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11 Social and Cultural Life

Childhood Memories: As told by Rachel Luddy to Ilana Sondak


As told by Rachel Luddy Shellim to her daughter Ilana Jonah Sondak

When my mother Rachel was born, her parents – Nissim and Seemah Luddy – were living in 81/8 Bentinck Street. She was born right there in the house, and so were her siblings, Sam, Rahmoo and Sally. When Gran's time was up, Colonel Green Armitage was called and delivered the babies in the house.

Since Granny had all four children in just over 5 years, Mummy – aged about five, was most of the time taken over to spend the day and sleep in her grandmother Rahma's house in Grant's Lane – just down the road. She was taken over by the servant. Granny Seemah had 3 other small kids so this arrangement must have been enjoyed by all. Mummy used to sleep right next to her Grandmother – it was a huge battlefield of a bed with a huge bolster ("lumba Thuckia" – long pillow) (to separate sweaty legs!). She also had a "gahl thuckia" – a tiny cheek-pillow (as did my own Aunty Edna). There was a punkah (overhead reed fan on a rope pulley) which was pulled by the "Chokra" who would come during the day. The jamadar would come three times a day to clean out the pots. Children who used the bathroom (for "pissie" or "ah-ah"!) would, when they had finished, call out "Hum hogiya!" (I've finished!) to the servant to come and clean their bums. Sometimes the servants didn't or wouldn't hear, and the child would start screaming "Hum Hogiya! HUM HOGIYA!, HUM HOGIYA!".  Ramoo would sing "hum hogiya Um-tara, um-tara, um-tara!!" Near the pot in the bathroom a "badna" filled with water was always placed. This is a vessel with a spout like a tea-kettle but no handle, to pour water to clean in the bathroom. Other items were the "jeebee" (tongue scraper – "jeeb" meaning tongue), the "maila pittara" or "doolie" (the dirty linen basket – usually of wood with the upper part in woven basketwork for airing the clothes), the "ghori" – clothes horse, and in the kitchen a "doolie" for keeping food and a "khupera" – a sort of pantry cupboard with netted door to keep flies away from the food. Of course there were no refrigerators. Mummy remembers the very tall doors, with the "chitkinney" – which is the long brass bolt that locks the door. It had a handle like a closed fist with fingers as the knob – and turning it, the bolt (about 3 feet long) would shoot up into the small ring above the door.

To get back, great-grandmother Rahma used to sit in her easy-chair with mummy astride behind her, and she would tell her stories – "Sachchilli-ka-kahani" (the story of the mischievous boy"). She used to play with her "paan-butta" (paan-box) – a lovely silver box in a basketwork frame (she also had another one – all silver), which housed various compartments of "paan' ingredients – the chalk-like "choona", the "kuttha" which was like nutmeg, "supari" (betel-nut) – the pan leaves, and also other spices.  First the white choona wa spread on the paan-leaf with a little silver knife, then the chocolate-coloured kuttha and then the supari, broken with supari cutters, was sprinkled together with other spices, and then the leaf was deftly and expertly rolled up into a singara-shaped (triangular) paan which was popped into her mouth and chewed for approximately half an hour, occasionally spitting out a stream of red betel-juice into the "paandani" (paan-spitoon) placed near her easy chair, next to her hookah.  The servants used to "sulgao" (fan, bellows) the fire in the brass part of the hookah on top of the section containing the water. It was a special preparation of charcoal and other things. Mummy remembers that sometimes Grandpa Nissim's mother used to add opium to the charcoal. She had a special government license for the opium since she was a drug addict. She used to make approx. 30 tiny pellets out of her monthly twist of opium (which looked like black licorice or plasticine), and put one to burn in the hookah. Sometimes she took a pellet from her little silver "dibia" (small box) and popped it into her mouth.

Mummy remembers her grandmother Rahma's daily routine. In the morning she would take cook's account. All the vegetables for the day's cooking would be put on a table after she had decided the day's menu. She would herself peel and prepare them and then the "borchi" (cook) would take it away to cook. Then she'd bathe and rest in the hot afternoon when the pankah-walla came. She was a fat, heavy woman. At four in the afternoon, in a clean wrapper, she would sit in the verandah with the cool breeze blowing in, fresh tea was served, she would smoke the hookah – and people would come to visit. Sometimes she would get into the ghorra-gharry and visit friends.

In this same house in Grant's Lane, also lived Ma's Aunty Emma (great-grandma's youngest daughter who was my grandmother Seemahs' sister), together with her husband Albert, and their son Josh.  Floris also lived here from the time her mother Rachel died.  Also Ajoo Uncle (Ezra) and his wife Aunty Mattie – who lived with her mother-in-law.  Ajoo Uncle was an expert knitter, which he did for relaxation.

Mummy never saw either of her grandfathers, who died before she was born.  The first wife of one of her grandfathers was a Silliman, and the second was Rahma (my great-grandmother).