Hearing even a snatch of our National Anthem brings up a lump in my throat. Always. Unfailingly.
It wasn't always so.
Though the walls of my father's house displayed pictures of Gandhiji and Nehru, and the library was stuffed with books relating to nationalism, i don't remember being too patriotic as a youngster. While in school (in the 60s-70s), one always thought of the National Anthem as one more oppressive school routine to be endured everyday after the morning assembly. Moreover, since we were only taught to sing it and not explained the meaning, the bengali words seemed like just a bunch of geographical names strung together. There wasn't the teeniest stirring of spirit as the Jaya-hey sounded off. Besides school, one other place where it had to be endured was in cinema theatres. We stood in attention alright ; accompanying parents made sure of that ! But mind would be either on the celluloid fantasies just witnessed or the promised ice-cream treat that was to follow.
I can pin point the exact time that aforementioned lump started forming in my throat . It was when my sister and I began taking interest in Tipu Sultan and embarked on an extensive reasarch into that period of Indian history. Since wedded life had landed us both in Bangalore, we had ample time to get together and prepare dossiers about the life and times of Tipu. Our idea was to eventually produce a magnum opus about the beloved king. (for record, the project is still in gestation , after 32 years)
During this period i started reading Gandhi's Experiment with Truth and his Young- India articles. I was transformed. My father's bottomless pit of a library became a personal mecca. And the sight of fluttering flags on Independence Day and Republic Day started giving me goosebumps.
Husband and I moved to Nigeria in '80, setting up home in Ilupeju , a residential locality in Lagos State . It was a neighbourhood infested with armed robbers, particularly infamous being Coker Road . And we lived in a lane off that Coker Road.
Life there was a big culture shock initially. No phones at home. ( cellphones were still in sci-fi realm then) No fresh milk. Only powdered and condensed milk . Erratic electric supply necessitated putting up with noisy generators for a good part of the day. Running water was precious as gold and daily life had to be designed around 5 jerry cans of stored water. The threat of attacks by armed robbers (who were heavily armed, disgruntled ex-soldiers left over from the infamous Biafra War )confined everyone to a life " behind bars"- our doors were so heavily barricaded with grill gates, multi locks and what not. Movement outside home was restricted to barest necessities. The domestic help ( house maid, driver, watchmen) disappeared whenever police sirens were heard, which was fairly often, because they were all illegal immigrants from Ghana, ( the police merely extracted bribes from them. Bribe was called " Dash"). Summers were oppressive and brought into the house a whole menagerie of colourful, strange looking creepy crawlies. Not a dull moment ! ( a local market in Apapa)
But all was not bleak. I did find things to be grateful for. The indian expat community stuck close together with much sharing and caring. "Indian" veggies like okra, coriander leaves, coconut, drumstick etc were specially sourced and delivered to us once a week by the kind, mobile green grocer. Since deisel was cheap, the Generator saw to it that we were never without lights and fan. And we had our CTs. when it came to money. The Naira, then, was stronger than the almighty Dollar , so most imported items were very cheap. Especially, branded childcare products.
Apapa , located some distance away from us, was another locality with a fairly big knot of Indians. Indian festivals were usually celebrated on the sunday closest to the actual date, in a warehouse there. A master menu would be drawn up and divided among volunteers - usually everyone . When sweet pongal or Puliyorai contributed from six or eight kitchens were mixed in those huge drums, unique flavours would be the result with all individual shortcomings camouflaged.
And for Independence Day celebrations, they usually played a video recording of Delhi's R.Day Parade that preceeded. It was there, so many kilometers away from our land, that the national anthem struck deep resonances within me and i started going moist eyed.
The emotion has endured.
Today, on our 60th. Republic Day, i decided to make a simple offering, Naivedyam, to mahan Bharath : A salad of different vegetables, each keeping its individual identity in taste and texture, but together making an interesting whole. Unity in Diversity.
Ingredients used : Peas, Potato, Delhi Carrots. Lightly steamed. Lime juice, salt and powdered ajwain for dressing.
(This post is going to Kitchen Masterpiece Event hosted by Chitra Amma's Kitchen.)
Jaya Jaya Jaya Jayahey !
LIFE IN LAGOS
....was pretty much crazy in the early 80s. Biggest worry was Security. It looked like Jungle Law. Complete anarchy, as far as law and order were concerned. The drop outs from the infamous Biafra War were without hope, poor, armed and dangerous. House break-ins were routine. Waylaying of vehicles and dcamping with cash and valuables were a given. Especially notorious was Coker Road in Ilupeju area, and we lived just off Coker Road. In a road named Adebayo Adebanjo, in a small three storied apartment building with just 1o aparments. Ano no phone connection. There were informal security men called Mallams living in the ground floor, who were forever occupied with making exquisite embroidered caps. They were more moral support than real protection.
Everyone spoke English. Yet, there was difficulty in communication because the Queen's Language was converted here into pidgin English that was rendered more unfathomable by the curiously heavy and thick tongued pronounciation. Here's an ad. ( cutting from my scrap book) using the native English for effect :
Provisions were got from a Lebonese convenience store just two streets away, but each trip was fraught with much anxiety and sense of dangerous drama, because of the hyper-imaginative, over-reacting spouse ! The expeditions were timed to avoid night fall and traffic jams ( Lagos being the capital of "Go-Slows"). Vegetables were supplied by a rotund, affable green grocer who brought his huge old van loaded with vegetable produce Indians wanted, to streets where Indians resided, twice a week.
An enterprising local lad named Umaru, ran an unofficial house-maid agency. It was less Agency, more Racket, for he smuggled in illegal immigrants from neighboring Ghana and with the connivance of the Mallams, managed to find them employment as domestic help and in other menial jobs. The Mallams usually tipped them off when the Police came snooping and miraculously, the Ghana folk just vanished into thin air, only to sneak out of the woodwork, after the coast was clear. To this day, I can't imagine how they managed it .
All the maids who worked for me - Beatrice, Mary and Selena - were from Ghana. They were a bit slow, but uncomplaining and affable. And very thrifty with water because they knew the value of each drop. Our household ran on five jerry cans of water transported each day from the Industrial area where the spouse had office. Weekends needed more storage. As for our taps, they mostly gushed out hot air.
Loved the Nigerian women's fondness for colour and flamboyance in dressing and hairstyles.
This here, is an old postcard showing a city lady ,shopping at the local market. Its interesting to see that she is wearing a cloth woven in South India . Fabrics called "Madras Handkerchief " were quite popular there.
The maids had their hair done once a fortnight and reportedly spent two to three hours to get the braids !
I made a lot of sketches of all kinds of hairdos. Here's a selection.