When I wrote Growing Up As a Navy Brat last July, I had left a note to myself to write about the places we visited or lived in during my bratty days. I have been thinking about it for a while now, trying to recollect the most memorable places and experiences. So here goes.
My father was posted in Vishakhapatnam (Vizag) during my infant-toddler years and all I remember of that period is how my Bengali nursery teacher understood only one Malayalam word that I spoke, vellam (water). By the time I was in kindergarten, we were in Mumbai, for a short stint. I have two major memories of that stay — in the six months that we were there, I lost one tooth while coming back home in the bus. The tooth was really really wobbly and at some point during the journey, it just fell out. I was so excited that I put it safely in my pencil box and brought it home to show my parents. The second memory is of my struggle with cursive writing and how I hated it back then. I could barely string alphabets together and the convent I went to, expected Kindergartners to write in cursive!!! We moved back to Vizag and I think that was when I got my first TVS Champ bicycle. What did I do soon after the training wheels came off? I sped down a slope and went straight into a ditch, scraping my knees and elbows lavishly (I don’t remember crying, though) I must have some vere level tholi katti (thick skin) :-D.
Our next stop was one of the most beautiful places I have visited: Wellington, in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu. Our house was located on Gurkha hill, where the entire hill had been converted to a residential area for the Defence Services Staff College. My memories from there include the beautiful scenery, my chocolate brown uniform (tie and all), our friends’ cute Labrador pup, my mom’s baking experiments, visits to the nearby town of Coonoor, the 14 or 15 hairpin bends we had to cross while traveling to Mettupalayam, and a ghost story that our maid told me. Though the circumstances of the story are now blurry, I remember the gist of the tale. While walking in the neighborhood, she pointed to a dilapidated house and said that the house had collapsed in a landslide and that none of the inhabitants had survived. According to her, their ghosts still wandered around the area. It was the first time I was hearing about ghosts and it did shake me a bit; mind you, I was all of eight years old and very impressionable. I think the tale led to a few disturbed nights, but I eventually got over it.
Our next stop was Lonavala and though we had multiple stints there too, my memories are from the second stay. Some of the most distinctive ones are the yummy Maganlal chikki (peanut brittle), extended periods of monsoon, low-lying clouds that made it impossible to even see our front gate and Bhushi dam with its frothy, gushing water. The rains were so incessant that our streets would invariably be flooded with knee deep water, and we all waded through it in our rain coats and gumboots.
A fun event that occurred during this season was a group hiking trip that took us through slush, mud and heavy rains. At the destination, a hot meal of pooris and such awaited us after which we went home and took a hot shower. That was the specialty of the rains there, we never fell ill regardless of how drenched we got. Another fun memory about Lonavala was my introduction to Kendriya Vidyalaya and its unique Hindi medium syllabus. Yes, subjects like Science and Social Studies were taught in Hindi. Luckily for us Hindi illiterates, the text books were also printed in English and the content was an exact copy of the Hindi version; we could translate line to line, page to page. If not for the English books, my parents would have had a hell of a time trying to understand and translate terms such as विषुवतरेखा (Vishuvath rekha) to equator and पठार (pathar) to plateau.
Oh, and before I forget, we also went through a horrible burglary during a Christmas break when we were visiting my aunt in Mumbai. We came back to a house that had been broken into, ransacked and completely turned up side down. I am just glad that we weren’t home when it happened. My final Navy destination was Kochi where our house was by the backwaters. It was an idyllic resort-like location that made a beautiful backdrop for four years of high school, numerous guests who came to enjoy the scenery and the flavors of Amma’s cooking, leaving us all with lovely memories.
Today’s recollections have taken my ramblings all the way back to the 80s and I hope I didn’t bore you with them. I sure had fun reliving my memories and would love to hear your special childhood memories too. So please do share them here.
And once again, cheers to all the Navy brats out there :-).