Disclaimer: This work is part fact and part fiction. However, real names have been changed to protect identities. Resemblances are remote possibilities, but unavoidable as they breathe life into this article.
However much I tried, I couldn’t compress this into a single piece- Though I must confess that I love two part’ers to keep readers engrossed. The concluding part will be out this New Years eve- hope you enjoy this one!
A year end is a time for memories- some great, some appalling and some outright revolting. It’s a time to pick up and gather one-self; to pack up troubles and throw them all away, to dream of better things ahead and of resolutions to achieve what we did not this year. In our high decibel lives, a year end comes as a moment of silence, a solemn moment of reckoning.
Mangalore, Year end, Gulf cousins & the festive ambience
I loved and looked forward to my ‘year-end’ visits to my hometown, Mangalore.
Why I did is still a mystery to me, but visit Mangalore we did- my closest pals and I. Usually landing on Christmas Eve and leaving on the second day of the New Year. A well rehearsed routine over many years.
Unusually-pleasant-weather time of the year- No incessant rain or torrid summer sweat, Market areas lit up and resplendent with Christmassy colors, houses with paper stars, cribs and decorated Christmas trees, all Churches- painted and star-spangled, M. D’Souza’s famed cake exhibits, Vas Bakery’s eternal juicy plum cakes, busy & bustling bar-rooms- the overall effect of the festive season can be simply mesmerizing!
To a quintessential Mangalorean, another event during this part of the year was imminent, a marriage in the family – especially of the Gulf-based brides & grooms.
For a town (I prefer the rustic ‘town’ lapel to the razzmatazz tag of a ‘City’) that boasts of having at least one person per family overseas, the arithmetic of such annual happenings can be pretty simple.
A time of the year, when Uncles & cousins, not forgetting the Aunts- would come laden with Gulf goods in Samsonites & American Touristers- mostly hard-shell, bound around with nylon ropes.
The reception at Airport would be no less than a fair. The reception committee would be headed by a father figure of the ever-growing country family. All dressed in their best attires right down to the shoes- they had to look good to their non-resident relatives.
Airport porters were an ignored breed; Even the lazy bone family member was more than willing to lug the hard-shell Gulf contraptions himself. This could mean a bigger gift you know.
On reaching home, Aunt would open the baggage- often in full public display and yank out Huge Yellow Tins of Nido Milk Powder, Kit-Kat Chocolates, Casio digital watches, Kaleidoscopic chiffon saris that would put butterflies to shame, obnoxious-smelling perfumes, 5 +1 soaps, Green colored Pert shampoos, Maggi Chicken Stock, Rothmans & 555 State Express cigarettes, Gillette shaving creams, Use & throw razors- not necessarily in that order.
The last time she had brought a Pioneer Stereo System and the year before it was a Sony Trinitron with a remote thrown in for good measure.
Despite having breezed through the Green Channel this time at Bombay Customs, Aunt had to whisper ‘loudly’ how much they had to shell out at the Customs.
A typical Gulf Male Cousin (GMC) wore jeans, colorful tee-shirts and brand-new sport shoes while Uncle loved showing off his hirsute chest with a thick Gold chain. He always drank only Scotch (at least the first two weeks) and lit Rothmans Cigarettes with a fancy lighter that sang while he puffed and blew foreign smoke-rings.
GMC meanwhile would be plugged to his SONY walkman, while his colonial cousin watched with what seemed like awe, or may be jealousy or at times hatred. Or perhaps a combination of all three. He wondered how GMC kept his shoes so clean every time he visited India.
The Gulf female cousin (GFC) was a more homely tribe, well mannered and down to earth. She sported jeans and tee-shirts too. Her only foul-call was a rather long gold chain with a pendant that hung out sorely, right on her chest, for all to see. It has to be outside- GFC’s mother had chastised her whenever she tried to tuck it in.
Shy, adolescent and vary of prying eyes, GFC seemed visibly scratchy when a piercing gaze scanned her in that region. She was very sure it wasn’t just the gold chain. GFC often crossed her chest locking her forearms- may be she felt warm and secure this way!
Aunt spoke the lingua franca with bravado and a smattering of English with an oomph or vice versa through her ruby red, glossy lip-stick. She was the three-tiered, well endowed variety with an untamed impishness that reeked worse than the perfume she sported (even at home).
The women folk at home adored her (only a 4 week annual ritual) and gave her all the attention she deserved. Aunt wore rather revealing sleeveless maxis, green-strap slippers inside the house, never cooked (at least not in Mangalore) and loved an odd peg or two as well. The men folk ogled Aunt silently, a subtle stir in their groins every time she sashayed by.
Aunt knew why and she loved it too.
Uncle in comparison looked quite the domesticated bandicoot in the Queen Cat’s regal presence. But his round the clock inebriety covered up for any marital blushes.
As a nuclear family- Cousins, Uncle and Aunt stood out as a very solid outfit and a very respected one at that, especially in family gatherings.
Christmas, the impending New Year, the wedding & the gulf guests surely meant one thing- A Festive fortnight!
It was this festivity that beckoned us friends to Mangalore year after year; We had tried Bangalore one year- a disastrous attempt that ended up in drinking binges, violent throw-my-guts-up sessions and hang-over that lasted well into Pongal (Tamil New Year during the second week of January).
New Year eve
December 1995….this year end was different!
This time we missed Christmas, a few of us had professional pre-occupations. So we decided to jam up for New Year’s Eve in Mangalore.
Alighting from the bus at Balmatta, the air smelt so fresh and welcoming. I hailed an Auto with the flourish of a localite (Body language is key when you deal with Auto drivers).
"Madikeri Gudde" (Mercara Hills), I told him.
"Pathhu rupaai" (Ten rupees), he wanted to fleece me.
I looked at him askance, surprised and little irritated too. Ten bucks for a distance of 1.5 kms?
"Bonee aathijee dhani, baley kulluley" (I have had no passengers today Sir. Please hop in). I sat unhurriedly.
As the Auto hurried down SCS hospital, through Bendore cross and towards St. Agnes, my heart warmed up to memories of years gone by. The Agnes Special School had a new compound wall; Agnesian ramparts hadn’t changed much though- retaining that old white arch and the huge iron gates.
St. Sebastian’s Church’s fa?ade was all lit up; the grounds had a temporary stage setting for the evening service replete with light domes, acoustics etc. Plastic Chairs were neatly arranged in the adjoining grounds. Wooden poles stuck out of the ground at well placed intervals, each with a bare "tube light" that sputtered and choked at mass time while providing ample fluorescence. The moths loved them too.
…The reception at Airport would be no less than a fair. The reception committee would be headed by a father figure of the ever-growing country family…..
Simple, rustic and so very Mangalorean!
The Auto veered right, maybe on just two wheels, into the lane next to Agnes bus stand.
There was a new stone sign post, it pointed eastwards and read Mercara Hills in English and Madikeri Gudde in Kannada.
Mercara Hills is a cozy residential area planted on two small hillocks separated by a lane that literally snakes through the area. The kilometer long lane ran uphill for at least half a km before sloping downwards steeply for the other half. It was home to a few prominent Mangaloreans too.
At the summit, on the left side of the lane was a leveled out ground playing host to the CSI Sushanthi Church, a relatively new church for Protestants. Come evening, we played Cricket in these grounds.
Across the Church was a dilapidated old elementary school, "Shaaley" the locals called it.
Proximity to the ‘heart’ of the city Agnes meant that our Lane played host to effervescent teenage crushes. It was not uncommon to find a chic looking, bubble-gum-blowing Agnesian school-girl walking hand in hand with her boy-friend. A few adventurous ones parked their 100 cc bikes in corners whispering sweet lil nothings (Or so we thought).
Our lane soon earned the sobriquet "Lovers Lane"- Something the elders in the neighborhood didn’t approve of. Not so much with us, we actually loved the name.
On our way home for lunch from School every afternoon, we had quite often seen couples seeking total privacy in the Shaaley premises. We giggled among ourselves, in the knowledge of what might have transpired in there. Often, we would move with feline stealth to catch a glimpse of the lovers in an embrace or more. At times to be confronted by the male pardner, who would invariably shoo us away!
As children, Shaaley was out of bounds for us- "No going there". Mom had strictly told us. We had agreed.
Like all teenagers, we were adventurous and at times disobedient too; the thrill of the forbidden was a great adrenaline rush. We stole visits to the Shaaley at will.
Until that fateful day!
To be Continued…
Author: Amarnath Bantwal- Kuwait