Nostalgia is often soothing and romantic. Revisiting one’s school, college, bylanes where one grew up, maybe the first love or break-up, job, the list can be endless, brings a smile on the lips and leads one to exclaim, “Oh, those were the days”. In historical writings looking at all the bygone days, terming them as ‘golden’ and yearning for them maybe a faulty approach, but not in a memoir, which merely chronicles the changing times. If RK Narayan immortalised a small town called Malgudi through his stories, Raj Sinha, a retired senior executive from Bombay Dyeing, tries to put Patna on the national map—devoid of politics—through his maiden work, which is autobiographical in nature.
Normally, memoirs are related to people who are big and famous, as ordinary mortals want to know their story. However, Sinha, through his book, where he tells the story of his growing-up days and beyond through 26 short stories, convinces one that any ordinary person can pen down his/her memoir by narrating stories of an ordinary life with a touch of nostalgia interspersed with interesting vignettes.
The author grew up in Patna in a joint family with two brothers and two cousins and a host of uncles, aunts and other cousins visiting them. His childhood home was a mansion in the known, central part of the city called Exhibition Road. It is not there any more, as it was razed down in the first flush of urbanisation and was replaced by office buildings and commercial apartments.
The family was upper-middle class with values that blended traditionalism and modernism. He went on to graduate from St Xavier’s College, Kolkata, and then completed his MBA from the prestigious XLRI, Jamshedpur. The professional life began with Asian Paints and after traversing the corporate world for 38 years, he hung up his boots with Bombay Dyeing in Mumbai, where he currently resides.
There are countless such people who can be termed successful leading a comfortable life. However, putting one’s life story through vignettes of how one fared in school as a student to the pranks in the run-up for Holi preparations to a failed attempt to get enrolled in Delhi’s St Stephen’s college, where the elder and younger brother of the author studied, and a car chase to catch hold of his would-be wife’s father to propose, requires one to take a self-deprecating look at oneself and Sinha’s stories are such that they bring out the ordinariness in every human being, which also needs to be celebrated. You don’t need to be credited with a scientific discovery to tell your story and you don’t necessarily need to be a CEO to pen your memoirs.
The 26 stories are short and interesting, and capture the canvas of cities like Patna, Kolkata, Guwahati, etc. The only problem with the book is that it’s a little difficult for a reader to understand the context of the stories without a preface. A somewhat expansive preface would have been better, which is missing.