Once upon a time, when the gari did not put mari

SAVITHA G.R. writes from Bangalore: Growing up in the Eighties. Studying in an ‘English-medium’ school in Bangalore’s Vijayanagar. Walking to school all the way from Saraswathi Nagar. Collecting gasgase hannu on the way back, looking for kaage bangara (mica) in the playground, singing sihi-kahi, sihi-kahi, sihi-kahi, or talking about cricket (the era of Reliance Cup, Ravi Shastri‘s Audi car)….

Where have they gone, I wonder, that batch from “F” section, who will identify with all this.

“What man, eh?” “Come man, eh.” “Tell man, eh,” still rings in the air some times. “You only”, “then only”, “giveaa”, “yessaaa” were often corrected at home by mom, grandparents, aunts and uncles, but we didn’t let go. That was how we spoke.

That was school.

That was typical Bangalore English way back then.

Back in the ’80s, there was little pressure to be smart. And so, in our naïve ways, we believed what our classmates told us. We couldn’t come home and Google™, you see. And so it was that the navilugari story gained credence.

It was a wave, like that Mexican wave in cricket matches.

One girl brought it to class after summer holidays and proudly showed it off to the rest of us. She even told us that the “gari would put mari” (meaning, it would multiply). Now, I can’t remember who that girl was, but I certainly wanted to keep one feather in my textbook too.

And then, we waited.

No mari, nothing!

And soon, it was forgotten. We had moved on to other stuff, like collecting pencil shavings to make something out of it, I don’t remember what. Was it to make “scent rubber” (the perfumed eraser)? Our notebooks were full of those shavings, our bags were full of that. But we never would make it, eventually.

Showing off collectibles was our greatest source of entertainment those days.

So, classmates would flaunt a new pencil box, mostly of that magnet variety, which only some would have, a new sketch-pen. We would take out the refill once the ink was about to get over, and press the refill hard to get any ink left on to the paper!

I had this great desire to show off, of all things, a weaver bird’s nest (from my village) to my classmates.

My thatha had promised he would get me one nest from the village. So, each summer holidays would begin with hope, and end in disappointment. My grandfather never gave me that nest!

Soon, such trifles were glossed over. We were growing up. Maybe, when we were in the fifth or sixth standard, the next new wave had begun. Collecting stamps. So, there was this boy named Shankar Nag (yeah really!) in class, who promised to give me a stamp. And so, I walked up to him. And he did stamp my foot really hard!!

But, collecting stamps was an all-consuming madness. The times when Rajeshwari would lend me stamps, or I would lend her some. The deal was: two less important stamps for one rare stamp. So, some of us would go for the numbers, while the others for the rarity.

Nanage rare stamp siktu!” we would exclaim. This deal would constantly happen, at lunch break, between classes, during class. Much politics, many complaints, much anger, several fights would follow.

We had so many British stamps and we would constantly palm them off to unsuspecting victims, in exchange for the highly rated Magyar Posta (Hungary) stamps or CCCP (erstwhile USSR) stamps.

CCCP brings back memories of the days of Russian books. Growing up in the eighties, that was another passion for me, collecting those Russian publications (they were so inexpensive then). And hence, the innumerable trips to Navakarnataka in Majestic.

I still remember that colourful Russian alphabet (after the English version) and pictures. And that page about sending in your feedback to some obscure Moscow address. The Ukranian Folk Tales was a big fat book that we would re-read so often!

So, if that was about collecting stuff, other memories abound. Of the games we played: Kalla-police, kallu mannu (in–out), topi beka topi (in school), maneyaata, panna, lagori, chur chand….

Panna was a strange game, where we would have to take a bet with someone, and every time we’d meet that person, we would hit that person hard and shout ‘panna’. Whoever said ‘panna’ first would be the winner for that particular time we met. Now, why or how it was called panna, I don’t know!

Does anyone remember, “Ajji mane kaayangilla, Bajji madkondu tinnangilla!” a slogan that meant no dilly-dallying during kalla-police, or “ice-spice” (I spy)! And ‘oofi‘ meant foul! The loser would be jeered back home with shouts of “sotpurka soutekayi“!

Nicknames were another source of fun. Kencha, dhadiya, nalakk kannu (for the spectacled ones), and the big guy opposite my house would call my two plaits kottambari soppu!

If T-20 is the flavour of the season now, our favourite was a very innovative form of cricket. Played without a bat, ball, wickets. All we needed was a big fat book. Book cricket. Any page number that would end with eight would fetch one run. We’d form our teams and play the game by slamming the book on and off!

A page that would end with zero was a wicket!

The game would go on even during a class, and was a nuisance to our teachers!

Summer holidays meant sleepy afternoons. Being lulled into sleep, even as ajji would be arguing with a steel patre saman fellow (gatti jarinappa, yenu agilla!), or making kodubale, chakkli or haal bayi. (“Nidde madi edda mele ondhu tamashe kodthini!)

Nothing would be more satisfying than gulping down the bakery stuff that amma would bring on the way back from office from one of the ubiquitous Iyengar Bakeries. Benne biscuit, khara biscuit, puff, dil-pasand, dil-kush, and that perennial favourite palya bun!

Summers also meant eating “Pepsi” (those multi-coloured long tubes with flavoured ice) or son-papdi, from the vendor with the ghante.

Then, there would be errands. “Kaka angadi hogi kadle hittu togondu baa,” meant there would be bonda in the evening. Or “Shivanna angadi hogi hurigadale togondu baa…” Or getting milk in the evenings from the milk booth. Or accompanying friends to the “mishan” (flour mill) for getting “godhi hittu” or “ragi hittu” done. A long rubber pipe would be shaken vigourously before the godhi would be fed, and there was the invariable “ghatu.”

Going to the post-office was another important errand. We had to get postage stamps worth some rupees for grandfather every now and then. Standing in front of that counter and reaching out to the woman there was quite scary. Then, there was the constant fear of whether we had put the covers in the right dabba, one marked local and the other metro, I think.

Then, there were other demands. Finishing holiday home-work, buying KG cardboard from Madeshwara angadi, for the posters, buying ice-cream kaddi for craft…

If it was the cricket season, then there would be radio in the background. Growing up with “mamas” for whom cricket was also about Ranji cricket was fun. Tagging along with them to the stadium and watching those Hyderabad vs Karnataka, or Tamil Nadu vs Karnataka Ranji matches at the Chinnaswamy.

I vaguely remember a match where Vivek Jaisimha made his debut, made a duck and walked back to the pavilion. Another international match where Mohinder Amarnath walked in, red kerchief peeping out of his pocket, and walked back, first ball out!

Yet another India vs Pakistan test match, with the iconic Imran Khan! Another one where we were told by an aunt that we’d get a piece of the home-made sweet, if Ravi Shastri hit a six, which he never did! (think it was India vs New Zealand at the Chinnaswamy).

Soon, high school was just round the corner. And from there, it was the beginning of the end of the simple, carefree life. Rajiv Gandhi was shot dead killed, the USSR disintegrated, Sunil Gavaskar and Viv Richards had retired, the markets opened, and life changed forever. Heartbreakingly, achingly so.

No more “sihi kahi, sihi kahi sihi kahi“, no more cries of “rare stamp siktu“, no more Shrimathi miss, no more Prema miss, no more KLG, BLM, RLN, TRS, CSV, (any VVS alumni?), no more Raje (where is she now?). My thatha is no more too (you never gave us that weaver bird nest!)

The world had changed and the children of the Eighties had grown up. Where are the little Madhus and the Vidyas?

Can someone bring it all back for me, please?

The glory days of Vijayanagar of the eighties?

And the New Public English School of the eighties?

Photograph: pica colour