Growing up with my family of 7 in one room

Growing up with my family of 7 in one room
Photo by Jametlene Reskp / Unsplash

I grew up in Bombay living with my parents and my four siblings, all in a single room with a two-story bunk bed. One slept on the lower bunk, and one on the top. For the rest of us, the floor was our bed.

For storage we had shelvings from slightly above hand’s reach upto the ceiling along 2 walls. A curtain partitioned the space between the side of the bed and the wall, where we kept our trunks (if you're younger, that means suitcase), and also served as a dressing room.
A corner of the room was cut out for washing and bathing.

Cooking and dining was also in the same room. We had a medium-sized table to prepare food and eat, as well as three folding chairs. When we ate together, the lower bunk also functioned as a place to sit.

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My mother would usually cook simple rice and curry, sometimes with vegetables (we couldn’t afford meats). Sundays or feast days maybe soups or pulau (also a luxury). Hard to remember now, but I think my favourite was alphabet soup.

Bananas were dessert with the understanding of one each and I always hoped that someone didn't want theirs so it could be mine, but nobody would give it up. Well at least today I can have as many bananas as I want.

For breakfast, initially my father woke up early morning and made buttered toast and coffee. At some point it switched to my mother making chapatis, flavoured and fried with ghee. Coffee in the morning, and tea in the evening was an unspoken rule.

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Everybody was all over the place at school or work around lunch time, so dinner was our chance to eat together. There was no microwave, and my mother would only make food hot once, so 8pm was the time to eat. Don’t remember much conversation, except for the dos and don’ts. Mischief was never reported.

While we were at school/work my mum went to the market, did the cooking, and then relaxed with the neighbours in the common area talking about juicy topics of the day.

By the way, back then many buildings like ours had common toilets. The morning line ups made opportune chat times. Water supply was available twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, for just 2 hours. Within that time you had to store up for the rest of the day. We used a big barrel - oil barrel type - to store the water. Most families in the building and the area lived that way.

On the roof was a huge unobstructed terrace, where we collectively organized many activities like socials and dances. It also served as a playground for sports like football, cricket, and more. We lived close to the seashore but didn’t care much to go there, as we were content with our social life within the building. Almost all my upbringing and learning came from living here. We would sit on the parapet facing the street and got a bird’s eye view of the traffic and people that went by.

birds eye view

You might be wondering how life passes by with so many people in a small space. Well, because it was so small we actually spent most time outside in the common areas, and came in to eat, pray, and sleep.

Sometimes in our moments together, it was annoying, like when dad, who loved the radio more than his wife, kept it on whenever he was home. He had to catch up on all the news non-stop. Most of the talk and music was not local but from BBC or a strange radio station, and often in the shortest wave available, screeching in and out like bad wifi, but with sound: keeeeh, kooh, wooo, weee. Of course we had no choice but to listen, hoping it would clear at some point so we could actually hear what was being said. That was our daily torture.

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Sleep time was quiet and peaceful. After hearing the snoring regularly you got used to it.
Dreaming is another story. We all enjoyed our dreams silently, except for my dad, who would shriek as though he was being strangled. It seemed at the time that I was the only one who woke up from this, so I would just push him to stop.
Next I would find someone’s hand on my face. What the ………
Sunday afternoon was curfew and compulsory sleep from 1pm to 4pm. It was our parents' sleep time and we all had to follow suit so that they wouldn't have to keep an eye on us.

The family that prays together, stays together and so we were, always caring and sharing.

When I look back, it was very different than today, but it made a special experience with some great stories to share.