonk down for a afternoon nap. Then tea would be made early evening ,followed by visits to aunts and uncles who lived next door really and cousins playing on the front porch. Baripada has the best mudhi.Period. And we would have mudhi sara. Sara was the thick layer of cream that forms on the surface of boiled milk. My dad’s aunt would mix in raw onions and chilies in it and it would taste out of this world delicious! Another divine Baripada concoction was mixing mutton curry and mudhi and oh dear! there is ,still, nothing that can beat that. So good!
It was a beautiful,wonderful part of my childhood. We all loved each other and cared for each other. Sure we sometimes bickered and had arguments but in a big ,highly opinionated family one always runs that risk. All I can think of when I think of it now is that really big urge to forget everything in my adult life and just go back to that playground of my childhood.
Now things have changed. That old sprawling house has been replaced by a more modern house. Less magical, more practical. Better plumbing, less old-timey. My budhie aie has long since passed, her three sons no more and the little cousins all grown-up ,married and living in different corners of the world. Baripada has changed. Better infrastructure, less simplicity, people have become more clever in their dealings and the saddest part is my great aunts are growing older with each passing day.
Even though us cousins are still in touch, trying to salvage the best parts of those magical days through social networking sites and through earnest attempts at being in touch, nothing can really bring back those days,can they?
In my heart that sleepy little town holds a very special place. Big houses, bigger courtyards, small lanes, generous helpings of food, cousins ,big family and family love and not a care in this world. What else could a restless little girl want?