Stories

A Different Time and Place – ‘Jahangirpur’

… this one’s for you Papa!

On a crisp summer evening in Camden, Maine (USA), in between sips at a waterfront restaurant, I found myself transported to Jahangirpur. The stillness, the calm, and only a few lights in the distance… together they evoked memories of a land and time that couldn’t be more different!

(Left: Camden, ME-USA   Right: Jahangirpur, UP-India)

Jahangirpur – tucked away in the interiors of the state of Uttar Pradesh, India… my ancestral village.

As children, my sister and I were cheerful visitors but reluctant travelers, for the 10+ hr trip involved multiple buses and train changes and seemed arduous! It took many years to fully appreciate how each of those trips added to a treasure trove of cherished memories, very different from the ones we gathered from our other travels in life…

Our forefathers were Zamindars i.e. owners of an agricultural estate. To this day our family owns a significant amount of farmland and our century old ancestral house is still home to my youngest uncle — Shashi Chacha, and our caretaker — Mansingh Baba. During my childhood visits I remember having three sets of grandparents living here — Kailash Baba, Chote Baba (Jhammanlal Ji), and Dr. Baba 🙂

(My daughter perched atop my father’s shoulders along with the neighborhood kids, at the entrance to our ancestral home)

Up until recently, there was no electricity and even now it is spotty at best. So kerosene lanterns were a necessity. As a child this meant that the house took an eerie quality at night and let’s just say that I ‘preferred’ attaching myself to another person/people when wandering around after dark 🙂

 

Over here ‘field trips’ were, in fact, trips to the open fields, on foot and/or bullock carts!

(Left: Eating freshly cut sugarcane — I’m the one in the middle) (Right: A few decades later, with my daughter on her first ‘field trip’)

My favorite childhood memories of riding the bullock cart include begging the driver to make the oxen go faster and faster! And occasionally getting to hold the reigns! 🙂

My first farm-to-table experience was here in the village, with farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh milk delivered home twice a day!

The simple meals were painstakingly cooked over wood-fired stoves but we all loved the flavors that just couldn’t be replicated on the gas stoves in the city. An occasional treat was roasting potatoes and ‘choliye’ (fresh green chickpeas) in the leftover charcoal!

The home spa was another big to-do to give purpose to our already relaxed mornings 🙂

The women of the house would gather in the courtyard with the ‘Naain’ (pronounced ‘naa-in’). Think of the Naain as our rural spa specialist. Her ‘Ubtan’ treatments were a big hit! A freshly prepared paste of gram flour + turmeric + mustard oil + water, the Naain massaged the body with Ubtan to both moisturize and exfoliate the skin! Any time waiting for our turn was well spent by giving each other coconut oil hair treatments, applying multani-mitti (clay) packs, and catching up with cousins and aunts! 🙂

The ‘Chabutara’ (i.e. the patio) was the gathering place for all celebrations! A local folk music group enthralled us this evening:

(Left: The side view of the house with the ‘Chabutara’) (Right: An evening of folk music on the ‘Chabutara’)

 

…another time we celebrated Diwali here!

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(Silhouettes against a firecracker (‘Anaar’) lit up for Diwali)

My first off-the-grid vacation experience was in Jahangirpur!

After wrapping up an intense few days of school exams in the city, my time in the village was filled with lazy afternoons in the ‘Tidri’ (a second floor bedroom with 3 doors/windows) reading ‘Great Expectations’ … while the only expectation of me was to relax. What’s not to love! 🙂

Radio was the only entertainment after dark, and I recall enjoying the famed ‘Binaca Geet Mala’ on the ‘Vividh Bharti’ channel! 🙂

Sleeping under the stars on wooden cots on the 3rd floor terrace was beyond beautiful! On a moonlit night, you could soak up serene views of the village in it’s peaceful slumber…

 

There are endless sights, sounds, and stories I cherish!

The sounds of the ‘rehat’ (i.e. the watering wheel) in the distant fields, playing outdoor games (‘Oonch-Neech’ was a favorite) and card games (e.g. ‘Kotpees’) with neighborhood kids, collecting peacock feathers, and walking the streets…

 

(Left: An out of commission wellRight-top: My daughter, walking the streetsRight-bottom: Peacock spotting and hunting peacock feathers)

 

As I sit here in a city far away from this ancestral land of mine, I am filled with gratitude for having experienced that slice of life, and for having lived all those magical moments, many times over!

Thank you, Maa & Papa! Jahangirpur will always be close to my heart 🙂

And now, I get to re-live some of those moments with my kids…

(At a farm in Maryland with my son and daughter)

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