Najma Hepthullah remembers climbing fruit trees and fishing in pond

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 23-05-2024
Najma Hepthullah, former Governor and Lok Sabha Speaker
Najma Hepthullah, former Governor and Lok Sabha Speaker


Firdous Khan

Childhood is the most beautiful phase of life. The childhood memories especially those of the school breaks in summer or winter (in colder zones) from schools are the most indelible memories in our minds no matter how successful one becomes.

Summer Break Nostalgia

As schools in most parts of India break for summer holidays, Awaz-The Voice spoke with highly successful persons to know about their childhood memories and caught up with veteran politician Najma Heptulla, former Governor and Lok Sabha Speaker. Hepthullah spoke to Firdous Khan for Awaz-the Voice on the phone from Chicago, the USA, where she is staying with her daughter. Her story:

"We waited for the summer holidays throughout the year. It was during the holidays that we (children) got an opportunity to visit relatives' homes. One of my aunts (mother's sister) lived in Mumbai and the other in Lucknow after marriage.

"Some years we would go to Mumbai and some years to Lucknow. Back then Mumbai was not as crowded as it is now. The cars running on the wide dark roads looked very nice. If a film was being shot somewhere, a crowd would gather in no time to watch it.

"The mention of Mumbai is incomplete without the sea. We would roam around Mumbai during the day and go to the seashore in the evening. We played with the waves of the ocean, built houses of moist sand, and then we waited for the waves to wash the house away. We used to eat Bhel Puri, Vada Pav, Pav Bhaji, and also ice cream.  


Najma Hepthullah

"Our house in Bhopal was close to a big pond. The house was quite big and so was its courtyard. It has a garden as well with many fruit trees like Mango, Guava, Jamunn, and Mulberry.

"As soon as the Mango tree blossomed and Mulberries started ripening, we would know it's about the time for summer holidays. During the summer holidays, we had loads of fun and played mischief. We, the children climbed the mango tree to pluck the semi-ripened fruits and and picked the berries. We sprinkled some salt on these are relished the homegrown fruits. The joy of climbing trees and plucking fruits to eat can never be forgotten. Even today, seeing fruit trees, I remember climbing them in my childhood.  

"There were a lot of flowers in our garden. A gardener took care of the garden. I remember the garden had Bela (Jasmine), Rose, and Mogra (a variety of Jasmine). The fragrant flower vines not only filled our house but the entire neighbourhood with a sweet fragrance.

"Amma was very fond of wearing Mogra flowers. She would string Mogra flowers in silver wire earrings and wear them; she also wore Mogra gajras in her hair. Many neighbours would come and ask for flowers. Some even made garlands of flowers to make gajras and necklaces for sale. That was a noble deed. At my father's request, our gardener plucked flowers and gave them to those who would make a livelihood out of it.

"We also visited our native village during summer holidays. Our village was about 10 kilometers from Bhopal. We had orchards of mangoes, guavas, and oranges. Here too we climbed trees, plucked fruits, and ate them.

"We would go near the Betwa River and see people swim. Many children also learned to swim, but we would watch them from the banks. I never dared to get into the water, or rather, I never felt like learning to swim.


Najma Hepthullah

"In Bhopal, there was a pond near our house. We would often go it and at times catch fish under the supervision of our elders. The day we had a good harvest from the pond, we would have a feast. That day, Fish kurma and fried fish were cooked for dinner.   

"Those days there were no Air conditioners. A special chik (Bamboo curtain) was hung in the rooms and hallways of the houses. Water was sprinkled on these curtains and it made the air cooler. the temperatures inside the house were much lower than the outside. In the wave, we, the children were not allowed to go out in the summer afternoon. So we would stay inside the house and wait for the afternoon to set.   

"Cots covered with crisp white sheets were laid out in the courtyard. Thick cotton pillows were arranged neatly on the edges of the cots. All members of my family sat out on the cots in the evenings. Due to the proximity of the big pond, gusts of cool breeze blew over the courtyard. Evenings were pleasant even in hot summers.

"In summer, we slept on the terrace. The roof was cleaned in the evening with a broom and then sprinkled with water. This cooled the surface of the rooftop. Carpets were spread and the same was covered with sheets and pillows were arranged on top. Earthen water jars and tumblers were kept on the side of the sleeping area. We, the children, kept our small water jugs at our bedside so that if we felt thirsty at night, we could drink water from our water jug.

"Once my Aunt got me admitted into the Kindergarten (KG) class. The teacher gave her a book for the course. I read the entire book at home and the next day told my teacher that I had read it and I needed another book. The teacher was surprised and said that the book was meant for one full year.

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"I was good in my studies and finished my Holiday homework at the beginning of summer vacation. I eagerly waited for the school to reopen after the summer vacation. I missed my school and friends a lot during vacations. In Bhopal, special attention was paid to education, especially those of girls."

(The author is a poet, storyteller and journalist)