Childhood memories are the fondest and they remain with us throughout the journey of life!!
The prospect of meeting many childhood friends during the forthcoming gathering rightlycoined as “Concord 2018” has brought a surge of those memories…memories that made my spirit buoyant enough to write a piece on our lives back then!! But before that, a few words on “Concord 2018”!! This is a gathering of those of us who once the residents of a picturesque housing compound called Yarada Park and those friends who lived around the compound and shared our joys and sorrows are meeting up to share those happy tidings!! A team lead by one of my closest childhood friend Ram and his team have been diligently working for the past three months or more to put in place. With the meticulous planning and detailing to the “T”, I have no doubt that this is going to be a great gathering and something that will remain with us throughout our lives!!
Yarada Park was the housing compound built to house the Workmen and junior Staff of the then private owned Oil Refinery in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, in the State of Andhra Pradesh, in South India. Caltex Oil Refining India Ltd (CORIL) which was established by Caltex (California-Texas Oil Co, which later became Texaco), in Texas, USA. The Refinery was later nationalized and began to be called as Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL), which today has registered phenomenal growth and ranks among the “Nava Ratna” Companies in India!!
My father began his career working for the Refinery since its inception in the year 1956! By virtue of his employment, we had the privilege of enjoying our stay in Yarada Park. My siblings and I started our lives from this lovely compound. Yarada Park was a Compound built on around 100 acres of land and had around 100 dwelling units. There were two types which were called C-Type & B-Type, which were allocated based on seniority of the employee.
We lived in the “C-Type” for over 20 years!
Yarada Park was located on the picturesque location just below the mountains of the Eastern Ghats. In fact, the compound got it’s name from the Yarada Hills that were part of the Eastern Ghats. The scenic beauty of the compound began from its entrance, which used to be manned by a bunch of diligent Security Staff who would note down the details of every outsider who entered. A walk into the compound would lead up a slope which would fork out into two. At the fork was once what we called the “Triangle” The triangle was built at the fork and in the center of the “Triangle” was the flag pole.
On the East side of the triangle where the road moved towards the “B-type” houses stood a mighty Banyan tree. On the south and west side stood several mango trees which bore sweet and luscious mangoes during the season. The “Triangle” was a point where many would just sit and relax, some of us would play around, running alongside the peripheral wall which was two feet high. The “Triangle” would be spruced up and come alive in sprightly colors of festoons and balloons during the Independence and Republic Day!! These are occasions, where every child and every adult used to attend. Children dressed in their comely costumes, with the tricolor pinned up on our chests….proudly singing the National Anthem, which would be led by my neighbor Mr. Y V Rao, who has had a very profound influence on me. The highlight was receiving sweets from the elders. There a some of my friends who ventured to climb up the pole to fix the flag on top. It was something that I never dared to do. The “Triangle” used to be our point of rest, when we walked back drearily after a long day in School.
Further walk up on the road would take us to the “C-Type” and the walk on the west of the Triangle will lead to the “B-Type”. We used to have the Children’s Park of the west side of the road and the Playground with the cricket pitch on the eastern flank of the road. The life and times of the generations of kids who were part of the compound during our times centered around these two areas of recreation.
We played on the “Swings, the Sea-saws and also on a three layered structure built out of pipes which was called “Jungle-Jim”. I still wonder why it was called so. We used climb to the three levels, run dexterously around it and even hang on our legs with our heads down!! Some even did gymnastics!! Beyond the “swings” was the Basket Ball Court, where many boys played Basket Ball, a game I never tried my hand at. A slight walk from the Basketball court would lead to what we used to call the “cattle shed”, which housed the Billiards Table. Some of my “elder boys” would play billiards, while my peers and I would watch them in sheer awe!! The row houses would start from the front of the Children’s Park and the Playground. I guess there where around 50 houses in three rows. We lived in the center row, C-28-W! The houses had cleanly built culverts to enable rain water to flow. These were our favorite hangout places, which we called “Gutter”, a place where we sat around and had fun during our holidays and also when there were power cuts during nights!! The Cricket pitch used to come alive during the weekends. I too have played on the cricket ground but not being much of a sports person, I enjoyed the watching my seniors play more than playing myself. We had fabulous players among the “super seniors” such as Gunwant Patel, George T, Balu & Bhartha (brothers) and some of their friends Gajapathi, Deepak, a certain Dhan (not sure of his actual name) to name a few. Later on the next generation who were also senior to me became the leaders Ramakant G, Brahmananda Rao (who we called Brahma), Mahesh, Ranga, etc. These boys were really fabulous players. The whole compound would rev up on celebrations as they played matches. The girls, boys the men and womenfolk, whom we fondly called “Aunties & Uncles” would all be at the ground. Some of the residents were gracious enough to serve drinks and snacks too. The cricket matches would be like miniature carnivals!! Events that was enjoyed by young and old alike!
Behind the three rows of houses, was where the Tennis Court was located. Many “Uncles” used to play tennis during the weekdays. The weekend the Tennis Court would turn into an open air, Cinema! A portable 16mm Projector would be installed to screen films on to a painted wall of the Tennis Court. Kids of my generation would be seated on the “tarpaulins” which were layed out for us, while the elders would have to bring their own chairs!! It as a weekly ritual that we enjoyed for years. There were some occasions where the film couldn’t be delivered and those Saturday evenings were the most disappointing evenings in our lives!! There also used to be a few games of “Tambola’ which we called “Housie”. For some strange reason, my father never allowed us to play the game. He considered it as “gambling” and something that we should never indulge in! It felt strange that others considered it normal but for us it was forbidden! But I could never muster the courage to ask him, “Why?”!!
We also had several innovations and games that we had made ourselves. We played the “Gilli-danda”, “Sticks & Stones”, and also an innovative game called “Halt” which I guess was a game devised out of many “Cowboy” movies that we watched during those times. The fantastic accrual of our life in the Compound was that we built great friendships, something that each one of us treasure very closely in our hearts.
The inhabitants of the Compound very people who came in from perhaps every state of India. So, the residents were as diverse as India itself. As a result, we celebrated every festival and learnt the art of living in harmony. We had no differences and we had no restrictions. We could walk into any house at any time of the day, on any day!! It was a like a huge family!
Due to the diversity, English became the link language. This gave us the ability to speak in English even before we went to School. It was a skill that stood us in good stead in our future. Perhaps it is the result of this experience that almost every boy and girl who lived in Yarada Park has been able to carve a niche for him/herself in this world. There are many success stories of people who started from very humble beginnings in Yarada Park!!
Over the next weekend, we will witness many such “boys & girls” who are now successful men & women, converge into the “City of Destiny” to meet with their childhood friends, re-live those nostalgic memories and cherish the wonderful moments of togetherness & love!! Long live the camaraderie of the YPians!! May the bonds of friendship grow stronger and stronger with each passing year!!
Post script: Ms. Janaki Padma was a girl who lived next door. She was elder to me and treated me as her own kid brother! I still maintain the warm and loving connection by occasional visit and through Social media! I dedicate this piece to Janaki, for suggesting to me to write about our times in YP and also prodding me to do so from time to time.