Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | January 10, 2013

A few firsts

Every time I rode a taxi during my last visit to Calcutta (in March 2012) I missed the little sound (“ting!”) which the taxi-meter made when the driver wound the meter. All Calcutta taxis now have electronic meters which don’t make much sound.

Calcutta taxis were my favourite as a child. When my father bought a second hand Fiat 1100D in around 1987, I hoped he bought a black/yellow taxi. Whenever I used to sit next to him, strangely I wanted to behave like a helper on a taxi-cab. I imagined our car as a cab (or better as a bus) and was tempted to behave as the drivers’ assistant who would typically shout at anyone on the way of the moving car in an attempt to clear the path. A part of my imagination was to wound the meter in my mind every time Baba switched the ignition. Not only that, I even tried decorating the car like a cab and was tempted to write “for hire” on it.

The way we lead our lives have changed quite a bit in last 30 years. A lot that were important (as well as precious) when I was growing up are mostly taken for granted these days. I grew up in a less developed India where certain things were not very common.

The other day I was trying to remember a few of such first for me.

Elevators and escalators for example. I first saw an elevator in my father’s workplace, sometime around 1983-84. Though the ones with collapsible gates did scare me more but come to think of it the ones with slide doors (as in my father’s office) were scarier. My first experience of an escalator was in 1985, when I rode my first underground train in Calcutta. The Esplanade station had an escalator and people queued up to experience the ‘joy-ride’. I remember in those days the televisions in the underground train stations used to show recordings of classic football games and the Statesman used to advertise which game would be shown when. The authorities stopped those telecast only when they realised people bought tickets just to watch those games. They definitely did not mind the sale of tickets but they objected to the large crowd of people inside the station who were not going to catch a train ever.

Soft-drinks – probably one of the most harmful things children “love” these days were not very common when I was young. I probably did not have soft-drink till about I was seven or eight. Even then it will probably be once a year during the festivities. As soon as Pepsi entered the market in late 80’s and Coca-Cola was re-introduced in nineties, the flood of pet bottles etc brought soft drink to everyone’s refrigerator. I was so naive even in 1995; that one of the things which excited me about my uncle’s home was the fact that he used to keep two small bottles of Coca-Cola in his refrigerator! Hard to believe I gave soft-drinks such respect.

I created my first email id in 2000/01 when I was in university. One of my classmates recommended that I should book a computer access for an hour or so in the university computer room, so that he can help me to open an email account. I did the booking and got access to the computer too. However, for one long hour we tried opening the account but were unsuccessful because the connection was too slow. I gave up and later I think my father helped me to open an email account with 123india.com. Once that was opened, I opened quite a few and even competed with some of my friends about the number of email accounts I had. Finally, I gave up when I saw that I receive more spams than letters in most of my accounts.

Telephone – Not sure why exactly though but we did not have a telephone till around 1996/97. We did not miss anything. My grandmother, aunties and cousins used to write letters to us in Durgapur on a regular basis and never for once we felt that we are missing out on information. I cannot imagine living without Skype these days though.

Cricket bat – I know this is really big with little boys in India. Most of my cousins send their sons to a cricket coach. My uncle (who was a very good cricketer himself) gifted me a cricket bat when his son was born. It was so precious to me; I could hardly ever play with it. I used that bat only for shadow practice in front of a mirror.

Most kids these days are born in households which have a few mobile phones, more than one camera, a few credit cards, at least one computer, television and a car. I was born at a time when none of these were in our household. Come to think of it, in 1980 other than a Murphy two band radio and a Panasonic tape recorder (which had “auto-stop” written on it) that my father brought from his trip to the US, we did not have any “lavish” electrical gadgets in our household. A black-white television was bought in 1983 – a day before the India-West Indies, cricket world cup final and I think we had to seek a license for television viewing in those days.

I don’t think I missed out on anything in those days, as even without all these things we as a family were never bored and did not run out of things to do.

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