As a child, my friends and I walked from our village to school two kilometers away in Thana town. The only mode of transport for travel within the town were horse-drawn tangas or tongas. We couldn’t afford to use them on a daily basis. The squeaky state transport buses didn’t ply inside the old, quaint town. When we went to Bombay city, we trudged the nearly 4-km distance to the Thana railway station to board a train.
I recall in my childhood, along with my friends, climbing the banyan tree in the centre of our village, to get a better, panoramic view from above. Behind the banyan tree was a small Shiv Mandir. After school, we would meet and spend joyful hours under the shade of that banyan tree.
The only day when we didn’t sit under the banyan tree was on the annual “Wad Puja”. Elegant women, in their best finery would go around the banyan tree, wrapping it with thread, offering aartis to the sacred tree, praying that their husbands have a long and healthy life like the strong and sturdy tree.
Barely 30 feet away was the village well. Both children and adults swam in the village well. Labourers working in mills and factories, who didn’t have water connections at home, used to bathe at the well.
When Catholics in the village got married, they would draw water from the well as it was an age-old custom. The village well would be adorned with white strips of paint to mark the occasion. Before going to Church, the marriage party would go the Shiv Mandir to pay obeisance.
On the outer edge of the village was a cluster of tamarind trees. We could climb any one of them and help ourselves to mouth watering tamarind.
Our parents allowed us to freely roam the countryside, as the rural area was as safe as home. There were no criminals hovering around and kidnapping was unheard of. Hardly any vehicles plied on the dirt roads. When we were bored sitting around the banyan tree after school, we would trek to Pokhran several kilometers away to pluck succulent jamuns that grew in abundance along the pipeline on the town’s outskirts.
When we wanted to explore the town, we took along our “garandas” or wheels, made of iron that we propelled with hooks at the end of long slim metal rods. The convoy of “garandas” of a bunch of kids, clattered along without hindrance. There were no killer buses or trucks on the town’s roads, and cars were few.
Boys and girls played together in my village. There were no class or religious distinctions. Among my male friends with whom we played games like ‘hu, tu, tu’, ‘kho, kho’ and village cricket with a soft ball were two brothers, Anand and Baloo. They used to stay in a hut on the outskirts of the village. Their mother worked as a domestic help in various homes and their father didn’t work, because he was a drunkard. The boys never went to school.
My mother used a kerosene stove to cook food then. My grandmother, who survived my grandfather, lived in a neighbouring house. She cooked on firewood and used clay pots. Grandma’s food was very tasty. Water stored in “matkas” in those days tasted fresh like nectar.
Big sprawling buildings have come up, where once was my village. A few ‘villagers’ have retained their old independent homes. We too have retained our independent home after some renovation. The rest have sold off their properties to builders. The banyan tree and the small Shiv Mandir, however, still stand tall.
Those were the days when life was idyllic and simple. The good old days will never return. That’s the past. But a great future lies ahead.