The Way A Common Ranchite Lived
As stated earlier the middle class of our childhood was more like a relatively lower middle class of to-day. The salaries were modest in the government sector. Private sector was yet to come into its own and those in unorganised sector always faced an uncertain future. Private entepreneurship was not widespread as it is to-day, particularly among the educated class which invariably looked for a job-if it was a government one so much the better as it fulfilled ceaseless search for security and a sense of hierarchical superiority!
The approach of most families to life was utilitarian –designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive by being unduly costly! What sufficed was good enough! Indeed many families lived at subsistence level. With limited money to spare most middle class families used to grapple with the usual requirements of groceries, children’s education, and responsibility towards other family members beyond the immediate nuclear family and so on. Joint family had started disintegrating structurally but emotional and monetary support to such extended family members was a socially expected norm in a milieu which was still traditional and which many willy-nilly fulfilled. Consumerism in such a constrained set-up was yet to creep in. It was unlike the way it is to-day when middle class has become relatively richer in the post-liberalisation phase with enough to spare on luxuries of branded clothes, eating outside, going to films, splurging and impulsive buyings in malls , owning costly car and so on.
We still used to go to schools in hand-woven sweaters. Ladies in most families in the wake of approaching winter would start knitting sweaters for the family members which was both a necessity as well as a compulsion. Ready –made sweaters were rarely sported and I would presume that the same were either too costly for most families’ to afford or not readily available in Ranchi market. Saving a few rupees on expenses still mattered!
As students, for most of us the outer limit of eating outside was to go to a South Indian hotel and mostly have Dosa which was wholesome and tasty enough and more importantly suited our pocket. In many families taking tea or coffee as a school kid was deemed to be a bad form .But we could always help ourselves to a cup of coffee in a hotel. Ranchi had only a few high-end hotels but most of us never thought that we needed to visit them. Hence, we never missed them.
Indeed going to hotels for any family celebration which is so common to-day was not so then! A home-cooked meal of ‘pulao’, non-veg ,vegetable curries ( ‘paneer’ was still a luxury bought on special occasions )and sweets(bought from outside) was enough. Nobody missed not going to hotels for such celebrations as it did not constitute a part of the modest wish-list of those days. No wonder, in marriage negotiations, ladies of the groom’s side would always delicately check on the culinary capabilities of the bride which was deemed to be an important skill set.
Different types of sweetmeats including the often-eaten ‘rasagullas’(as called in Hindi in the absence of an English equivalent) and ‘namkins’(salted ) of which ‘samosas’ (again as called in Hindi in the absence of an English equivalent) was the main item used to be in great demand. Eating sweets was very popular and was the staple item during any family celebration. Cadbury chocolates had not as yet emerged as rivals. Cakes and pastries were yet to make their entry in the lives of Ranchi’s gentry.
To celebrate birth-day a sumptuous traditional meal cooked at home is what most expected! Indeed the celebration of birthday or marriage anniversary or so many other ‘Days’ was not common. To-day most of these days are expected to be essentially celebrated. One way of looking at it can be that the social obligations were naturally ingrained deeply in the family and taken for granted. The same need to be exhibited to-day as a token of assertion of faith in the same, adopted and influenced by the western culture in which family and relations are increasingly disintegrating !
Unnecessarily overly done talks on health at the dining or drawing room of to-day was not there even among the elders .People lived and left the world without worrying too much about such matters as to-day and seemed to take life as well as death in their stride with a greater sense of equanimity and fatalism. But this kept them better satisfied with what they had in comparison to the present generation which with growing consumerism perpetually suffers from a real or psychological sense of deprivation and often remains anxiety-laden ‘addicted’ to medicines.
Main Road of to-day remained ‘main’ road during our time. The main thoroughfare where we all converged. The only thing is it was a lot less crowded. One could cross the main road almost non-chalantly while gossiping with a friend. To-day one has to ‘strategise’ to cross the main road across its width .I suppose one gets a little stressed up .Indeed now-a-days many people suggest to avoid Main Road if one could unlike our childhood days when one would suggest otherwise. It was such a pleasure to pass through the main road which provided some diversion with its shops and film-halls and the crowd on the road as it was then. It was the only ‘happening’ place in the town in whatever limited sense one may use it. Now other market areas have come up in the town catering to many of the needs of the respective localities but have not emerged as a complete substitute of the Main Road which still remains the ‘main’ road. Indeed one of the warm feelings that I recall was going to main road with my father occasionally and something like most other children of my age looked forward to. When we grew into teenagers and started moving around by ourselves, the major diversion from boredom was to go to Main Road.
Main Road was much less crowded then. .Pavements were ‘pavements’ and one could walk freely on them. Now shops have stretched over them forcing people to walk on the road. Full of merchandise and vendors, now one walks on the road while pavements are used for selling. In many places garish advertisement boards obstruct and spoil the earlier clear ’skyline’. It has also become a lot more noisy and commercial.
For an average Indian, the main entertainment revolves around festivals and Ranchi was no exception. These were celebrated with a lot of gaiety and were major social events. As for myself,I always liked Vijayadashmi ( also called Durga Puja particularly by the Bengalis who popularised it in Ranchi) more as it continued for several days and one could slowly savour the moments. Much awaited Dipawali was actually a two- hour experience of lighting and fireworks in the evening which seemed to be over fast enough without providing full satisfaction to a child .Holi was the major festival of Bihar or Ranchi but along with the revelry it was also accompanied with a lot of rowdism much to the dislike of many. Meeting relatives and friends was inescapably on the social menu and we were goaded by our parents to fulfil the same .
“Chhath”was celebrated with more of solemnity rather than festivity. The devotees had to adhere to the rituals meticulously which they did also being in awe of the Sun God. I still remember a whole stream of humanity passing through the road in front of our house in the wee hours of morning when it was still dark and before the sun-rise looking like apparition in their silhouetted form singing evocatively in rhythmic cadence the folk songs devoted to the Sun God. We would also skitter to the “Ghat” (the bank) of the nearby pond to pay our obeisance to the Sun God at the break of dawn.
Ranchi was the town of Circe, to borrow from the caption of a book by the great writer Nirad C. Chaudhury who wrote The Continent of Circe. Circe was a mythological enchantress and anybody who came to her island fell under her spell and often ended up staying there. The same to a large extent was also true of Ranchi. Those who came and worked in Ranchi for a few years ended up settling down there. Ranchi provided salubrious and soothing climate with picturesque greenery, life was slow-paced with the old world charm, property was relatively cheaper with the town not crowded and educational facilities were very good.
Ranchi overall makes a positive impact on a visitor even though it does not have monuments of national fame.
Still Ranchi Hill canopied with green trees and a temple at the top, which was about one kilometre away from my house provided a grand spectacle . I have grown up watching it in its as well as mine myriad moods and so it has been dear to me, and deserves mention ! When covered and obstructed with passing mist and cloud, and particularly the top temporarily disappearing from the sight it looked surreal and evocative. Indeed when employed in Africa , I had opportunities to look at the famous snow-capped Kilimanjaro mountain standing at the equator playing hide and seek with the adrift tuft of clouds and becoming intermittently invisible, I could recall similar experience replicated at Ranchi Hill.
Jutting from nowhere above the ground for about 2000 feet, the Hill seems to be hexing and witnessing with a sense of detachment all things human for thousands of years! Now the stairs to the top covered from above and sides have been constructed making it easier to climb and reach the ‘pahari mandir’ devoted to Lord Shiva. Small shops have mushroomed selling Puja offerings .But the earlier tranquillity and solitude needed to appreciate the natural beauty of the Hill are now gone. There was a time when during the festival of Shivaratri one could see from below the devotees in their thousands ‘snaking’ their way up and down through the rock-cut stairs which provided an unobstructed vast expanse of view of the Hill and below . Still it lends from the top a panoramic spectacle of Ranchi. Incidentally a number of freedom fighters were hanged here from the trees by the Britishers and our elders used to say when we were small children that their unrequited soul wandered around forewarning not to venture into that area in the evening. May be someday a Memorial will be constructed in their remembrance!
Another remembrance, albeit vague, is that of a Water-fall visited and I as a child wading through water with my shoes in hand. I cannot recall the name of the Fall but that somehow remains an enduring memory. During those days of lack of facility of easy transport, going to such Falls was not frequent . Indeed Ranchi is a town of Water-falls –so many of them so very beautiful providing the postcard-perfect background for a picture! I have visited these Water-falls later on whenever I could ,the recent ones being Dasam and Hirni . They seem to flow from eternity to eternity in their captivating majestic splendour which only a Wordsworth can do justice to by composing poems on them!
Jagannath Temple constructed a few centuries back used to be referred to with a lot of reverence. But it was deemed to be too far away due to the lack of easy transport and I had the opportunity to visit it much later. Now the surroundings have become inhabited but earlier the temple on a hillock in the midst of vast expanse of vacant land would have looked really ‘divine’! However, it still offers a memorable spectacle and experience.
CONCLUSION (‘WHAT IS PAST IS PROLOGUE’ -SHAKESPEARE)
Life is full of strange feelings. We yearn for experiences gone by with no hope or real desire to relive them. For many it would be tedious to go through the same experience twice over even if it is that of growing-up! As Shakespeare said ’What is past is prologue’ and sets the context for the ensuing future which so speedily and yet so surreptitiously glides by every passing moment. Still every time we think of our days of growing – up, we do so with a feeling of fondness and nostalgic remembrance !