Golden Age Thinking: The erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in. It is a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present. (Midnight in Paris, 2011).
We, my two, older siblings and I, grew up in a yellow colonial house with green skirting and French windows in 1980’s Dhaka, Bangladesh. It’s strange that I now have no decent photos of that house of my childhood and no inkling of how it came to be so ‘colonial’. But the memories of our ‘old house’ have never left me. Its my place of quiet and serenity.
I remember it being surrounded by hundreds of trees and plants – Mango, Jackfruit, Blackberry, Coconut, Custard-Apple, Guava, Betel-nut and many more. Over the tin-sheds, blossomed luxurious, Magenta Bougainvilleas. The Neem tree was forbidden since it housed 7 Djinns. There were also deer, squirrels, newts, fowls, cats, cattle, talking Myna birds in cages, Tilapia fish in tanks and myriad other birds on the trees. We grew up smugly engulfed in Nature.
It was a place that I preferred to school. On days when the rain was really coming down, I secretly rejoiced and emerged from bed just late enough to skip school, but early enough to maximize adventure time. I loved school, but hated that teachers demanded so much attention.
I remember, my childhood routine of folly consisting of setting up futile bird-traps, carving ‘survival’ knives out of wood and creating underground treasures (imitation stones, Monopoly money etc in a Strepsils box) with elaborate, slightly-burnt maps. And then, there was my impenetrable ‘laboratory’ behind two massive water-reservoirs – reachable only through a series of climbs, hops and lifts. There I brewed magic potion and ‘drugs’ in sawed-off electric bulbs and test-tubes collected from LabAid next door. Till today, no one else has ever seen my lab.
Ma was the administrator of the household. She fed us, admonished us, entertained the endless stream of house-guests and oversaw the kitchen garden. She was the keeper of all souls. Every little permission came from her, ‘ma – can I bathe in the rain?’, ‘ma – can I release the fish into the commode?’. Responses were mostly negative, but subject to negotiation. A deal would be struck at the cost of my favorite, disintegrating t-shirt being turned into a floor-wipe.
The most memorable adventure of my childhood came when a group of urban cattle-herders or Goruwallahs were chased by the cops into our house. My father found them trying to hide in plain sight with 7/8 large cows by the driveway. He heard their story of extortion and announced the Goruwallahs would live in the store-room (outhouse of sorts) as long as they needed. Its unthinkable in today’s Dhaka where isolated souls look upon each other with fashionably-urban distrust and pass quickly without nodding.
I became student-by-day-cow-herder-by-night for the next year. I came to know each of the animals – which calf was old enough to stroke, which cow could be milked when, which was the bully of the herd. I learnt to mingle with the Goruwallahs – eating of their humble diet of coarse rice and diced onions. I haven’t met anyone poorer or kinder since. There’s something real learnt in such company – something not found in computer games or malls.