*Image by Biswarup Ganguly - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12221305
O, call back yesterday, bid time return” –Richard II /Shakespeare
(About a year back, twenty of us were quite excited about meeting over dinner in one of those upscale hotels which now dot the ’skyline’ of the main thoroughfare called Main Road in Ranchi-the capital of Jharkhand. WhatsApp had made it possible after forty-five years of schooling to contact one another and come together.
Most of us had recently retired. Supported with a good education in which our school St. John’s had played no small part, most of us had risen to very decent positions in our respective employments and professions.
Had attended and participated in national and international conferences. But the prospect of meeting our school –mates after such a long gap and whom otherwise we never hoped to meet in large numbers in one go, made the get-together fall into an unmatched category of its own. It helped us ‘relive’ through our childhood spontaneously, which we realised was still not dead within us. We fondly remembered the days long past –the way we were and the way Ranchi was then! Thereafter in bits and pieces, we write of Ranchi in our postings on FaceBook and WhatsApp.
The above induced me to come up with this not-so-detailed and yet not-so-brief write-up trying to take a more comprehensive and coherent view based on rather stray impressions of our childhood and what it was like growing up in Ranchi. It also chronicles in a way our lives and times for the period covered which usually fade away with the passing away of the concerned generation).
RANCHI AS A HOME-TOWN
I have always felt that a home-town is a town which always has a home in our heart no matter who we are or where we are!
Home-town remains an interminable identity throughout a person’s life. He remains the native of his home-town till his very end just as he remains his father’s son! Both cannot be wished away! Many of our personality traits are guessed by others whom we meet, simply by knowing about the home-town. Indeed this is one of the questions almost invariably asked by one to the other in addition to name, profession and so on in order to form an opinion.
As time goes by and many of us get drawn away from home-town in pursuit of higher education or livelihood in these days of spatial mobility, our love for the home-town only grows. Time and distance lend further enchantment to the lingering memories of our childhood! We all tend to be a little partial to the town and our experiences there, and exult in our remembrance.
Do we take a very objective detached view of our home –town? Hardly ever if at all, unless someone had a very unhappy childhood! And indeed we do not want to! We want to think of our home-town from our ’heart’ rather than our mind. Very often we consciously or otherwise tend to exaggerate our feelings and experiences making many moments and incidents of our childhood look more worthwhile than what they might actually have been! We underplay whatever was dull and drab and remember with so much of fondness whatever was exciting. In short, we tend to be indulgent to our home-town and the childhood spent there as the same are so precious to us!
Indeed, going down the memory lane, remembering and reflecting on the home-town and childhood spent there give immense pleasure. It is one of the best ‘journeys’ undertaken.
This morning when I sit and write drawing and culling from the archives of my memory, some vivid and some not- so -vivid, I wonder from where to begin. The experiences and observations tend to be autobiographical –endeavouring to splice a slice of life that one underwent. It is bound to have subjectivities as such writings usually have. Yet it also carries an element of universality in it whereby others of my generation may find some similarities with what they saw and felt at that time.
The idea is not to give an academic account of the town but the stray impressions that I had while growing up –something which in a certain sense is rather the exclusive preserve of a particular generation which lives and leaves with it.
I belonged to Ranchi.It was a quaint sleepy town then! We are talking of mid-nineteen sixties onwards till the early seventies when I passed my matriculation thereby bringing an end to my school days which may be taken as being at the edge of childhood. During my growing years, it had an urban population of about three lacs against fifteen lacs of to-day -a growth of about five times. It was located at Chotanagpur plateau more than two thousand feet above the sea-level in the eastern part of India about 500 kilometers away from Kolkata, what was erstwhile Bihar and now Jharkhand.
Ranchi constituted the centre of our existence. It was the pivot of our being, our ‘middle kingdom’ to borrow the expression, and moulded our life and outlook!
Our world views were shaped by what we heard from our elders who in turn themselves were not well travelled or well –informed when compared to the present generation which has television and internet readily available and has the resources and facilities to travel and see a lot more!
Other sources were textbooks and general reading in addition to the ubiquitous newspapers which we were suggested to read from early childhood! Reading as a habit was much encouraged to garner information and ideas, and for the refinement of mind and overall personality. This trait is now perhaps dying being replaced with the passive entertainment of T.V. and digital social media.
To a growing boy like me what constituted the geographical spread of the town? The concept of town at that time for all practical purposes was around five to seven kilometres. Rarely did one venture out beyond that. Mobility was difficult during those days! Very few people had cars which was a big luxury. Also, a very limited number had scooters or motorcycles. The cycle was relatively more common but even that not many families had.
Hence, the popular mode of movement was through manual rickshaws which usually covered a distance of not more than four to five kilometres .Beyond that would badly tax rickshaw puller’s sturdiness and endurance. Places like Ratu, Kanke or Hatia at a radius of ten to twelve kilometres looked so far away from the centre of the town and we hardly ever visited them.
No wonder I saw Ranchi aerodrome -which was about fifteen kilometres away from my house- much later in my life after I had started working. Indeed, during our childhood, aeroplanes were too much of a luxury to be afforded by the middle-class and no one belonging to the same travelled by air. Trains were good enough and formed the outer perimeter of travelling mode and comfort. Practically almost all from my father’s generation never travelled by plane. That was not even thought of as an option! Ironically as the luck would have it, I was posted in Fiji Islands in the nineties to head the office of my public sector employer and had the opportunity to fly for twenty hours or so beyond Australia to the picturesque place and a veritable paradise which seen against a flat map looked like the outer post of humanity!
During those days everybody lived in independent houses. Development of the independent houses and vacant pieces of land into large apartments in the last two decades or so sadden me. Indeed, the concept of flats came much later particularly after the carving out of Jharkhand which earlier was the part of erstwhile Bihar, and consequent development of Ranchi becoming its capital almost as a natural choice.
Our independent houses were identified by the inmates there. Each house seemed to have a personality and soul of its own.
However, with the mushroom growth of apartments each comprising several flats, the soul seems to have departed. The apartment has made the personality of the erstwhile independent house amorphous. Individuals are now identified by their flat numbers rather than names. Impersonality has set in!
For those of us who owned and grew in independent houses, staying in a flat does not carry the same experience or sense of belonging. As for myself, because I was working outside Ranchi for years together, I had to give my sprawling piece of land for development. To-day I own flats but not the independent house any more. Whenever someone asks me about my hometown, and people still do out of curiosity or to know my antecedent, I use the word Ranchi no more with the same confidence of a resident as I used to do earlier. Somewhere subconsciously I feel that owning a flat and not a house does not make Ranchi as much of a home-town for me as it used to do earlier!
While changes in a town and its growth are perfectly understandable from the existential point of view, from an emotional point of view it is not. There is a part in us which always yearns for the town to have remained the same along with our childhood just as we had seen and lived then. There is something within us which refuses to grow when it comes to one’s home-town!
However, inevitably over a period of time, , Ranchi has changed a lot with new accommodations, multi-storeyed apartments and shopping complexes have come up. As an old-timer who stays out of Ranchi and goes there once or twice a year, many places look beyond recognition while many new areas have come up which were open pieces of land earlier. Ranchi looks a lot more sprawling and spread – out.
The high rise buildings and commercial complexes of to-day symbolise crass commercialism and impersonality replacing the old world charm that Ranchi had when we were growing up. These buildings often jut out into the sky like a sore thumb. The chaotic milling crowd makes the matter worse!
With many people now owning cars and definitely two-wheelers, the concept of distance has changed. Public transport has also improved with ubiquitous e-rickshaws and buses. Now one can easily cover ten or fifteen kilometres and as that would suffice in most cases, staying at a distance is often not an inhibiting factor now. This has facilitated the expansion of the town.