As a kid, I spent all my vacations in Kolhapur. It is an easy and unworried town. Full of laid back and happy people who own farmlands and dairy farms and are not worried about making it to office at 9 AM sharp everyday.
My grandparents live in a house that was built about a hundred years ago. Now it has been renovated to match it’s revamped and “made overed” neighbors but during my school vacations it used to be the typically traditional two level house with a balcony on the second floor, which I was crazy about!
My cousin and I used to spend days together in the balcony. It overlooked the street. So we could busy ourselves with our life as well as others. All our breakfasts lunches and dinners used to be served in the balcony.
What we liked the most about it however was the raspberry tree. It was planted in the garden below and it had grown up to come and embrace our balcony. Its branches spread across the wooden patterns; accommodating themselves as well as making our house look prettier. In summers, the leaves became invisible because of the soft purple raspberries all over the tree. They used to be red in the beginning and then if you left them alone, they turned black and blue. We used to fight for the black ones. And owing to our omnipresence in the balcony we gave little chance for the red ones to turn blue. I am the second youngest of the seven grandchildren in the house. At that time, I was the youngest and that too born to the only sister amongst four siblings. So I had a special say when it came to being treated specially. I used this to bully my elder cousin to give me the black ones that she painfully collected by getting up before I did.
If she refused I used to bawl in such horrendously loud voice that the entire family used to bribe her with other things to let go of the raspberries. I loved winning using the specifically established unfair means that the brats usually resort to. We used to eat the raspberries till our tongues went purple and we had raspberry imprints all over our limbs. My aunt had this chronic ambition of putting a few of those ripe ones in syrup so that she could write a recipe in some women’s magazine and win a blender but we left no ripe ones for her even once in our lifetimes to make that come true. Eventually she had to buy a blender, which we made her use to make mango milkshake for us everyday.
The balcony was our forte.
It enabled us to keep an eye on the incoming guests. My granny loved showing us off to guests. With our pitiful knowledge of classical music we used to sing in front of the guests in two different scales at a time. I was compelled to learn music as a child because I had a voice that resembled the one that is created when raw wood is sandpapered. After five years of “music therapy” my voice turned into something that didn’t remind people after all of the biggest tragedies in their lives. So we used the balcony to run away if we saw any of my granny’s relatives walking in. Or sometimes under my leadership, we used to collect a few other kids from the neighborhood and throw water on the people walking on the street. Or blow soap bubbles. Or just throw each other’s things like bangles, hair clips and dolls down.
In summers we used to have mangoes in the balcony. It was a ritual. We got a set of pinafores each especially for the “mango-eating” ritual. We used to be thrown in the balcony and locked up with our mangoes. And we ate them with an abandon that only kids are capable of. We used to be painted yellow by the end of our share (and in my case half of my cousin’s share as well). We were advised to stand under the shower and then mingle with the rest of the family to avoid mango-colored paw marks on the walls.
Sometimes our elder cousin brothers used to join us in our balcony sleepovers. They used to tell us ghost stories that made us get up with our blankets and go and sleep on either side of granny. Or sometimes granny used to join us as our moms tried in vain to make us eat and tell us stories from the Arabian Nights. Sometimes we used to get bored with the same stories so we used to ask her to make a few alterations and make them suit our interests. Like adding a witch or two who eats roasted cockroaches and drinks frog blood. : )
There was a window that let us into the living room from the balcony. It had those antediluvian wooden bars and one of them had come off so we use to shuttle back and forth through the window till the time we were thin enough to do that. This came of use when someone was behind us for some impish prank we had engineered and executed. At the end of the summers however we used to be unable to cross the gap because we would put on all the mangoes and milkshakes on our tummies.
Once one of the zillion kittens that our cat produced triennially fell down from the balcony and landed exactly on its four feet and went about its job like nothing had happened at all! It was an incident that lasted us the entire summer. We used to narrate it to everyone wide-eyed and awe-struck with the same enthusiasm for each new guest.
Our faithful balcony was also the place of our adolescent girl talk. I used to catch up with my cousin in the balcony and she used to confide in me about the cute guys in her school (and later when I saw them I used to declare them “uncute” and piss her off). It was also the place where my cousin used to comb her infinitely long hair like Rapunzel. Where she waited for me every summer with the plans of the entire holiday sketched in her eyes and from where every June, I used to say good-bye with a heavy heart and an unwanted “back-to-school” feeling.
Now it has been replaced with an uncool concrete one. It is more spacious and elegant. With the name of our house boldly written under the freshly painted red, iron railing. It isn’t the same. We had to do away with the raspberry tree because it won’t go with the new look. We don’t like it now. We don’t feel like hanging out in the spacious well-lit balcony. Even we have changed. We are not as funny or as weird or as adamant as we used to be. We don’t eat so much as to spend the entire day out. We don’t feel like listening to live and manual stories anymore. We are hooked on to the Kever Kending K Kerials on TV (Thanks to Kekta Kapur) or to our virtual friends, virtual communities and virtual journals. So why blame the balcony?
I just thank It for all the happy childhood memories. :)