Calcutta brings back so many memories, they can only be narrated over a period. Some of the memories are of how I used to walk across the Park Circus maidan to school everyday and return by almost the same route, taking a detour sometimes by walking back through the tram depot.
I still remember the schoolbag, with the name DBPC (Don Bosco Park Circus) emblazoned across. Every three or four years I would buy a new bag – from the school stationery. The last bag would probably have lasted years. At the beginning of every academic year, which in those days was January-December, there was a lot of excitement. We students would get the stationery list along with the report card at the end of the year. The list would contain the names of all the textbooks and the number of different-size notebooks we had to buy. On a scheduled date, parents and children would crowd the school stationery outlet (it was really the office fee counter), present the list and the money and take away the books, pencil boxes, brown paper, calendars etc.
Back home, it would be a time for covering the books, affixing labels, writing names and subjects and, of course, smelling and going through some of the books that interested me. I loved to check out the English language and literature, geography and moral science books. My mother was a sort of martinet, very strict with everything I did. She would teach me most of the subjects in the lower classes, give me math problems to work out, correct them later, ask me questions on portions and ensure that I wasted little time studying.
In the lower classes, study time at home would usually be after 3 in the afternoon. Or 4. There was no television in those days to distract you. Only the radio, and that was only switched on during lunchtime for Hindi film songs on Vividh Bharati or at 7pm to listen to Jayamala. Dad would listen to the 9 o’ clock news before going to sleep; by then my sister and I would have already hit the bed. All that was when I was in the lower classes before sister got married.
The spare time we got would be spent reading Enid Blyton books. Those Dreadful Children was the first Blyton book I read – a gift from mother for my birthday. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with Blyton and her innumerable books, a relationship that continues to this day. First Term at Malory Towers was the second book, Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm the third and Six Cousins Again the next. Soon, the Five Findouters entered my life as did the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. And then came Barney and Snubby, the Adventure series and several others.
The afternoons when mother, sister and I went to Gariahat would be eagerly awaited. Sister and I would head to the old second-hand bookshop down one of the streets and pick up half a dozen Blyton books at prices that are unimaginable today – Rs 5 or Rs 10. And each book was an original, complete with its original smell. Some of them would have names and tidbits of information scrawled on the pages. But it didn’t matter, as long as all the pages were there. Soon, we had built up a considerable collection of books, many of them are still with my sister in Calcutta.
In recent years, I have hardly had time to read Blyton’s books but some day I will go back in time. My daughter has a wonderful collection of them and it is just one of life’s wonderful things that she, too, is a great Blyton fan and has such an incredible appetite for reading.