Come January, there will be Picnic galore ! It starts with January 1 and then goes on and on… there will be picnic on the Sundays and on Public Holidays till the end of the month.
Our locality, located at the extreme Southern end those days, around five decades ago, was basically a dwelling place for middle-class and lower-middle class families. There was only one lorry owned by Keshab Chacha. His two sons, Madan and Ratan were our friends. Every year we would approach Keshab Chacha to provide a free transportation by his lorry for the picnic party.
So, on a cold January day, early in the morning we would gather – around 40 children and youth – near Keshab Chacha’s house and climb into the open lorry. There would be a loud-speaker fitted on top of the lorry which would play loud hindi film songs. This would be a whole day outing, normally to the river-banks, either to Phuleswar about 50 kilometers or Kolaghat about 70 kilometer, away from Kolkata. Normally the drive would be smooth, but at times when there would be be less traffic on the high-way Keshab Chacha, who was an ace driver, would speed up and we would cling onto each other in that shivering cold morning.
Around 9 a.m. we would reach the picnic spot. The older ones – meaning some of the youth would share among themselves the various responsibilties that makes a picnic. Three dadas (elders) would take large shopping bags and walk towards the local markets to get some vegetables, rice and sundry items needed for cooking. Two dadas would volunteer to get the fire-wood. Within a short span of time a workable oven would be ready – a small pit dug on the ground, three sides covered with bricks and then neatly plastered with mud. We, the little ones,would be allowed to play cricket with rubber ball under the supervision of an adult -lest we venture out towards the river.
Once the food is ready we would be sitting on the ground in two to three rows for the meal – the main part of the picnic ! Food would be served on saal-leaves and drinking water would be served in mud-cups. For sure the vegetable curry would be a half-done item, and, in most cases taste bland. But we would all enjoy the meal and would take a second helping. Meanwhile someone would bring the battery powered loud-speaker system on the festive ground and we will have the meal with music aired in full volume.
After the meal there would be a little resting rime allowed. And then we would all walk down to the parking point where Keshab Chacha would be waiting with the lorry. Around late evening we would reach our home.
Years later, Chandu Da, a local youth could procure a mini-bus. Then on we would go to annual picnic in his bus. The basic difference was that it would not be a free ride any more. We would pay for the fuel for the bus. The picnic became a bit sophisticated event, with professional cook accompanying us -who would serve well-prepared food items. The picnic spots would be more organised places, complete with rest rooms and decent toilets.
To re-live the experience this year we ushered in the New Year with a family picnic. The main participants were Rijul (14 years), Ruhani (10 years), Rianna (5 years) and Jijo (14 years). They were the main cooks! The elders provided occasional cooking tips. The menu was eleborate. Fried Rice, Sweet Sour Chicken , Cucumber Salad, Shahi Tukra (fried bread pieces dipped in sweetened milk). A make shift cooking station was made by making a temporary ceiling with a bed-sheet.
It was indeed a gala day for them and all of us – the grand parents and parents. Happy New Year !