My post on Fashionable, was about my stylish aunt Jeroo, who despite a general attitude among its inhabitants to pay scant attention to their attire, kept up the trend of dressing up in the evenings, even if it meant a mere walk to the railway station! A lot of fond memories from childhood visits to Bilimora subsequently floated up. It was a little fishing village then and now a thriving commercial city when I visited in 2014.
As children with our parents, we would arrive at the Bilimora Railway Station after a four hour train journey from Mumbai, with our “bedding” which contained extra blankets, sheets and a couple of quilts. These were neatly packed by my father and secured with leather straps that buckled around the rolled bedding. These along with two steel trunks replete with Masters’ locks were also unloaded at the station and a horse/carriage driver, deputed by our uncle somehow discovered us in that jostling crowd, took possession of our luggage, hired two coolies to carry it on their heads and quickly made a path for us to follow to his horse-drawn tonga. He knew where to take us.
My sister always perched on top near the driver and joined him in yelling “Ay ee yao” threatening pedestrians to stay out of his way while flicking the whisk lightly over the horse’s flanks. There was a small wooden seat inside facing the road, so the other three occupants rode backwards. At our feet were the two steel trunks and bedding. I don’t know how they got all of us on!
Our tonga clipped straight along the main road and at the corner where there was a photography studio (our landmark) he hung a left through a very rough alley where wild pigs were rooting around and then eventually the house appeared.
Talk about a reception committee! Two aunts, one uncle, my grandmother, cousins and a small gathering of neighbors from adjoining homes were waiting on the steps. They were all so happy to see us and we them. Being from the city we represented a little glamour in their lives. Our clothes were checked out .
A typical morning would be waking up to the sounds of one of our aunts , washing her face, brushing her teeth and gargling loudly at the nala, a canal which carried the water out. The smoky aroma of the wood stoves burning wood and cow dung patties at four am in the kitchen, together with a charming view of smoky haze that hung over the house made us snuggle deeper into the blankets and quilts.
Later, breakfast would be served on a wooden table with wooden chairs around it. Eggs of your choice, warm chappaties made of whole wheat or rice flour, spicy liver masala, butter, jam and hot tea.
Lunch and dinner were feasts in themselves and dinner always included some local brew or hot toddy (from the local palm trees).
They were lazy days of playing carrom, cards, talking, reading, walking to the bunder which bordered the ocean. Neighbours were like family. No permission was needed to visit their property. My sister and I would just wander in to their back courtyard and swing on their large wooden, benchlike swing. No one considered it an intrusion and an open invitation was extended. She would stand and swing higher and higher, whilst in the lower realms I would be nursing an imminent nausea attack. I still remember the excitement on her face as she pumped the swing to the heavens!
Come evening, we would dress up and walk to the railway station to watch the Flying Ranee Express thunder by. The excitement was in waiting for it! Then we’d turn around and walk home! Sometimes we would stop at Gandhi’s Icecream Shop for kulfi, which beats any icecream I’ve had. At times the adults would stop in at the Parsee Club for a half hour.
We hated leaving back for Mumbai, the crowds and city life. My sweet memories of our Bilimora trips all came flooding back in November 2014 as I stood alone now on the steps of that beloved house where once our loved ones greeted us.