My father, late Shri Harish Chandra Sanghi, was one of the ten children (seven brothers and three sisters) of a family living in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. He went for his education to Banaras Hindu University and Allahabad University. In the late 1930s, my parents settled down in Lucknow – the capital city of what was United Provinces in those days, renamed Uttar Pradesh after Independence. Prior to British rule, the area was called Awadh, though the British usually spelled it as Oudh.
Located on the banks of river Gomati, during the Mughal era and later, Lucknow has been famous for its culture, tehzib (good manners), music, paintings, old sculptors, architecture, poetry, education and its beautiful gardens and parks. Its chikan embroidery work and delicious Deshehri mangoes are known all over India. Lucknow, with its reputed Maurice Music College was a centre of fine arts and music with simple instruments and rich lyrics involving a lot of riyaz (rigorous training and practice) was well established at that time. There was a mystique about this wonderful city that had friendly people from various religions and castes living together in harmony.
My father, a journalist by profession, worked for the State Government. Despite limited resources and a large family of seven children to support, he and my mother, who was a very wise and efficient housewife, brought us up very well, with a focus on education and the values of a middle class religious family.
I think we learn a lot from people who have been the centre figure of our formative years. I was greatly influenced by my parents, other family members and teachers in recognizing the values like living within one’s means, steadfastness, hard work, focus on education, family bonding and being sensitive to others’ feelings. Aiming to excel in whatever we do has been the hallmark of this learning.
In the 1940 and 1950s, our family, like all other Indian families, did not have the things that are common now – TVs, computers, VCRs, CDs, DVDs and mobile phones. In their absence, we read extensively, including the many English and Hindi newspapers we got at home. In our education, we focused on good handwriting, original essays, and the development of mental faculties by memorising mathematics tables and solving arithmetic problems orally. There was also an emphasis on correct grammar and spelling.
My father, who was equally proficient in English and Hindi and also knew some Sanskrit, used to encourage us to read and write literature and poetry, which has become a sort of rarity these days. We used to listen with rapt attention as my father emotionally recited the verses of great Hindi poets such as Raskhan, Bhushan and Ratnakar. These poets were well known for their vivid descriptions of valour, vicissitudes of life and powerful similes. I am still grateful to my father for inculcating in me a love for literature, which has carried down the line to my children and even grandchildren.
Much later, in the 1980s, when my wife and I visited my parents in Lucknow, my father would ask us what movies we would like to see. I simply cannot forget the fun we had as a family when we went to see a comedy film – Angoor. While all of us enjoyed the movie, my father often burst into fits of laughter like a child. My children who had never seen him laugh in such a manner were greatly amused and joined him in the fray!
Our Lucknow home in Mody Square, later known as Vijaya Nagar, had a courtyard where the family sometimes organized cultural events. We also attended such concerts in the city. I remember fondly with nostalgia the concert of a distinguished classical singer, Ustad Faiyaz Khan. He was bestowed the title of Aftab-e-Mausiki (sun of vocal singing). We also relished informal performances of Birju Maharaj and Achhan Maharaj, who went on to become the doyens of Kathak dance. This environment instilled in me a love for music and poetry. The enchanting mornings, the chirping of birds, rising sun along with the ragas are still embedded in my mind. Even to this day, my grandchildren sing some of the lilting lyrics!
I had a number of friends with whom I played sitoliya (game played with seven stones), marbles, and, naturally, cricket. Visits to the nearby magnificent Charbagh Lucknow Railway Station were a part of my evening walks with my friends. We enjoyed looking at the big hustle and bustle of the movement of trains, and the flurry of activity of the passengers. When our final annual examinations ended, we enjoyed going to the movies, especially in the fashionable Hazratgunj area, which I looked forward to and enjoyed thoroughly.
This was the era in which the radio brought us news, sports, and entertainment. One of the popular music programmes was Binaca Geetmala, which was broadcasted every Wednesday at 8.00 pm on shortwave from Radio Ceylon. The host, Amin Sayani, played the most popular Hindi film sings, and I always looked forward to listening to it.
As a family, we liked going to picnics, circus, melas (fairs), and social functions. My father would bring for us toys, especially wooden ones from Banaras, like lattoos (spinning tops controlled by strings). Somehow, my son also enjoyed playing with lattoos. When he travelled to other cities, my father would bring back delicious, mouth-watering eatables such as dalmoth, petha from Agra, and pedas from Mathura.
What was it like to be a young adolescent living in a large family? I have fond memories of those times. Sometimes, my brothers and I used to share our meals from the same plate, and yet arguments and even fights on trivial matters were quite common. During the summers, we would stay indoors due to the scorching heat of the day – we had no coolers or air-conditioners, and made do with khus purdahs and fans. At this time, my siblings and I used to play games such as Ludo, Snakes-and-Ladders, cards, Trade (Indian version of Monopoly) and carom board. This gave me the experience of being together and living together.
The whole family, including my father, used bicycles as our only means of transport. I liked riding my bicycle in a group with my friends, and we used to compete in ‘slow cycling’, in which the objective was to move as little as possible without falling off your bicycle.
Epilogue. As I look back nostalgically at my youth, I think it is important for us to remember and maintain our old cultural values. I feel we can enrich ourselves if we cherish, foster and blend our heritage into the modern life.
© Dinesh Chandra Sanghi 2007
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