School Holidays in the Jungle

Africa's red Roads

My dearest Komal, Anjli and Amar,

Do you recall any of your school holidays?

For me, it was all about organising activities and summer camps for you, particularly as I was always busy with the pharmacy business.  You could have indeed stayed at home with Ba and Daddaji, but I was always conscious of how long they could put up with your energetic requirements. Hence the summer camps. My parents and particularly Lalitaba had no such worries. We were left to our own devices and in turn we had a great time with the neighbouring friends and in the outdoors. To take this blissful time to another level were my holidays in the jungles of Kenya where Lalitaba’s parents and family lived.

They lived in a small village of Makutna, made up of one dusty and muddy untarmacked street, with no electricity or running water. My favourite vantage spot was sitting on the swings of our neighbour’s verandah across from where my Dada(Purshottamdada) had his shop. You were able to see the full length of the single dusty road and all the activities on and across it.

Streets of Makutana

There were about 20 families(mostly Indians) living on this street with their businesses in the front and living quarters at the back. Naynamami’s family was one of them! The local African  population (mostly masais and kikuyus) lived on the outskirts of  the village.  So name me the one person you know in the above photo?

Every minute of the day was a new adventure. Starting with the morning cleansing rituals.  We always brushed our teeth outside, near the spot where the water for the daily bath was being heated up in a big improvised tin drum. After Jinja, the mornings in Makutana were cold. So the heat of the burning log wood under the drum was the best place to start our day. We sat on  two simple wooden benches on either side of the drum(બંબો) and played with the cold ash on the ground with our bare feet. Remember Ba talking about dantan(દાંતણ), here too we brushed our teeth with dantan.

The other adventure was using the toilets. I have to admit, this for me was a scary adventure. Toilets were situated away from the living area and were of the cesspool type.  A gigantic deep black hole with two steps on either side for perching your feet. Not only did you have to deal with the buzzing insects and the awful smell but also the fear of falling into this ugly stinky dark hole. Lalitaba recalls the times when I had to be forced to use the toilet and how I would not stop howling throughout the process.

I have already related my outdoor times in Jinja. In Makutana, we were surrounded by the jungles. I guess we didn’t venture out too far for the fear of lions, leopards and snakes! What I do remember is a gurgling stream behind the house where we often went to cool down and to collect tadpoles swimming in the stream.

Picnicking in the Jungles
Picnicking in the Jungles

Like in Uganda, picnicking was a great pastime on Sundays. For us picnicking did not mean packing sandwiches, it meant cooking hot food on stoves in the outdoor. Making khichdi and potato curry together with cool chaas.

 

During rainy days, Rashmimasi(Ba), Nalinimasi and I would play in the storage room situated between the shop front and the living quarters. We would be playing hide-and-seek among the hessian sacks(ગુણયા) full of grains. These days it would all be termed-simple pleasures of life-. What else does one do without tv, internet and internet games etc.,etc. I hope you will remember your Tv programmes and your internet research and games as fondly as I remember my times in the jungle.

Another simple pleasure of life was the fresh food that we ate. Surajba tended a vegetable garden(sambho) at the back of the house. All the green vegetables were grown here. So the cook of the day(one of the ladies of the household) would freshly pick and cook these vegetables for that day.

This reminds me of an incident when Pushpamasi(ba) was making kadhi and asked me to go to the garden and fetch fresh limdi. She must have waited ages, and the ghee must have started to burn, for she ended up running to the garden and getting the limdi herself! Little did I know that one required  only one small stem of limdi for the kadhi and not a basket-full!  I guess I must have acquired the title of baghhi(બાઘહી -stupid) then, for she was still getting irritated with me (over a decade later) when I was staying with her during her final days in Vaso. (Rest-in-Peace Pushpamasi)

Petrol lamp
Petrol lamp

Lack of electricity meant the servants got numerous gas/petrol lamps lit for the evening, creating a magical atmosphere right in the middle of the jungle. If that wasn’t enough, the evenings also brought out hoards of Masais from their dwellings to the village for their dancing ritual(goma).

Colourful Masai
Colourful Masai

All the men and women would be beautifully adorned in bright clothes and beaded jewelry and come with their long poles and spears to showcase their dance. My vivid memory is of them dancing in a circle on Dada’s wooden verandah in front of the shop. Part of the goma consists of jumping really high into the air. This caused the wooden floors to vibrate. The high pitched calls and the smiling lips showing off the white teeth in the twilight was all  exhilarating.

The child in me had an adventurous time in Makutana, but everyday life there was far from easy. A tragic event that rocked the family at this time  was the ghastly death of Purshotamdada. The details of that accident will have to wait for another letter from me. Next one, I promise. I will also fulfill your curiosity of why Dada was living in that remote village.

In order to fulfill Komal’s request of how to make pickles, I have uploaded a recipe of sweet Mango chutney(છું દો), quintessentially a Gujarati pickle(અથાણા). In some gujarati households, a variety of 8-10 pickles and chutneys would always be on offer at the dinner table. Again you can buy many of these pickles, but I will divulge the recipes of the few that I do make over the coming months. Keep reading.

Well that is all for now.

Until my next letter recounting the story of the gruesome accident, I bid you farewell.

As always all my love, hugs and kisses,

Vishfully yours

Mum

4 thoughts on “School Holidays in the Jungle”

  1. Thanks for this letter mum, I had no idea you spent summer holidays in the jungles of Kenya! Sounds so much more exotic than summer camp, although I do have very fond memories of going to camp! The two that stick out to me are Les Diablerets in France and I think it was YMCA in Austria. I used to love all the outdoor activities we did during those summers!

    Its interesting what you said about having fond memories of the games you played growing up. I have some fond memories of playing Carmen San Diego on the computer and Crash Bandicoot on Nintendo, but I think the best memories for me are of playing old school games such as hide and seek in the front living room in Pinner, and playing Star Wars Monopoly and sharades every Christmas 🙂

    I would never have thought you earned a title of baghi mum! How far you have come since then in the Kitchen!

    I’m intrigued by the cliffhanger you’re leaving us on, look forward to reading the next letter.

    Love, Anjli

    P.s. I recognize Bhanu ba-masi on the far left of the first pic, who are the others?! Is Pushpa ba-masi center left?

    1. Hi Anjli, I am glad you remember your summer camps. One WAS Les Diablerets, though not in France but in Switzerland. You did have to do French there and that is probably why you remember that as a French Camp! You got the country right for the other one and it was in the picturesque village of Zell am See….where you were subjected to German lessons in the mornings! As for the cliffhanger, I need to do a bit more digging before I tell you that story.
      Happy reading.
      Mum

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