Sunday, November 12, 2017

Those halcyon days in the Mahableshwar of yore.

Mumbai, 13 October, 2017

Those halcyon days in Mahableshwar.

As the pace of life has quickened, it has also changed the way we holiday.

When I reminisce about my childhood holidays spent at Mahableshwar I am reminded of anecdotes recounted by my parents and grandparents  as to how they enjoyed a long summer vacation at the bungalow in Mahableshwar and realised how different it was the way people enjoyed their holidays then.

First up, a summer holiday at the bungalow meant moving house for two months or more. School & college examinations would be over by mid to late March and the family would head to Mahableshwar with servants, driver and cook in tow. Leaving early in the morning in an open-air saloon with a folding hood, luggage firmly strapped to the back of the car, chrome water jugs filled with drinking water and Eagle thermos flasks brimming with piping hot tea, the journey would take 6 to 7 hours including a few stops, not only for tea, snacks and to stretch one's legs but also to let the car's engine cool down. It would be noon before the family reached the bungalow albeit covered in red dust as many roads were not metalled then. As the bungalow was fully furnished and well equipped with most of the amenities and kitchen appliances, it was not difficult to set up the place.

Once the family settled in, it was time for guests, friends and relatives along with their families to arrive. A large bungalow had place for everyone. Oh, it must have been so much fun for the children to spend time with their cousins. In the absence of television..... playing games, reading books, going on long walks and cycling was enjoyed to the fullest. Pony rides, boating in the lake and seeing magicians perform the impossible added to the bouquet of fun activities. Large open spaces with trees, shrubs and flowers meant that children could enjoy the open outdoors in activities such as picking jamoonsshetur and amboli, something that was not usually possible in the city.

Speaking of trees and shrubs, one had to be careful of snakes and scorpions. Mahableshwar, even today has thick forest cover. Besides these venomous creatures, wild animals like tiger, leopard, deer and wild boar roamed freely in the forest, and we have had one such tiger pay us a surprise visit early in the morning, in search of water. 

Coming back to the bungalow, the ladies generally busied themselves with managing the kitchen, shopping for groceries and attending to the refurbishment of household linen, if required. Not that they did not have their 'me time'. With other members of the extended family, the afternoons were spent in gossip before the siesta. Evenings meant going out with the family, and to the bazaar for shopping before returning home to a hearty meal prepared and kept warm by the cook. On birthdays and auspicious days, a visit to the temple in the bazaar or at Kshetra Mahableshwar was followed by a special meal. The daily routine was not much different from home in the city, except that the pace here was much more relaxed and the surroundings, quiet and pleasant.

Grandfather obviously couldn't spend the entire two months away from the office. So he would spend a few days with the family in Mahableshwar and then return back to Bombay, and the office. But even in Mahableshwar it was not all fun and relaxation for him. Though he too had his fill of rest and leisure in the company of family, friends and relatives, and also enrolled at the local Gymkhana for a game of tennis and bridge, there was work to be attended to. Official work relating to the bungalow and the property meant visiting the government or municipal offices, interacting with the house agent and attending to repairs, renovations and the issues raised by our gardener cum caretaker. With the joys of owning a second home come the responsibilities of maintaining it.

Work aside, he as well as my parents and relatives would love to go for a morning walk, especially to Wilson Point to catch a glimpse of the sunrise or to Babington Point which was a longer walk than Wilson. Post breakfast or afternoon tea the family would be deciding and planning where to set off, either for a walk to the lake or to a point, a garden or someplace in the vicinity for an outing; to see another place once more, and absorb the beauty nature has to offer. A late evening visit to the bazaar would mean meeting up with other bungalow owners and exchanging notes and pleasantries, and some more shopping too!

Besides the regular bazaar, there was a weekly market every Tuesday. People from neighbouring villages would come with fresh farm produce, locally made metal and clay utensils and other sundry items of interest for sale. There would be ironsmiths who would repair sigris and kitchenware and do tin plating inside brass utensils. Cobblers would sell chappals and mend old foot ware. Ground masalas and locally grown spices added a strong, pungent aroma all around. I  too have pleasant memories visiting this weekly market with my mother and grandmother.

This brings me to another, now almost forgotten bathroom utility, the wood-fired boiler. It was called the Bambaa. The Bambaa was a tall copper container with a round cavity in the center and a tap at the bottom. Firewood was inserted into this cavity which when lit would heat the water in the Bambaa. A bath with water heated in the Bamba would leave one with a light aroma of burnt wood. Sadly, along with the Bambaa,  petromax lanterns and oil lamps too have disappeared now that electricity is available on almost all the days of the week.

All in all, it was an extended period of rest, both for the mind and body. And though every summer was spent at Mahableshwar, I have never heard my parents or uncles or aunts complain of going to the same place, year after year. It was only with the onset of monsoon towards the end of May or in the beginning of June that the urge to return to Bombay would set in.

Today, in spite of having the bungalow, we as a family are not able to go together for long stays with friends and relatives as we used to. Now, with everyone making their own plans, it becomes difficult to co-ordinate. Besides, with the quickened pace of life and demanding work commitments, long annual vacations are no longer an easy option.

Today we visit different places in India and abroad and stay in luxurious hotels and resorts. We visit all touristy sites and eat at fine dining restaurants. Yet, the happiness that comes from long relaxed stays and  enjoying the simple joys in the company of family, friends and relatives elude us.

Sandip Merchant
with inputs from

Prabodh Merchant.

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