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Sydney, Australia
My musings and meanderings on childhood - mine juxtaposed with that of my kids'. Everyday incidents and images from our life in Sydney turn my thoughts towards my own wonder years growing up in Bandra, Bombay, India.

23 August 2008

What's Up, Doc?

The ABC family (Alison, Breslyn, Caitlyn) was down with the ‘flu all of last month. Finally had to take Caitlyn to our local GP and, while we were there, I couldn’t help but think of what it was like when we fell ill as kids…

The first course of action to beat the any ailment was Home Remedies: cold compresses of chilled water mixed with your nana’s eau de cologne (for some reason, it was pronounced “yew” de cologne by Bombayites) to bring down a temperature, a paste of turmeric for all cuts and bruises, honey and brandy or salt water gargles for sore throats, and who can forget the peculiar smell of neem leaves in your bath water for chicken pox?

But when the natural cure-alls proved ineffective, a trip to doctor was the only recourse.

Enter the Waiting Room and a heaving, sneezing, sighing mass of germ-riddled patients awaited their turn – little girls with gaping wounds, shivering babes in arms, teenage boys with arms in slings or legs in white plaster casts (and sometimes both!), pregnant women, and even a sprinkle of hypochondriacs… So your dad would take a number and bring you back in an hour or two (in proportion to how long the queue was). It was not unusual for the poor doc to be toiling till 10pm if an outbreak of the ‘flu was doing the rounds.

Finally, the receptionist called your number; you held onto mummy’s hand and squeaked after her, “Good evening, Doctor.” Lifted up onto his examining table, you’d feel the cold stethoscope over your chest and back as doc listened to your heart and lungs while he intoned, “Breathe in… breathe out… Cough…” Next, he made you say ‘ahhhhh’ as the tongue depressor went down your throat and your tonsils were checked. Ears were examined, mum was asked a few pertinent questions and a diagnosis was made.

The prescription, scribbled on a chitti, was passed onto the Compounder who was tucked away in his cubicle. Now said Compounder had probably never been to college, let alone held a degree in Pharmacy, but he got top marks for deciphering the doc’s scrawl. If you were too little to swallow those big, nasty pills, he’d crush and mix various tablets in his ceramic mortar and pestle and put each dose into tiny squares of paper. Since medicines in liquid form were far easier to swallow, (a spoon full of sugar really did make the medicine go down!) he filled your mixture into amber-coloured bottles with the white strip down the side dictating the dosage.

After your parents paid the bill, back home you went to rest and recover. Just visiting the doctor was a panacea in itself.

05 August 2008

I Scream, Ice Cream

Decided that I’m not going to bother with all the fancy gelato places that are supposedly popping up all over when I go down to Bombay – give me some good ole kulfi from the Turner Road guy any day!

When I was six years old and we still lived in my Nana’s house, a once-a-week treat after dinner was kulfi. After the 8.45pm Rosary, we sat down to dinner at 9pm. And once dinner was gobbled up, we’d strain our ears for the kulfiwalla’s cries. “Kul-pee-ooo!” “Kul-pee-oo!” he’d call out as he made his way round our now-silent streets, with his basket perched atop his head. Each household would assemble on their front steps with correct change. You’d get two sizes – big (Re. 1) or small (50 paise), and two flavours: malai or pista (not that a single pistachio ever went into it, mind you – just a healthy dose of green food colour). The aluminium cones would be dipped in water to loosen the kulfi within, and out it would pop. Placed on a leaf and cut into bite-sized chunks before your eyes. Chop-chop-chop. Yum! Yum!! Yum!!!

Back in the day when couples actually invited children to their weddings (‘Mr & Mrs Pereira & FLY’ read the invitation - printed by David & Co), when the reception dinner meant a “plated service” of cold cuts, a boiled egg and salad (at Rs. 8 per head during my mum & dad’s time – and they had the audacity to ask for a discount), dessert could only mean one thing – pista kulfi. No Candies Caterers to give you a dessert selection larger than Brad and Ange’s expanding brood. If you wanted some more, you got your mum to take an extra one, telling the waiter it was for your make-believe sister who was still dancing to the Masala.

Has anyone ever had “pail ice-cream”? At least, that’s what we called it in the Pereira Clan. A Bandra Feast Sunday tradition at Nana Evelyn’s house was making - and dabaoing - pail ice-cream. After a full Bandra Feast lunch of EI sorpotel, chicken curry, potato chops, vindaloo, pea pulao and fugiyas, you always made sure you had place for the piece de resistance – pail ice-cream – all the more tasty because your toil and time had gone into its creation.

The evening before, Nana would thoroughly dust the old wooden ice-cream pail for its yearly duty. And once all the “Happy Feast”ing was done and over with, the bathroom would be transformed into an ice-creamery. A few kilos of ice would be bought from the ice-factory on Ice Factory Road (I have no idea what the real name is; we just called it that) and smashed into chunks with a hammer. Rock salt was added to lower the temperature even further, and then this was packed into the outer shell of the wooden vat. The aunts would measure out the ingredients – milk, sugar, cardamom, etc. etc. all poured into the inner metallic vessel.

Each of the 20 cousins would have a go at churning the contents within. Being the third youngest of the gang, I would be allowed a token turn to appease me. After what seemed like h-o-u-r-s of manual labour, when the handle could turn no more, you knew the ice-cream had set. Shares were doled out and second rounds were demanded until it was swiped clean. A feast fit for the Feast!