I was born, brought up, educated and married in
Memories are like bricks —they often help to build the life-graph of a person. As far as I am concerned, I think my memories — indeed a whole life lived in south Mumbai — have shaped my character and more important, my search for that moment of truth that gives direction to my life.
I was born in a nursing home in Opera House, which I am told, was a vast, spacious area around the heritage Opera House Theatre where dance and music shows would take place every weekend. The road further led to the busy Girgaum area where the rich community of Pathare Prabhus owned wadis, where khandaani jewellers created diamond items for the rich of the city, and Goan communities lived in their picturesque village-style cottages.
Further down, along the railway line, was Queen’s Road — running parallel to the dignified
The area where I spent my childhood was not much different. There were tile-roof houses spread all over the Chowpatty sea face and the beach in front was the official playground for all children going to local school and colleges like Queen Mary’s, St. Columba’s, Robert Money, Gokhale Education, Fellowship School and, of course, the Wilson College. In those years, Chowpatty was a real beach — not a muck-topped dirt area as it is today. The sand was pristine, and building castles near the lashing waters was great fun. Our mothers and aunts would sit around talking while we children — from the family and their friends — would run around into the waves and cover ourselves with the clean sand.
Reaching our schools in the area around Chowpatty was easy with a tram or bus ride. The BEST trams jangled from Grant Road Station to the Gowalia Tank Maidan and also had a service from the Tardeo Tram Terminus into the stomach of
Around this area, too, grew many music schools — the Maharashtra Sangeet Vidyalaya (where I learnt the nuances of Hindustani classical music from masters like D V Paluskar and Prof Datar), the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Deodhar School of Music, the Marwari Hall, the Lakshmi Hall and many others held regular music programmes with the young and painfully handsome Ravi Shankar, Mogubai Kurdikar, Bismillah Khan, Kishen Maharaj, Sitara Devi, Vilayat Khan and the stalwarts of the Agra Gharana like Vilayat Hussain sang or played all night concerts to present the glory of Indian music to huge number of devotees. As a schoolgirl, I tagged along with my father or his friends and thus have great memories of listening to these great masters well into the wee hours of the morning — in fact, until the milk train forced listeners to return home.
As a young girl in
The other world that I shared with my mother included my extended family with aunts and their children — and all of us had innocent fun with movies, chaat and vadas in Chowpatty and walks along Malabar Hill and Breach Candy or the deserted Worli Sea Face. My mother, afraid to leave a daughter alone at home, also took me to innumerable kirtans in the nearby temples in the bylanes of Gamdevi and thanks to her efforts, I am well versed in the Bhakti literature of
Looking at these areas today, you would never imagine what they looked like in the fifties. Breach Candy was a rocky beach where pools of water would offer great opportunities for gentle fishing after the tide had receded. Sparsely populated, the roads were clear and well lit. A quiet stroll or a game among the rocks was delightful. The climb to the
Nevertheless, the most wonderful part of my childhood in
Soon after the four sisters settled down to life in
Breach Candy, Worli, the Gowalia Tank Maidan or even the bylanes of Tardeo and Girgaum in those days were not heavily populated as they are today. By evening, silence would reign supreme along these roads and there was little fear of roadside Romeos or pickpockets. We wandered in the far-stretching green patches, learning about herbs and plants, which we would collect with an air of glee which only children could understand. Many of the leaves we collected were used in making gentle coconut curries for health. Other plants were plucked, dried and preserved for medicinal use as and when needed. I remember plucking the tender leaves of tendli creepers in Worli for a curry, which worked as an excellent digestive. I recall squatting down in the grassy undergrowth in Scandal Point to collect bhui awale plants for those who had jaundice. Doodh panki leaves, with their attractive shades of mauve and green, were taken home for making a cooling brew during heat strokes. Ek paani or brahmi leaves were used for making hair oil. The saw-edged leaves of ningri boiled in water made a soothing bath for swollen hands and feet. A neem leaf brew cured all infections. The tubes of the eranda (castor seed) leaves made an excellent brew to cure fevers and the cool leaves were used to cover the head to bring down high temperatures. The jelly-like pulp of cacti, called lolsar, was also used as a cooling agent during fevers. Poultices were wrapped in turmeric leaves to cure cuts and infected wounds.
Somewhere in those years, we also learnt to recognise trees, which offered us rare, unusual food. The tender leaves of the shevga tree (drumsticks) made a wonderful bhaji. So did the young flowers of the same tree make dainty bhajias for teatime. In the monsoon, we went collecting leaves of the taikila plant for making bhajias or a green upkari with shredded coconut.
Today, those halcyon days of my childhood seem to belong to another world.
One of my greatest regrets is that I did not write down the recipes of the brews and delicacies made from wild plants while my mother and aunts lived. Still, even after living a hectic life in Mumbai, I cannot pass by Breach Candy without glancing at the weeds by the roadside to experience those moments of excitement, which were scattered so generously in my childhood years. Even now, I can recognise some of the plants and know how to use them to cure minor maladies. I am happy that I have passed on some of this knowledge to my children, who use it in dealing with their children’s health problems.
Had my mother and aunts been alive today, they might have sagely nodded their heads in approval because their prediction, that these plants would one day make researchers sit up and wonder at their magic, has come true. With new international research on the plants which my mother so lovingly collected, I think my life has come a full circle. I am still a