“My daugts! Having fun, huh!”
Those doting words full of love and affection still ring in my ears loud and clear, even though it’s been close to a decade now.
I grew up in a joint family where the concept of family is not just limited to parents and siblings. Besides parents, my family constituted my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins – a total of 17 people. Uncles here are my father’s brothers and aunts, their wives. We lived together under one roof sharing common bathrooms, toilets and a common kitchen.
Subsequently, as we grew up the family progressively became smaller due to various reasons. Contributing events include an uncle being transferred to another city and moving out with his family; another uncle moving out to a different house with his wife after he got married; grandparents passing away.
Most of these events however happened after I had completed school and had stepped into college. As a result I have experienced the adventure and fun of being in a large family for a significant part of my life. Life is all ironies given that I live all alone now – not something I had even remotely anticipated.
And, with my generation of the family moving out and settling with jobs in other parts of the country, there are just four people living in our house in Shillong – my parents, an uncle and an aunt. The rest of us are reduced to being just occasional visitors.
A direct consequence of living together has been the bond that we cousins share – the five girls of the family are like own sisters rather than cousins. Circumstances in the past few years have brought in a little distance between us as we don’t get to catch up often. However, in our heart of hearts our love for each other remains the same.
The best memories of our cousins together are those that we have spent in Kolkata. My uncle had retired from his job and settled down with his family – my aunt and two cousins – in an apartment in the South of Kolkata. At the same time, I had also moved to Kolkata with a job and lived with my sister in the North of Kolkata. The youngest cousin was doing her MBA from an institute in Kolkata and she stayed with us too.
So, three of us stayed in the North and two of them stayed in the South. Notwithstanding the 23 Km. between us, the five of us would spend a considerable amount of time together. Much of that was spent in my uncle’s house. Living at two ends of the metropolis hardly bothered us. The five of us together meant the world to us. We would cancel our meetings with friends and other engagements to just be together because being together used to be the greatest fun of all.
Those years were fantastic and definitely belong to the bucket where I store the best days of my life. It was all about mindless conversations and incessant laughter; about making fun of the idiosyncrasies of other family members, giving them names; and endless repetitions of the same gossips running late into the nights. The five of us would cuddle together in one big bed and spend the night together even if that meant being uncomfortably sandwiched with each other.
Our laughter was contagious and my uncle would sporadically make his appearance saying the same thing in various ways.
“My daughts…enjoying huh!”
Daughts is what he would lovingly call us, meaning daughters. And we would laugh even more seeing him peeping into the room every now and then.
One of the cousins loved cooking and we were her guinea pigs whether we liked it or not. On the days of her experiments, my uncle would be seen making several trips to the local market to get all the special ingredients.
Often, we would go on long drives in the car that belonged to one of us much to the amusement of Kuddus, our driver, who enjoyed just as much, though he had no choice whatsoever.
Then there were festivals, especially Durga Pujas. The Durga Pujas that we spent together were the best! No other Durga Puja before or after that has been the same. Dressing up and pandal hopping all over Kolkata ignoring the profuse sweating in the tropical humid weather or walking the muddy lanes when it rained. Then coming back to the apartment and enjoying the gala celebrations of song and dance all night long from the privacy of our very own balcony. My uncle’s flat was the only one that would always fall within the closed enclosure of the apartment Durga Puja Pandal, much to the envy of all the neighbours.
Those days are clearly some of the best days of my life!
My uncle passed away nearly a decade back and ever since the daughts haven’t been the same anymore.
(And, I realized that in the absence of digital pictures, I don’t have a single picture of my uncle.)