The clock ticks towards another year. Many years ago, time slipped past unnoticed; if ever it was caught in the corner of the eye people would invariably comment on how fast it was sprinting as it disappeared into the distance. People came and went from the apartment all day, there were things to be done, life to be led, mangoes to be eaten.
1983: Bapuji has always been an early riser, beating the sunrise by almost an hour. Ba follows a while later, hauling herself into the waking world by 5.45 every morning. Bharti and Vasant- my parents, Anil and the children are up by 6.30. After getting Nikhil and I ready, Bharti heads into the small pink-walled kitchen, to find Ba already starting to squeeze fresh lemons for their daily breakfast juice. The two work together to get breakfast ready: hot, sweet chai, bread, ‘sekeli rotli’- freshly baked chapatti- and porridge for bapuji. While the family breakfast, Julius, the trusted servant, arrives, quietly getting on with his daily chores. He starts by washing the car and polishing the men’s shoes before sitting down for his toast and tea. The all-pervading dust hangs in shafts of sunlight and then settles, accumulating within hours of being washed or brushed off. I still remember the sensation of smooth, warm tile on the soles of my bare feet after Julius had swept the floor- noticing the lack of very fine sand underfoot.
A flurry of activity at 7.20: papa and I leave the apartment, headed for drop-off at school, clutching bags and books ready for the first class of the day at 7.45. Bapuji will often leave with us, making his way to the derasar-the Jain temple- his sanctuary for an hour before he walks over to unlock the accordion grille barring the doorway to the toy shop. Ba or Bharti walk over to the covered market to buy vegetables and fruit. It was the antithesis of fast food: fresh from the field and having collected very few miles, the soil-sheathed root vegetables and unpodded peas require hours of preparation before cooking. At home, Julius makes the beds and sweeps the floor. One of the women fills the metal pail and soaks the previous day’s clothes in the bright blue powder of Omo, before starting the meal preparation. Julius will later pummel and wring the clothes, throwing them onto the shower-room floor to dislodge the dust, before hanging them in the hot, dry sun on the roof terrace.
The lunchtime meal is always the largest, as is the norm in many hot countries. Fresh, hot chapattis, red lentil dahl, a curry, fluffy Basmati rice and ‘chhash’- a salty yoghurt drink- had to be ready for service by 11.30, when Anil preferred to have his meal, perched on his low wooden seat by the kitchen door. Before long, I would be collected from school, Nikhil from nursery and Bapuji would wander back from the toy shop, seemingly unbothered by the sweltering heat in his perpetual short-sleeved Nehru suit . Vasant, sometimes, would squeeze in lunch at home. It is an old tradition, a family eating together, but one that I am sure holds families together; the invisible ties that bind snake past the salt shaker and the heap of mismatching spoons, temporarily preventing the constant pull in different directions.
Lunch is hardly a respite. Bharti and Ba would take turns to serve the others, Bharti ensured that I was straightened and smoothed, armed with swimming or PE kit and away by 1.30. Ba and Bapuji manage a short siesta, Ba’s snores possibly audible in many parts of town. After Bapuji escapes back to work, the women have an afternoon of clothes-folding, hole-mending, cupboard-sorting, herb-chopping, toddler-minding activity, often interrupted by visitors or requests from the toy shop and by 4pm I return from school, clamouring for snacks and attention. The snacks are eaten, the attention coming from Anil as the women head back to the kitchen to prepare the evening meal. Before Julius starts his long walk home to the suburb of Changamwe he takes off the now dusty top sheet and releases the draping mosquito nets which hang above each bed, tucking the edges under the heavy mattresses. As twilight approaches, the tiny crepuscular blood-suckers will start to appear, and the much-mended nets are essential for a good night’s sleep. Vasant drives Anil to the lighthouse pier before the evening meal, but the lighthouse evenings deserve a post of their own. By 7.30 the comings and goings finally cease, although the chatter and card games carry on into the evening.
Thirty years on, things have been different. In the words of the famous Scottish band (no, not the Proclaimers), ‘the needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before’. 2014 beckons, and it might just yet be different. We hope, fingers and toes crossed, that we can see more of those that we left behind, and that time flies again for them.