Life in Jinja

My dearest Komal, Anjli and Amar

મારા વ્હાલા કોમલ, અંજલી અને અમર

Back to continuing my stories of Africa.

Eleven Ripon Gardens
Looks very different from when I last saw it in 1971. The house still stands to this day and happily in a much better condition.

Try and picture my life in the Jinja of December 1970. As you know I lived in an extended family, where the family number  fluctuated anywhere between 15 and 20. The head of the family was my grandmother, Gangaba who had been widowed 12 years earlier. The rest of the family consisted of  her children(4 out of 6), their spouses(3) and the grandchildren(9).

In December 1970 we were living in a detached house (11 Ripon Garden) with officially 2 kitchens, 4 toilets, 4 bathrooms, 6 bedrooms, many hallways, 2 storerooms, one walk-in safe, one dining room, and one lounge. The most fascinating room for me was the walk-in safe! In my younger days I used to sleep in the room that housed the safe. The use of any room depended on the number of inhabitants, so the extra kitchen could be used as a bedroom, the hallway as a dining area, the dining room as a bedroom and so on. At this particular time, four of us grandchildren were using the former dining room as our bedroom (with two bunk-beds)!

So imagine Komal my exasperation when you complained  of sharing the huge attic room in Benglen with Anjli when your grandma moved in with us!

To complicate matters further, the family was just recovering from a bankruptcy period and so for extra income, half of the upstairs living quarter was rented out to a family of four. Though we had electric immersion heaters, the daily bath water was heated outside with wood…again for extra savings. Malefu, our servant would fetch a bucket of hot water  to the bathrooms as required! Long bath times were out of the question due not only to the shortage of hot water but also to allow the rest of the family members to get ready in the morning for work or for school.

School times were eight in the morning to one at lunchtime. My friends would come to fetch me and we would walk together to school for a further 15 minutes, just in time to attend the morning assembly. We did have 3 cars but they were always required for business. So much so that even during a rainy period, I would either wait for the rain to stop or hop into a friend’s car! P.M.M. is how we referred to my school, which stood for Parvatiben Muljibhai Madhvani girls secondary school.

The Girls Secondary School. Courtesy of Narendrabhai Mistry, December 2015

A bit of a mouthful eh?  The previous two years my school times had been from one in the afternoon to six in the evening due to shortage of school space! I enjoyed both times, but the ladies in the kitchen had a rough time! Prior to this I attended the primary school that was situated right behind our house. Unfortunately there was no gate from our back garden and so we had to walk 10 minutes around the perimeter of the school!

Notice all the differences in our lives, bearing in mind the year and the size of the household:

    • There was no ‘utility room’ and hence no washing machine! Malefu would perform that task. Clothes did not need any dryer either, we made full use of the warm weather. They were mostly dried on lines on the roof. We also did not have a dishwasher….only Malefu again! Overall us youngsters were rather spoiled.
    • There were no desk spaces in the house as all homework was done on the dining table between meals. Children in households without dining tables did their homework sitting cross-legged on the floor.
    • There were no waist-high units in the kitchen. All food was prepared on  coal-burning stoves on the floor (સગડી).
    • Charcoal Stove
      Charcoal Stove
    • Women did all the cooking again cross-legged on the floor. Most days us children had our meals sitting on the floor in the kitchen. Best meals ever! Piping hot food and hot rotlis (રોટલી) straight off the pan (તાવડી).
    • There was only one small television in the living room. I am  of the generation that experienced the first introduction of the television, the days of the antenna on the roof and the fiddling of these antennas to obtain the sharpest of visions. My world though revolved around the single radio housed under the television.

    • Gangaba used to get rather annoyed with my occupation of fiddling with the radio, રેડિયાની અંદરજ બેસીજાને“.   “Immerse yourself inside the radio!”      
    • The solitary telephone was also situated here. Receiving and making calls was a big highlight: tamasha (તમાશા).
    • The cupboard under the stairs housed a huge array of shoes but it was a place of fascination when it became the maternity room for our alsatian, Jimmy, to lay her litter. I remember  one litter consisting of 6 of the cutest puppies. We had to be dragged away for dinner from those blind staggering little creatures.
    • The front yard was mostly paved and used for parking the cars.
    • Stone Grain Grinder
      Picture Lalitaba and Dikaba grinding lentils enough to last 6 months at a time! We sure have it easier these days.
  • Whereas the backyard (સકાટી), again mostly paved, was used for grinding grains in the manual stone mills (ઘંટી), and drying all manners of food items, like papdi (પાપડી), papad (પાપડ), vadio (વળીઓ) and more. Unlike today, in those days everything was home-made!  Talking of yards (સકાટીI think this is a Swahili word!), we had fragrant and visually pleasing flowers growing in the front yard, like jasmine (જૂઈ) and frangipani (ચંપો). Fruit trees like guava(જામફળ  or મપેળા in Swahili) and custard apple (સીતાફળ) grew in the back yard. All the better for Gangaba to keep an eye on the poachers!

I wish I could have raised you in that gorgeous environment. In some ways…perhaps not. The next best thing I can do is to relate the care free atmosphere of my childhood to you. Are there enough details here for you to imagine this warm beautiful life in Africa?

I have spent so much time writing this letter that my recipe input is suffering! I shall remedy that in the very near future.

Until then, wish you all the very best in all that you do. How about telling me of your new skill acquisition/s? I hope to master the cycle and try some simple tunes on the piano! Wish me luck.

With lots of love, hugs and kisses,

Vishfully yours,


10 thoughts on “Life in Jinja”

  1. My favourite. Used to run home from school, when we had the afternoon sessions, just in time to hear the second half of Geetmala. This is when I disliked the afternoon school times!

  2. I was expecting a comment on the pet story from Amar, but I guess it comes as a surprise to all of you. Keeping a pet in the open environment of Jinja and the closed carpeted environment of Europe are two different situations! I guess after London anywhere else would be a ‘village’ to you, but I class Jinja more as a town than a village. And my favourite radio station then used to be Radio Ceylon! A few set broadcast times were my chains to the radio. Listening to music is on a different level these days. It is liberating for me too.

  3. Hi mum,

    What a wonderful letter! I’ve always wondered had a picture in my head of the place you grew up but this letter has added a whole host of beautiful images for me to conjure in my mind. Next step is to actually go there…! I find it funny how quiet you have kept it all these years that you grew up with dogs, seeing as you have been anti-pet all my life! The wildness of your childhood sounds idyllic with its rural setting (I’m guessing Jinja was a little village?). I imagine it almost Bollywood-like, especially with the idea of the radio playing in the background 24/7…probably not Sunrise Radio back in Jinja…but not far off, right?

  4. ‘Wake Surfing’ !…all these different sports challenges of today. Glad you had a good time. Keep that physio going for your knee, all ready for the winter sports.
    Miss you too. Lots of love….Mum

  5. Thanks for another great letter mum! I can definitely picture your warm and happy upbringing! Crazy to think how different our childhoods were, although equally happy I’m sure! Hopefully we can one day visit Uganda together, after your stories I would love to see it.

    Good luck with the cycling and piano! Speaking of skills, I too would like to remaster the piano. Maybe when I’m home next, we can learn a duet together. I learned a new skill this past weekend, wake surfing (well learned is a strong word, tried is probably more accurate)! Was so much fun but tough on the arms and my dodgy knee! Tried it at a friend’s lake house in the finger lakes in upstate New York, it’s beautiful, you would love it there! Makes me miss home!

    Lots of love,

  6. Thanks Jagdish. I have never missed Jinja as much as these days! In my story-telling mode to my children, I too am having a nostalgic journey!

  7. Great Stuff, Vish. Carry on ! Children will appreciate this …… if not now then later.

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