Last week I wrote about how the Villa that used to be has been converted into one concrete shanty. But thankfully my last memories of the Bilimora Lokesh Bhuvan are mixed…good regarding the building, life with some nice cousins & lots of bad …I don’t want to dwell on either..
But I want to re-trace the road to my aai’s (mother’s) roots..the few memories that I have are mixed yet they always remain. Now Bilimora falls on the western railway track on way to Delhi. It takes as much time to Bilimora as to Pune (Central line). Now if i narrate this whole episode of my life one would think that we were like little princesses to the outside world.
We would travel by trains that were named after queens or princesses… like Deccan Queen
Pune and Flying Ranee (Queen)
to Bilimora!! These still exist. Nothing as a child was more imaginative than these names. I really thought the Pune train was for a queen & Flying ranee
meant as if the train trudged at a flying speed!
Once at the station, it used to be amazing ride on the Kutcha muddy road to the Sardesai villa. The horse carriage owners knew who the family was & where we lived…as I child I always believed that all the people in this world lived in such huge houses as ours…see, every holiday either we would visit this town which was maternal home or Pune –where my baba’s sisters stayed. The eldest lived in a decently big house & younger atya in a bungalow. So, I thought all people lived in big homes.
The reason my grandparents had this sprawling villa was the family were partners of Guj Chem Distilleries & some other firm, none of this ever interested me. Today there are only acres and acres of flat land, with nothing on it. But as a kid my story was different…
Now here as we entered the vicinity, the first structure on the right was the Ganesha temple, exclusively for the family. Huge place…with a big porch, place for the priest & his family to stay & play. It was old tilted construction typical to a village. Then on the left was a mini playground a pit with loose sand & open space with slides and some metal jungle gym kind of thing & yes the first swing! There were plenty of trees that aligned a wall and a biggish garage. Though I do not remember seeing the cars parked there. Instead they would line up outside the door of the villa.
A little ahead the right ahead was a huge garden. It had a lawn wherein my dada ajoba (maternal grandfather) & we would take walks, have evening tea sometimes or sit as a family, when suddenly we would remember to have family bondings…There was NO television in those days even if there were black & white ones, this huge monstrous place had none.
There would be a fleet of cars lined up…9 cars, including one Impala & a grey Dodge! Where the cars went rest of the time I don’t know..i was too small to concern myself with these happenings. Often I saw no car & often all were parked there. I NEVER ever saw a petrol pump in that area as a child, so I would wonder who or what filled the fuel tanks of these cars..i always thought my grandfather, dada ajoba was a magician!
There was a small board that said, “Trespassers will be prosecuted & beware of dogs..” on the left was the entrance to the villa. It had metal criss cross grill across the door. On entry on the left was the wooden swing, some chairs & sofa. Right above the swing where my dada sat a stuffed head of a bear…its scary at nights when suddenly our eyes fell on it..as if roaring to get at us..it had powerful eyes though. I forget wc was the second animal! Then the walls would be covered 3-4 lizards when we all cousins would sit together to say our shlokas (Prayers) in the evening. Dada would ask us to forget they are on the wall & continue with our stories or shlokas. It tormented us kids why elders never realised it, i wonder.
Next to that was a secluded section, where we some 15 odd cousins were bundled together in the afternoons, so that all could fight, play or sleep peacefully. It was called the guest house..within the mansion…hehe..yeah it was secluded but also was always cool somehow. There was a big hall one opened into the guest room & the other was my ajoba’s study room, wt book cases, table, bed, all his carpets & yoga carpet.
Dada loved this room. He would do yoga, meditate & breathing exercises which amused us. He would lock us noisy pesky cousins. go inside to the courtyard jump & call out to dada ajoba. I remember the odd noises he’d make that amused us , then. The guest room was amazing…it had the first bath tub wc I ever saw in my life. It was bluish-sea green colour. It was something out of this world!
We once rebelled – according to my family under my leadership –considering I always got into trouble for rebelling & sticking my neck out I wonder how it was called leadership!! Now this guest house section would be converted into a getaway for uncles and aunties to eat non-vegetarian food –mostly fish & drinks. I remember sneaking there with the smells & have tried fish..ofcrouse that was rebelling, so got the usual beating for it .
Also, 1 imp factor to be noted is i felt my dada was a visionary or his forefathers were …coz nearly every room in this mansion had an attached bathroom, toilet in those times!! Wow! We were by ourselves usually as a result a lot of things happened among us. Fights, physical abuse & groupism… Not necessary in that order or always.
Nxt to this isolated space was a mango room. It was a semi-store room most often empty except when the mangoes from the farm or wadi as it was called. Yes we would go there, jumping around trying to pull down mangoes or steal fm neighbouring farm. This part of the house was where I was also beaten often by 2 of my cousins. One male – who has a son- another a cousin sister –who’s life has been on the downswing ever since I recollect. The beating had for years left scars on me emotionally that took its toll on my adult life for years till i came to terms with it. Which im glad b’coz i realised i am the maker of my happiness or enjoyment & no one can ruin it.
Next to this room was the god’s room, where my aai aji (mother’s mom) spent lot of her time. She would make garlands, offered innumerable flowers, prayed and it was a sanctimonious room. I would ofcourse would choose a pretext to peep in & look at my aai aji, she was always a person of curiosity. We had little rapport & communication, but of immense curiosity for me. Ajoba was more like a teddy bear & we’d be all over him harassing him& he indulged in every grand child of his eeuqally…Aai aji was one tall, lean lady who like my doll aji (father’s mother) wore a nine –yards saree, lugda.
Me & the gods have not been in sync for over half my life me thinks…not really…but i avoid such prayer rooms seriously. Because twice a day I would be forced to go & say all the prayers in sanskrit, oh it was traumatic. They say the Hindus have some 3 lakh odd gods, if one had to see the numerous idols & photos that were in this room, they‘d think the gods had descended in this villa! More so the gods were pampered by this aaji. Freshly plucked flowers were offered twice a day, fresh garlands & the fragrance of flowers & incense did smell nice.
Then on the right was a dark dingy entrance to three rooms…now I am confused if they were 2/3. One was where we kept our bags –my sister / me & it was Sudha aunty’s room. She passed away early, though I do remember seeing her. The other was shut & last was aai aji-dada’s room. Often they
would sleep in the air-condition room where we would be bundled on the first floor. I think this was the only room which I’m told had an AC otherwise too it was pretty cool. There were 2 rooms that were led from this AC rrom, but were out of bounds for us. Then there was this Table Tennis playing table hall…
Again as only the men & boys were allowed. As if we girls weren’t capable of playing. Behind this huge hall were the rooms of my 2 uncles. They are weird. I strongly belive this was THE most dysfunctional family, till i saw the Forestors on the Bold and the Beatiful….well some aunts & uncles who are cousins had affairs, lots of the sex dramas unfolded in front of our eyes… aha…big fat indian joint family ha!
Adjacent to the stairs were my aai’s & nanda aunty’s rooms..Interestingly each had balconies & 2 windows wt attached bathrooms. Above all this was the huge terrace. This was surrounded by tamarind, mango, amla & numerous trees. The fruits would fall on the terrace. Now the this terrace had a room actually could have been 2 rooms of my eldest uncle, again wt a toilet which was locked permanently! First because it was out of bounds for us in uncle’s absence then later bcoz of the in-fighting between the brothers & their wives. We all kids would sleep here, since the rest of the town & that part of Gujarat would always be in darkness.
Now imagine we fm Mumbai, cousins lived in light all our lives. Here we’d come & every time the bloody electricity would be cut off, which was anyways was most part of the night & day. Imagine me, the scared one would want to pee, I’d be petrified of going down the stairs in the dark to the toilet, so would wet my bed till quite late stage in life. The next day fm morning itself i would be made the target of ranting & punishments. Now I am not exaggerating, because this part of my life was a harsh reality, then.
Right down on the ground floor, there was a huge hall. 2 wooden arm chairs wc had arms that would open out & aai aji & dada would rest their legs on those outstretched arms…they looked like one royal pair. There were 2 beds like sofas, telephone, radio, record player, 2 desks of my cousins, a black board & a long tale that was like mini bar cum beetle nut holders. The image of my youngest uncle was that he would always cut beetle nuts.
There were 2 doors fm here that led to the huge dining room. In the hay days there were opn an average 50 people living, talking, some 30-40 odd eating in that household. There were some 10-12 domestic helpers, cook, their families, the family that looked after the cattle & lived there…so it was a mini village by itself.
My aai aji would head the dining table. Dada sat on her right & brothers around. We little ones all around. The middle mama would be a terror. He always targeted his own son & me for taking out his anger on us, besides ofcourse killing the big black ants called as mungles. Everytime I sat to eat I remember being forced to eat brinjal, egg plant. I cannot eat that vegetable. I despise it. What is imp was that I always forced to eat Brinjal else was deprived of mangoes!
Now if there is anything that REALLY makes me sad is being DEPRIVED of eating alphanso mangoes. I believe I am born in the month of may, when it is the season for the king of the fruits. i consider it my birth right to eat alphansoes…I live the year round to eat this fruit…yes, nothing is more rejuvenating, motivating & inspiring than alphanso mangoes. We used to have a fridge but I don’t remember us kids being allowed to use it. So have NO memories of it.
Now the second most traumatic memory is of drinking the sad water of Bilimora. I was always falling ill. We kids fm Mumbai were used to the water which many allege is full of chemicals. But Bombay’s water is NOT hard, salty…its tasty. Here in Bilimora, the water was dammit hard & salty. I’d get stomach upset, loosies, stomach pained & I really would face trauma to drink that water…why NO one ever realised that instead of splurging on rubbish that the family did all they had to do was take care of the kids & give us Bisleri. Its NOT spoiling the children, it simply was depriving us of basic good drinking water.
The other memory was waking up to seeing women of the kitchen –wc did NOT include my mother making mango ras juice in the mornings. There was no limit to the amount we drank. In the afternoons we children would sit on the wall of the courtyard and my middle mama would bring us baskets of mangoes (alphansos) & chopped sugar cane…every afternoon. This was THE only time we were allowed to eat as many mangoes, there after NO mango could be eaten. Then at night if we our stomachs were good, we could have more ras…
The other was my aai aji feeding the first piece fm her plate to the in-house parrot. He knew all our names, would act very smart & was active full day as he’d talk to us. There were besides the kitchen 3 rooms. 1 that was devoted to making chaas, buttermilk. The churners were long ones tied to thick ropes on the walls. Huge vessels were put as we had cattle in the house. There then was a room besides these which had trinkets & heirlooms, wc of corz were NOT jewels, but ceramics, earthen pottery, etc.
Then behind the kitchen was a door where I remember as a child going there wt peanuts & chana then we would feed the Peacocks wt this food! Yes, it was a high point for me. I never thought or knew till I grew up that Peacocks were rare or exotic birds. All I knew that there were plenty of Peacocks in this part of India, like crows in Mumbai. Yes, even in my sister’s college, BITS, Pilani these darn peacocks would create a ruckus fm early morning, pick up lingerie & drop shit constantly all over the place! So I always though they were normal birds like crows & sparrows that are fed by people.
So, the life there was one pretty fairy tale for us kids. Well, I NEVER was a believer in those fairy tales…so i had questions even as a child, wc were never answered. What we weren’t told were the fights within the family. Greed, possessiveness were the obvious causes. But what i always wondered was why and how these grandparents could not control their sons? Why weren’t they made more efficient, hardworking & accountable? Why weren’t we asked if anyone was bothering us, abusing us, especially girls?
Sometimes im surprised I never got into alcohol, drugs or prostitution or took to anti-social activities….yeah we saw a lot, experienced a lot around us. It did NOT disturb me that my mother’s younger good for nothing brother did not welcome us when my cousin & I paid a visit. none of this surprises me. I feel vindicated. Even though he & my dead uncle were insane, NONE of this can ever erase the fond memories i have of this place. I am glad that my grandparents gave us a good childhood & with lovely memories. That they failed to reign-in their sons is a mystery they had to answer & something we’d never know. I’m glad I saw a world in early years that was soooo different, like a picture unreal….