Though born in Simla, the entire formative years of our son Madhav, till such time as he was despatched off to a boarding school when six, were on one or the other estate in Upper Assam. The upshot was that Madhav while growing up, naturally and without any effort, ended up adopting the ‘garden Hindi’ as his mother tongue. The language was/is a beautiful amalgamation of Hindi, Assamese, Bhojpuri and Bengali sprinkled on the top with a liberal dose of “huh“, ending up as a unique blend which could be best described as being the ‘estate lingua franca‘. A distinctive language with the lilt and cadence of a musical composition almost akin to the sweet harmonious sound of Swahili.
There being no access to either a nursery or a kindergarten, this being the standard norm on tea estates regardless of whether those be located in the North East or in South India, home schooling was the accepted form of early education for little kids. In line with this, whenever not distracted by her almost insatiable urge to educate me on what some idiot going by the strange name of ‘Dr Spock’ had to say about bringing up kids, Kitty would spend all her other waking hours reading fairy tales and singing nursery rhymes to keep Madhav amused. Was it any surprise then that it was the characters featuring in those tales and rhymes whom Madhav believed to be his only friends with their make believe world becoming his window to the world outside the estate.
As for that ‘Dr Spock’ character, fed up to my ear with his unmitigated tripe, came a day when seeing her not around, I picked up that piece of drivel and pushed it in under our bed, into the very centre of the very narrow gap between the floor and the bed, to be never found again. Which would also explain our second offspring, Muskan, being brought up as a proper human baby. Dramatically at variance to Madhav’s upbringing which had him being reared like some lab specimen!
Having undertaken that long trip many times after the kinds grew up, the first time we undertook our five day odyssey from Delhi to Upper Assam was when Madhav was all of two years old which is also when we purchased our first vehicle, a second hand Ambassador car, in Delhi. Those were the days when the word ‘highway’, after one had driven out of the ‘big’ city, would have passed out as being the figment of one’s fertile imagination. The drive through eastern UP and extending into Bihar was on a ‘highway’ which was liberally peppered with what were, for lack of a better word, called ‘pot holes’, but which were in fact craters from the surface of the moon magically transplanted on earth to give the road a character of its own. Pot holes so generously expansive that when one drove one’s car into one (there was no way one could circumnavigate the monstrosities) of those the roof of the car would be well below the rim of the crater, invisible if viewed from the road. From behind the driving wheel, since the acute angle of the hole in the ground made it almost impossible to gauge the depth of the craters in front of the cars bonnet, the big decision one had to make every time one approached a series of those gorges laid out across the road like a necklace, was which particular abyss should one risk descending into.
But I digress, so now back to the main plot.
On the third day out of Delhi as we were getting close to Siliguri, the car had a flat. Just the fact that those old and almost bald tyres had brought us all this way having actually survived the UP/Bihar experience was in itself a miracle. Getting the car to the side of the road I emptied out the boot which was stuffed to bursting and pulled out the jack. With Madhav lending a ‘helping hand’ I loosened the wheel nuts and started jacking up the car. This being a part of his ongoing education, his mother informed Madhav that what ‘Dada’ had brought out from the boot and had put under the chassis was a ‘jack’. While I was busy removing the wheel, both of us noticed that Madhav was going around the car in circles, every now and then bending over double, staring at the undercarriage. Not finding what he was looking for, he would head off on another circumnavigation of the vehicle. Finally with his search having yielded no results, he walked across to his mother, tugged at her salwar and in his most educated garden lingo, his eyes half screwed up in utter concentration and with a very serious look on his face asked her “agar Jack yaha hai, to Jill kaha hai?” (since Jack is here under the car, where is Jill?)
Took us a good amount of time to stop rolling around in laughter and for the tears to dry up so that I could get back to the half finished job of changing the wheel and to put Jill’s brother back in the boot so that we could drive on to Siliguri.
Ah yes, the pleasures of growing up on an estate!