I visit my relatives every summer along with my family. And we never miss it. It is a sacred ritual for us. During one such visit, I directed a family play and named it ‘Jinga La La’. I must have been 8. It was a kid’s version of Ramayana, or rather whatever I understood when my mother read out to me from a torn out Bengali visual comic book. Though I don’t remember why that particular title. Maybe because I made few of my cousins wear skirts made out of coconut leaves. I have a female dominated cousin family so very few girls played their own sex and they wore the leaf skirts to look different from the male characters. I incorporated dance sequences too (the song was mainly ‘Jinga La La’ repeated infinitely) and I remember my entire family, especially my grandparents, really enjoyed the show and we even took a group picture at the end. I don’t have it anymore.
The next year when I visited my extended family, I arranged a food cum dance party for my cousins. Few of the elder ones actually cooked snacks and the younger ones like me sneaked biscuit and chips packets from the kitchen. We wore dupattas, scarves and even ‘jamchaas’ (thin cotton towel) in a stylish manner to pretend that we were dressed for the night. I don’t recall the songs but I vividly remember that we had a hell of a time jumping around the room and bumping into each other.
A Bengali movie (only kids) in the village theater was a must. So was a eat out day in a chowmien restaurant. Pajama party with fourteen of us crashing in the same room… there were many more such moments but I don’t remember a lot. Handling a dozen kids, most of whom were elder to me, was a no mean feat and I was proud that my cousins were always in awe of the anything new that I conducted. Or at least, they pretended to, just to make me happy. Every visit was special to me. I made plans beforehand, charted out picnics, parties etc. to make the most out of it. But the initiator in me died a sudden death with my grandmother. She was our most ardent and vocal supporter. She was there in every dumb charade, every play rehearsal, every cricket match and every single evening when all the kids just sat down in the veranda, noisily munched ‘jhaal moori’ (spiced up puffed rice) and talked about silly things.
Each of us suddenly grew up overnight. No more plays or dancing nights, our interactions were confined to just a few spoken words and we munched ‘jhaal moori’ in silence. I have no striking memories of the next ten years spent at my father’s place except that I obediently carried few novels with me and in the process, earned the title of an obnoxious teenager who was too busy with her books to talk to anyone. I missed the old days and was always on a lookout for an opportunity to bring everyone together again but I think it was just me. Few got married, few got jobs and our gang reduced to just a handful.
We have a WhatsApp group now and we keep in touch but there is no option to break into an impromptu ‘Jinga La La’ dance in the group. There was no Facebook, no Instagram in those days. There are hardly any photographs but whenever I close my eyes and allow myself to indulge in the yesteryears, a screen comes up, a movie reel begins to play slowly and I find myself wearing a leaf skirt, singing ‘Jinga La La’ and making faces to make my grandmother laugh. But there are lot of unfocused, hazy patches as the reel has already faded off quite a bit. I dread the day when it will finally turn stark white.