Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My chawl and its people...

I spent most of my life living in a 'chawl' (चाळ in Marathi), still we have our home in our chawl and I visit it on my every India trip. For people who don't kn ow what does word 'chawl' means, let me explain it little bit to best of my ability, this is a all together different type of set up where many houses are aligned side by side (it can be one two or maximum three story building), they are not like row houses, or condos but they have unique floor plan normally it contains two or three rooms, straight, connected with each other with no doors in between, only main door, common toilet for each floor, only 'mori' or bathing/washing space inside house. By description it doesn't look like very comfortable or attractive place to live with family, its with minimum privacy but with maximum fun (at least we had lot of fun as kids, I don't know about adults). Culture in chawl also used to be very unique, all members know each other very well, there were no secrets, it was very easy to know what is going on in each home, so whether you want it or not all your friends used to know if you had a bad day in your home (and I am sure kids of that generation know very well what I mean by bad day, punishments offered to us that time can easily come under physical abuse category by today's standards. Houses were crowded but lot of open space around to play.

I can't capture essence of that life in words but life was filled with lot of fun and unpredictable, interesting things. I still remember our cricket matches where both teams used play as if it is a world cup final to win 25 paise (Indian quarter, which is less than a US penny). Every chawl used to have their own cricket team and some were really bitter rivals of each other, matches between those teams used to be full with high tension and lot of drama and many times used to end without any result because of dispute over some run out decision. Having your own cricket bat was a big luxury which very few kids can afford and whoever used to have it used to feel like a king and really used to get a royal treatment as everyone needed that bat to play. We never had lot of toys or video games that time but there were many games we used to play which never required any sophisticated equipment but were very enjoyable, most of them are almost extinct now but I still remember all of them. Most of kids from our chawl used to go to same school, we used to either go to school with our bikes or company (Vanaz' where most men from our Chawl used to work, that's why it is called as Vanaz chawl) used to provide a school bus. That school bus was not like one which you see now a days, it was regular bus, really over crowded, totally occupied (sitting, standing), to get a seat in that bus one really has to fight a war and some kids used to ride on running bust just to get the seat and this resulted in one tragedy where one student got crushed under the bus. That bus was called school bus only because it used to carry school children but there was no other feature of school bus associated with it. I am glad that I survived those years without facing any major accident. So our life there was full of lot of good stuff at the same time so many risks, which were very serious by today's safety standards.

For long time we never had individual water connections for each house, there used to be common taps from where everyone (including kids) used to carry water with buckets or different vessels to their home and store for daily use. We used to receive water for few hours each day so there used to be tough competition to fill all your vessels before they shut down water supply for the day and this used to create lot of fights, some really ugly but bitterness never use to last long, next day again fresh challenge, new war and new fights. These fights or arguments were so common that other people hardly used to interfere or get bothered by these, except for people who are involved in these arguments all others used to continue with their routine as if nothing strange is happening around them, no one used to freak out over some argument going around them, rather many used to watch it as some sort of entertainment and even enjoy them, sounds so strange when I look back to those incidents now.

Eating dinner together with friends was also a common practice, kids used to take their plates outside and sit together to eat dinner, all used to share the dishes with each other and one used to get taste of different type of food. Slowly as people got more money they built more rooms and we lost our veranda so this practice slowly stopped, but it was fun as long it lasted. Keeping an eye on kids used to be a job of any elder from neighborhood not only parents of that kid, if some one else caught us doing some wrong thing they had full right to punish us and normally no parent used to object this. I think this practice of collaborative parenting made our neighborhoods safe and allowed many parents to carry out their day yo day activities without being bothered about safety of their child, our parents were not careless, they cared about us as much as we (or present day parents) care about their kids but this system worked very efficiently back then and made their job easy.

The life back then was filled with many incidents and situations which one can not even imagine today, the world has moved on and many of those things vanished with time, I don't regret that they are gone, change is important and required but I do remember most of those incidents fondly. I still visit my chawl and know each and every individual personally, my chawl has also changed a lot, it's not the same which it was 20 years back but so am I and this change is natural no one can avoid it. May be in future there won't be any chawls, may be they don't fit in image of modern city, all people might prefer to live in nice apartments or beautiful single family homes, but my chawl, its people and days which I spent there will always remain in my memory.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

(Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)

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