Bookish Witch

Lollypops to Cigarettes: Walking Down Your Memory Lane by Abhishek Bhattacharya

Book Blurb:

This story is about Abhinav’s years of growing up. About his many “Firsts” such as, first, “stand up on the bench,” first school concert, first peek into the girl’s toilet, first love, first touch, first kiss, first sex, first vodka, and the first tiff with Dad. It’s also about his many “Lasts.” Last day in school, last time in the college canteen, last meeting with his first girlfriend, last drink in Oly pub, last lollypop, and his last meeting with Dad. Abhinav, better known as Abhi, is an ordinary man. He grew up well before the millennials hit the world. It looks surprising today, but he grew up without smartphones, What’s App, Facebook, Play Stations, Ola cab, or Pay Pals. The gadgets and apps would have changed from then to now, the world would have enriched many folds, but the definition of “growing up” probably remains the same. From an infant to adulthood – the means are different, the destination never changed. The book is about how we all grew every day – from lollypops to cigarettes – a journey we all went through. So similar is our journey with Abhi’s and yet so different. If YOU are an ordinary man who grew up in the eighties decade, you can undoubtedly relate yours and Abhi’s journey at some corner or the other. So, sit back, relax, and take a walk into your memory lane.

Genre: Fiction/Drama

Pages: 216

Format: Kindle eBook/Paperback


  • Kindle eBook: 72 INR/$0.99
  • Paperback (available only in India): 225 INR

My Ratings: 4.5/5

Being someone who grew up in the 90s, this was a very nostalgic read for me. Besides the charming walk down memory lane, the book even manages to tell us a good story in the form of the life journey of the protagonist from his childhood to adulthood.

A must-read to relive or know about the 80s and 90s era in India.

What I liked about the book:
–> Completely fulfills its promise of taking the reader down memory lane (in case the readers happen to be born between the 70s to early 90s)
–> The memories and incidents have been very impressively narrated making the reader delve emotionally into the book.
–> The protagonist’s bonding with his father and how he refers to his father as his ‘best friend’ which is surely true and all of us would realize this at one point or another, especially in our adulthood.
–> Loved how Bombay is described from the perspective of an outsider who falls in love with the city and eventually even chooses to settle down in the city of dreams. (which is very relatable for me as I belong to the same category of people)
–> The way Durga Pujo celebrations and its importance in Calcutta have been described.
–> How it invokes shock and sadness through the tragic incidents (protagonist’s childhood friend who falls in the school water tank, his chemistry mentor who commits suicide, the protagonist’s father’s death, his Bombay local friend who goes missing)
–> It is definitely one of those books which you can’t put down once you start reading.
–> How it weaves seamlessly between the past and the present without creating any kind of confusion.
–> I loved how the protagonist isn’t shown to be someone over-the-top. In fact, what makes him likable are his flaws and failures and how he grows from them.

What I did not like about the book:
–> There seemed to be a somewhat negative aura attached to each female character (besides the mother and the sister) in the protagonist’s life.
–> The slight typos and grammatical errors (eg ‘form’ instead of ‘from’, etc)

Quotable quotes:

—> The gadgets and apps would have changed from then to now, the world would have enriched many folds, but the definition of “growing up” probably remains the same. From an infant to adulthood – the means are different, the destination never changed.
—> Back in the eighties, of course, junk food resembled Aloo Chaats, Gol Guppas, ice cream sticks or Salted chips – the more sophisticated junks like the burgers, pizzas, and nachos were still to invade into third world territories.
—> Bade Miya, as Bombay believes, is the world’s best place for Kebabs. It is a small cart selling kebab right on Colaba’s street, behind the famous Taj Hotel of Bombay. The tables are laid on the by lanes and the who’s who of the city drive down to Bade Miya and have kebabs sitting on the roadside tables.
—> You feel no pain on the tasteless subji once you have tasted the divine king of good times….
—> I wonder how my father knew all the stories he narrated about history and other stuff, at a time when Google did not exist.
—> At a tender age, I could understand that my mother’s strict behavior was only a cover to her large loving heart.
—> Through some studies and many mischiefs, primary school taught me to bond with friends who were once strangers and gradually graduated to each other’s hearts and souls. The sharing, caring, and fighting moments with friends in school were memories being collected to be lived with for life.
—> The class’s low murmurs gradually grew into roars and howls… a natural trend when the teacher was absent.
—> Gradually I realized that even the biggest griefs mellow down with time. Yes, time is the best healer.
—> It is a matter of pride to have friends like the boys of grade 8A, who decided to stand by me and did not care about the consequence. Truth is the easiest to defend and not a lie. It builds immense inner strength while standing by the truth.
—> Dad was, and would always be my best friend.
—> Having Shreelekha as my official girlfriend was like the old-time Onida TV catchline – “others envy owner’s pride.”
—> Sometimes, we have to lose some to win a lot.
—> We quietly sat in the center of the ground and kept looking at the school building. Memories cropped through my mind. So many emotions flew through me as I rewound the fourteen years spent in this school. Some memories made me laugh within, while some were painful, and some others were really cherishable.
—> influential people should not be avoided or annoyed.
—> Not many women can directly walk up to a stranger and share his marijuana sitting up close to him.
—> No matter who we are, one day we shall all be forgotten forever.
—> Dad did it. He bowed down to his own principles just to help me. He crushed his self- esteem just because I did not score enough in my board exams. That very day I promised myself that if I get admission to St. Stephen’s, I will do my best in my graduations.
—> Children do not have any religion. We are all children of God.
—> There is one thing that changes every moment, and that is “time.”
—> Once again, the person who came to my rescue was none other than my best friend, my Dad.
—> If you do not get selected, it does not mean that you are not worthy enough as an individual. It just means that you may not be having the traits that this job requires. It does not belittle your capability to find a great position in some other career that you may choose.
—> During my stint as an amateur magician, I realized that we stop believing in magic as we grow up. We start doubting every miracle. I found it so strange. We, adults, believe in all sorts of Gods and numerous religious superstitions. We believed that God can work magic in our lives. But when it came to actual magic on the street, our wisdom tells us that nothing like magic existed. Adults even failed to recognize magic as a form of art. They basically did not like to get fooled and always wanted to know the trick behind the supernatural stunts I showed them.
—> This was my year of doing nothing, and doing nothing is not an easy thing to do.
—> Doing nothing is indeed not the simplest thing to do. I had to scientifically avoid as many relatives and neighbors as I could. I did not go to any family functions or college alumni gatherings just to avoid the simple question from friends or relatives – “So what are you doing now, Abhi?” Why the hell was everybody interested in what I was doing? I could not find an answer to this question and I never gathered the courage to speak out the truth.
—> At Kumar Da’s stall, we spent our whole morning right till noon on scouting the daily newspapers for free and sharing strong opinions on the country’s current affairs. We had heated debates on cups of tea on who should be chosen as the India Cricket Team Captain or who should be selected as the next president of Congress. Though these affairs did not change the quality of time we led, it did satisfy our esteem in thinking that we contributed our precious time on opinionating about matters that mattered.
—> That’s where good teaching starts. If a student likes his or her teacher, they start liking the subject and start to learn.
—> I realized that this was a necessity that every woman goes through. I don’t think any boyfriend or husband buys bra and panties for their girlfriends or wives. This task had to be performed by women themselves, no matter how awkward it may seem.
—> Truth is the easiest to defend.
—> During those days, books were the only way to enrich the knowledge. Even if google existed, it was not within our reach.
—> The month of October brings joy to every Bengali in Calcutta, it doesn’t matter whether he is rich or poor, whether from north Calcutta or South, whether East Bengal or Mohun Bagan. October is the month of Durga Pujo. Calcutta goes crazy. It is very difficult to write down what Durga Pujo is to Calcutta for someone who has not witnessed it first-hand. Non-bongs will fail to understand that Durga Pujo has nothing much to do with a religion or a puja. It is about Calcutta’s culture. Pujo in Calcutta is a cultural industry by itself. The creativity shown in the design of the pandals and idols would put any European architecture to shame. It brings out creative works of art on the streets and by-lanes of the City of Joy, be it in designing the idol, or the Pandals, or the lights that décor the city from head to toe for the six days of Pujo. It is hard to explain Calcutta’s essence in these six days to someone who has not actually experienced the city during the Pujas. The city comes to a complete standstill. Every industry, schools, colleges, offices, shops are closed, baring one Institution – the food industry. Pet pujo and Durga Pujo go hand in hand for every Bengali. The bongs of all ages from eight to eighty pamper their taste buds with all sorts of food. Biriyani, rolls, sweets, Jhal Muri, Phuchka, fish fry, omelets, Chops, ice creams, Matka chai, soft drinks, chips, and whatnot goes into the menu. The entire city is strewn with makeshift food stalls apart from the regular restaurants. People throng the roads in millions, well decked up in new attires, hopping pandals to pandals and eating away in these street-side joints. Rich and poor alike, Durga Pujo, to us, is about new clothes, meeting up with friends and family, roaming the city to appreciate the artistic idols and pandals, and of course, filling us with all the food that a bong can think of.
—> It is in moments of severe stress that one needs to keep cool.
—> For the first time in 23 years, I realized that grocery and vegetables were exchanged with money and I realized the importance of getting a stable job.
—> Envy was a necessary evil when it came to peers.
—> Leaders are lonely.
—> Bombay was not a city that leaves you alone.
—> I felt amazed at the speed of Bombay. It looked as if I was watching a city move in fast forward mode. I watched a city-run. Everyone was hustling at high speed. No one had the time to look at each other, let alone talk. This city was so different. No one spent time in a tea stall “adda.” No one spent evenings on the carom board. The food habit of Bombay was the first thing to strike me hard. Could one put an alu chop in a bun and relish it as vada pav? Could a human put gravy on “chana chur” and call it misal pav? How on earth can someone have tea in half-filled little glass and call it cutting? I soon realized that with the paltry stipend I earned, vada pav and cutting chai was the cheapest and most filling breakfast that I could afford. The next set of adjustments I had to do was with the Bombay local. The first day I went to the office from Ghatkopar to Santa Cruz, I felt like leaving everything and rush back to Arpully Lane for good. I just could not figure out how to board the Kurla bound local train from Ghatkopar station. Trains were passing by every two minutes, but each of them was filled to the brim with people. I just could not board any of them. Soon I realized why the local trains were called the lifeline of the locals here. We soon found ourselves looking forward to this journey every morning, singing right from Kalyan station to Thane station. Soon we were joined by more daily passengers in our mistuned chorus. Bombay definitely did have a magical life. Even at such speed and such long drawn working hours, people found all the energy to make a mundane local train journey fun-filled. Within the first few weeks of our train journey, we had developed an astonishingly strong bond with our fellow passengers. There were people of all ages and all walks of life. Bombay was treating us well, and we came out of our initial homesickness by leaning on each other’s company. I had started to build my dreams in the city of dreams. Bombay locals say that Bombay gives you everything – “bas dil kholke mangna parta hai” (Just ask for it with an open heart). Very shortly, Bombay became my new home.
—> That’s the best part of Bombay – the city never sleeps. There is still traffic, noise, people, and a lot of hustle-bustle at the oddest of hours.
—> It took me some time to adjust to the city, but once I settled in, I feel it was the best place to be in; it is indeed the city of dreams.
—> Bombay is a city where one can live with any budget – from a mere five thousand a month to a five lakh a month. One has to make one’s own choice.

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