“There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place, where colors are brighter, the air softer and the morning more fragrant than ever again“~ Elizabeth Lawrence
Whenever I look back and go through memory lane, my childhood memories fill my day with a big smile. I was truly blessed to have grown up in a very open society, where we learned everyday with our interactions with new people.
My dad used to work for a private company in India, called ITC aka Indian Tobacco Company. He was posted for several years in a very small town in Bihar called as Munger. ITC life was extremely enriching. Growing up in Munger had its own challenges. There was basically no life outside the ITC Campus which was also known as ITC Park. From what we heard, everyone who worked for the company dreaded a posting in Munger. Often joked about, anyone who was transferred out of Munger, couldn’t help having mixed feelings about the move……’ happy to leave and sad that they might be moved back again’. I spent the first 10 years of my life there. 10 years sure doesn’t seem that long but I have beautiful memories of my childhood from Munger.
ITC was originally owned by the British and the campus was made under their influence. The bungalows that we lived in, also had very fancy English names. Over the years we lived in 3 houses. I still happen to remember their names:’ Bonney Bridge’, ‘Southampton’ and ‘Arcadian West’. The bungalows were huge, had high ceilings with servant quarters and front and kitchen gardens.
The gardens were very well maintained and meticulously manicured. Gardening was taken far too seriously. Every year there used to be an Annual Flower and Vegetable show. The competition was pretty tough. The color, size and varieties of fruits and flowers that I remember having seen there is indeed unbelievable. I still remember how every year my dad would plan the layout of the garden. The seeds were bought from a highly acclaimed Nursery in Bangalore called “Sutton Seeds”. They were then germinated and gradually planted and very well taken care of by the ‘malis’ (gardners). We had one full time ‘mali’, named Badri and had another part time mali who would help Badri in preparing for the Flower shows.
Munger was also at the bed of the river, Ganges. The land was consequently extremely fertile. The Park was filled with fruit bearing trees like the Mango, Lichi, guava, Falseh, Jamun, Starfruit and Bairr trees. Apart from these were Banyan trees, Gulmohar, Eucalyptus, Ashoka, Peepal, Cotton and Tamarind trees. The ‘Bara Bungalow’, home of the branch manager, had the oldest Banyan tree. We have spent several afternoons swinging by the hanging roots of this Banyan tree.
To keep up with the maintenance of the Park, there was a special committee, called the Park Committee. For security purposes ‘durwaans’ took guard at the Gates. There were several ‘durwaans’ on rounds all the time. They were all extremely courteous and helpful.
The Park had a big swimming pool, a community club and a shop that was operated by the Ladies society of the Park. What appears to be basics for a lot of us today, was quite a luxury for a remote place like Munger. Right in the center of the park was a huge cricket field, which was a big attraction. A lot of cricket matches were held there. It was also where the annual Ladies Fete was held. The Ladies society was extremely active. Besides a lot of fun stuff like organizing a Fete, special snacks at the club on Wednesdays, they did a lot to contribute in the welfare of the local orphanages.
Because of practically no life outside the campus, special attention and consideration was made for the kids living there. The Park also housed a school for kids. It ran from Nursery to 3rd grade. After we graduated from the Park school, we moved to Notre Dame, Jamalpur. It was the first Notre Dame school in India.
The kids living in the park had a lot of facilities. We had instructors to give us free tennis lessons and grown ups who volunteered to give swimming lessons. Mr. Dwarika Prasad was our tennis instructor. We fondly called him ‘Dwarika uncle’! There was an annual swimming gala, followed by several parties held by the pool side. The pool was very well maintained.
‘Chanderji’ was responsible for cleaning the pool. He made sure that the right amount of chlorine was added to the water. He used his special tools and net to remove the dirt and leaves that fell into the pool and also made sure we didn’t jump into the pool without adult supervision.
During summer, us kids would put up a great cultural show. It was held at the club. A stage was setup with professional lighting and DJ provided. The adults were invited and there used to be a feast for everyone that night. We would get together everyday at the club and practice for the show. It was mostly choreographed and directed by the older kids, ‘didis’ and ‘bhaiyas’! Besides tennis, badminton, swimming, there were fancy dress shows, quizzes and painting competitions organized for the kids.
The Park was a melting pot of families belonging from various religions and States of India. There were some big celebrations that the children were included in. The biggest of them were the Diwali and Christmas parties. For Diwali there used to a feast followed by a grand display of fireworks at the Club. It was mostly setup at the concrete tennis courts. We then got our big cases of Fireworks, that we desperately waited for. We would then get together with all of our friends on Diwali night to enjoy them!
For Christmas, we had 2 celebrations. The first was ‘Carol singing’ followed by a ‘Christmas party’. For this all the residents got together at the club. We were all given printed out sheets of Christmas carols and candles that were eventually lit. We walked with lighted candles singing carols, going door to door, where we were offered refreshments. It was my favorite. With almost 60-80 residents living the park, one can only imagine how many refreshments and snacks we had that night. And if we had not had enough there was more fun with more singing around a huge Bon fire. Although by then, we had started singing bollywood songs!
The Christmas party was great fun as well. It started with a fancy dress competition for different age groups. As far as my memory goes I had been ‘Indira Gandhi’, ‘Razia Sultan’, ‘Ankarkali’, ‘Sita’ and ‘Mother Teressa’. Our parents spent a lot of time and effort get us prepared for this show. It was followed by a toy train ride with Santa Claus. Every year one of the employees, an ‘uncle’ played the role of Santa Claus. Mostly we would figure which one of the ‘uncles’ was behind the heavy beard and costume. The train ride was then followed by a grand dinner and finished off with Santa Claus giving out gifts to all the kids!
As far as I can remember, we were the only Muslim family living in the Park. Just like we actively participated in all the other celebrations and holidays, we were greeted whole heartedly by the rest of the residents. Mom and dad always had an open house for Eid at our place. Mummy stayed busy for days preparing for enough ‘seviyan’ and ‘kebab’ preparations for our guests.
Life back then in the 80’s was a lot different than now. And life in Munger was different at an altogether different level. Not only was it the ages of no cell phones and computers, it took the longest time to get a Television connection in Munger. To keep the residents entertained, two movies (one hollywood and one bollywood) were run on a projector in the club, every Friday and Saturday night. By Thursday the name and timing of the movies was put on the Black board at the entrance of the park, so all the residents were informed. It later was improvised to movies shown through VCR. Hollywood movies were hard to get in Munger. So was the case of a lot of specialized groceries. For this a weekly courier would go to Calcutta. If we needed anything special that was not available in Munger, we handed a list of items to Mr. Gharibdas. He would bring it in a a few days from Calcutta(which also happened to be the head office for ITC Limited).
In the year 1991, papa was transferred to ITC Saharanpur. It was our very first transfer. I was very excited to go through the move. A 9 year old had fantasies about the hustle and bustle of packers in the house, the never ending farewell parties etc etc….it all was very new and very exciting! What I did not realize then was what I was going to go through on our final day of departure from Munger. It was customary for all the residents to come and bid farewell to the transferee and his family at the guest house. We showered up and got ready and went outside the guest room to sit outside in the Veranda. Outside I saw an overwhelming large crowd of durwans and Park Committee workers (malis and staff). The were all there to bid us goodbye. What broke my was heart was to see our maid of 12 years. We fondly called her ‘bua’. Bua was sobbing. She had served us for so many years and was like family to us. I hugged her tight as we bid our goodbyes. She was someone very special to me and will always remain so.
After moving to Saharanpur , we made just one trip to Munger. I went back to my old school, my old house, the playgrounds and the club, we used to hang around. Sadly, it did not look or feel the same. I was very disappointed.
Munger has changed a lot. Changed for the better……with modern amenities. The common complaint is that people tend to stay indoors. I cherish these memories of Munger. I made some great friends there. Thanks to social networking sites like Facebook, I have managed to find a lot of my old friends. I am sure just as much as I enjoy remembering those days, each one of them would have a lot of stories to share. I wish I could take my kids back to look at this heaven on earth. A place that I left with several sweet memories!