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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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My Fundays

When I come to Calcutta now, I see many changes. It looks very crowded, for one thing. But in some ways, things are the same. The tram is still there. And the Calcutta Club, the Swimming Club, for example.

When I go to the Tollygunge Club I remember how I used to play in the grounds as a child and the swing I made good use of. But on the whole, we did not really get into any jhamela at that stage. One big difference (from today) was that there was the big British community. We had British friends and we were supposed to mix only with the Europeans. We were cut off from the Indian community entirely.

Besides, at home we had a severe European nanny. I used to be terrified of her. She used to watch us like a hawk and saw to it that we remained isolated from the influence of the common people. Everythinng was ‘‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’’. Once I tried to speak to the driver in Hindi when getting into the car. She heard me, came down the steps and smacked me on the head and said: ‘‘It’s the servants’ language.’’ Hindi, incidentally, is a language that I am very familiar with and fond of today.

It was in Darjeeling, where I was sent to school, that I fooled around. I was four or five then. Normally we would have been sent to England. But the Second World War was going on, and there were no ships. The school I was sent to was one of the special schools — meant for the burrasahibs of Calcutta. I went to New School, which is now defunct.

It was a pretty free school — discipline was not that rigid, and Nanny was not there. So we did get into trouble from time to time. Often we would go out, or slip away for walks on our own. We used to go up to the camp of American soldiers who were favourites because they gave us chocolates. We used to go the market and play ‘crown and anchor’ or go climbing in the hills. Often we climbed to a hill with a Buddhist monastery.

One day, as we were going up, we suddenly saw horses coming down from the monastery. We thought, ‘‘My God, they are going to chase us!’’ We didn’t know whether the animals were really coming at us. But we climbed up a hill at breakneck speed and ran back to school. I don’t know what would have happened if the horses really came down on us. It still remains the most frightening experience of my life. Yes, I had much more fun and freedom in Darjeeling than I did in Calcutta.

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