The Neighbourhood Family

The pandemic caused by the corona virus reduced the celebration of our parent’s 50th anniversary to long distance wishing. An idea stuck, bit late, but still on time, how about a whatsapp video call with family members and the family they built with the neighbours where they lived and we grew up?

We grew up in Rourkela. Many of you may have heard its name in connection with the steel plant. People from across the state, country and world took up jobs created by the Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP) and came to make this place their homes.   It was a cultural melting pot. Varied skills from across the country were recognised, exchanged and tried by all interested. Annual picnics were organised and all festivals were celebrated with amazing enthusiasm. As children, we addressed our friends parents as we heard them being addressed, Pappaji – Mummyji, Bou- Baba and also Mausa-Mausi, Uncle-Aunty.

Some of us went to state board schools and some to English medium schools. But come sunshine of shower, we were out on the road to play at 4 p.m. every day after school. We were kids, so of course we fought. But the parents never came to resolve. We mended our friendships.

Every fruit and vegetable that grew in that area was shared in the community. Mangoes, guavas, lichis, jackfruit, yam, greens, flowers. Infact, some days, we would decide, today we feel like eating the guavas from Bou’s house, and we will go, climb up the trees, girls and boys, whoever wished to, take a cloth bag along (usually made at home from old trousers or any other thick cloth) and we will bring down a bag full for the house, for distribution and we ate as many as we wanted till our stomach hurt.

Swain mausi’s red chilli powder also had roasted jeera in it. You could taste it when you ate guava or raw mangoes with salt and chilli powder. Mummyji, Sehgal aunty made the best potato chips, served topped with tomato sauce. They had the first TV and some Sundays all the children were there watching DD and some days, entire neighbourhood watched the cricket match with eternal optimists like Maharaj saying India will win even if there are three balls left and 36 runs to make!

Gradually most of us left to pursue higher studies beyond what the city could offer. As the parents reached retirement age, the homes provided by the employer were to be vacated. Some moved earlier to different locations to bigger homes. Some chose to retire in Rourkela and some went back to their ancestral homes, where rest of the relatives were. This larger family, the neighbourhood family everyone remembers. There is that longing in the heart of living in a faraway place, making it your home, building friendships that perhaps one did not know then, that they will come to mean so much, and will be missed so much.

After that video call, which warmed our hearts and was so much nostalgia, everyone talking simultaneously, one day, Roy Uncle called. It seemed he had dialled my number by mistake. Nonetheless, we enquired about whereabouts of friends and family. And then uncle said something which I must absolutely write down for they stalled Time for me. It felt like nothing has gone by in so many years.

“Do you remember we used to have regular power cuts (no electricity, scheduled and unscheduled). We would be in the middle of studies, or a game of carom, or waiting for a TV programme, waiting without a fan in the summer heat, a neighbourhood drenched in silence induced by lack of light.

And when then, suddenly, the bulbs come back on, the streets and homes lit up, and there is joyous uproar from the children from all houses,  hoooooooooo …the collective expression of happiness.

I want to hear that noise again.”

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