Posted in Mylapore Musings

The Chimney Glow

Watching period serial ‘Stories by Rabindranath Tagore’ (that by itself is worthy of a post), I was reminded of the Chimney light days from my childhood in Mylapore. May be we had this light at home as a spare until I turned 10 or 12. We had no zero watt night bulb then.

I have this memory of filling kerosene in two such small chimney lights for two rooms in my house. That evening duty was mine. Kerosene was in a tall narrow necked glass bottle tightly screwed shut, stored away in a shelf. The wick would be pruned by my mother and both the lights would be readied by 6 pm for lighting. No bedrooms for couples in those days. We slept in rows in the living!!! Sleeping on the handspun straw mat was the comforting bedding ever for me! I have no memory of my parents sleeping alone or together as a couple sorry!!! What a sacrificing life our parents and grandparents led for our sake!

By 7.30 to 8 pm, we would already be ready to retire to bed, because tv was barely there. And also because I had a working mom. We got our first tv in 1977 when i was in class 4 only. Before going to bed, I would light the chimneys sometimes or my mother did. The glass lamps served as our night bulbs hanging from a hooked nail in a corner off the wall that was safe from breeze from the partly open windows and fan and anything combustible.

I still remember the mini chimney lights but i can’t find exact replica images in the net. I will keep looking for them. I used to go to sleep focusing on the small glow from the open top of the glass chimney. The bottom part that held the fuel was metal with a screw and wick. I also think that the chimney glass part with (sometimes jagged) circular opening on top to let out smoke often broke. There are faint memories of pushcarts in the streets selling those glass chimney tops. Or may be we had these in the platform shops in Luz or Mylapore tank. Did we have different colours like burnt orange, brown, bottle green? Although all I can recall from the one at home is plain colourless glass chimney.

Carrying the lit chimney lamp around the home in eerie darkness with shadows lengthening or shortening was another reason to delight! Mostly this was whenever the power was out which was pretty often in late 70s.

If I ever slept with my granny, I would be listening with her to Ceylon Radio Tamil broadcast in the soft light of the oil lamp. Mostly I did this in summer hols. Late evening 9 pm was considered like midnight in those days!!! Watching the chimney shadow flicker on the wall opposite was another childhood pastime as I would doze off into bottomless dreamless sleep that only kids are capable of.

When did we grow out of this chimney light habit? I guess until my mother’s time we had it at home. Later the yellow zero watt night bulb substituted the glass and metal chimney light that used to leave a very light black smoky shadow on the wall.

Slowwwww days and slower peaceful nights. The chimney light era reminds me of such a comfortable age when nothing was done in a hurry. Makes me nostalgic. What a charming old world that was! The dancing flame of the chimney lights on windy thundery monsoony nights surprisingly still stays fresh in my memory…. as the long nights during some power-cut days when we cooked, ate and laughed and lived in the mellow shadow of the chimney glow…

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