As Far Back As I Can Remember......AS FAR BACK AS I CAN REMEMBER
My having lunch/dinner at home invariably found me with a book in one hand and the other picking food off the plate Mom placed in front of me. So engrossed in reading that I was hardly aware of what was going into my mouth! Poor mom! Sometimes she used to prepare a variety of dishes which would include a sweet dish, vegetable curry, a dry vegetable dish, chips, rice and Indian bread. In order to avoid the fuss of picking at each dish, I simply mixed everything up into the rice and ate it with the bread. Why? The book I happened to be reading was more interesting than anything else. Eating was just another chore. Poor Ma! She loved feeding me the most and I didn’t appreciate her efforts (mystery of my girth solved!). She used to prepare Potato crisps which had to be fried twice(now that’s loading calories) but I loved the once-fried ones so she gave them to me the way I liked them as a pre lunch snack(Now there’s no doubt at all!).
Another one of those “As far back as I can remember” episodes were that Mom always preferred to take me with her when she had to go shopping. According to her, (1) I always helped her carry the bags. (2) I never asked her to buy me something. (3) I didn’t pester her to finish but patiently waited for her to buy whatever and however far she wanted to go. (4) I never complained about the distance or the weight of the bag I happened to be carrying.
I used to have dreams and nightmares. My favorite dream was of Guru Nanak(our family Guru)
We had a portrait size picture of him with that famous silver-haired beard. I used to look at it till I fell asleep.For quite sometime this dream occurred almost every night. I dreamt that Guru Nanak is really sitting in front of me in a lotus position and I climb on his lap and start playing with his beard. He feels ticklish and laughs like Santa, “Ho Ho Ho”. One of my favorite dreams. The other one was of a ladder stretching from the terrace to the sky. I start climbing it till I reach over and above the clouds. The scene is so beautiful. Colorful trees and money plants with real money hanging like leaves. Fairies and elves dressed beautifully , flying over the flowers like butterflies. And Guru Nanak sitting under a tree, deep in meditation.
Till I was 7 or 8 years old, I had an embarrassing disorder caused by nightmares. The worst of it was my inability to discuss my problems with my parents. I repeated the same mistake again and again to my own utter grief and ruin. The disorder was Enuresis and voluntary at that. My poor parents were puzzled as to the cause. I remember being taken to the doctor but I don’t remember what I told him. They put me on “Horlicks” before going to bed and that seemed to help. I finally slept like a “baby”. Literally!
Evey night, Mom used to read out stories from the Ramayan and the Srimad Bhagavatham. (Indian Mythology). Since the Ramayan was in Hindi, I used to continue reading it even after Mom stopped. But Srimad Bhagavatham was in the Sindhi sc
Another hilarious episode was of our parents going off to catch a movie leaving us girls in the house locked from the outside. Left to our own devices, we made a mess of the house thinking up all kinds of games which invariably involved using a lot of water! The balcony door used to be left open and sometimes we used to watch life on the streets passing us by. How interesting and colorful it used to look from above. Across the lane, there lived a homeless old lady. She used to talk to us but in Tamil, (a language spoken in most South Indian States of India), which we didn’t understand a word of. But we guessed that she was asking if mom was there. We replied in the negative. Thereupon, she would touch her stomach to indicate she was hungry. We used to go into the kitchen to see if there was anything to offer her. If there was nothing, we brought out the vegetables and showed them to her. If she spread out her sari fold, it meant she wanted them. We used to give her whatever she asked. After mom returned and found the vegetables gone, she would go to the lady and bring back anything she hadn’t used. Turned out she didn’t really want the vegetables. And mom used to get back everything. But she never scolded us. Can’t imagine why. Another time, we gave away utensils to the lady. Again mom had to go and get them back. After that, the balcony door got locked and we have no idea who the lady fooled
There is this restaurant which stands in the same place and is probably older than me. It evokes memories of mouth watering dishes like Idli-Sambar, Poori-Saagu and oh! The masala dosa! The quality of the food has been the same always. No other eatery prepares dishes in the way they do. The quality and the taste remain unchanged. I have been visiting it since I was 5 or 6 years old. To this day it continues to be a great favorite. My son adores the food there. They even avoid the use of onions on certain days like Ekadasi.(A fasting day for Hindus). It is a great favorite with people from all communities residing in this locality from decades.
Another book my mom used to reread was of murder mysteries. It was almost in tatters and the dog ears had fallen off, it was that old. Sometimes she narrated the stories to us and they fascinated me. This seems to be the earliest recollection of the reason why I started reading at a very young age. I think my mom hated the dull and drab existence that was her life and sought respite by reading this book though probably she knew the stories so well that she could rote from memory. Later when I joined the library, I used to get her books written in Hindi and she loved them so much. Sometimes browsing through the old books sold on the pavements, I came across a book in Sindhi and the hawker even sold it to me at a throw away price. She cherished these little gestures and motivated her into giving me those once fried potatoes.
When I was ten years old, mom discovered a musical way of waking us up. At 7 am she would switch on the radio and the sound of lovely bhajans(devotional songs) woke me up. However, I continued lying down with eyes closed because at 7.30 melodious old movie songs played till 8 when invariably a song by Saigal was played. That was a cue for me to get up. All this time, Mom never called even once to get up. School started only at 11 so we had a lot of time to get ready in. It was a mere 20 minute walk and we leisurely left the house only at 10 which still left enough time for us to keep our bags in the class room and go to the playground.
I have both good and bad memories about this school. I was considered among the naughtiest girls in my class. In fact I had a sneaky type of naughtiness which got other girls into trouble. However, my teachers caught on who was behind the antic. They always kept a sharp eye on me but never caught me red handed!
It was in this school, I met my best friend, Vijaylakshmi. A whole year went by and we became close only in the 6th standard. We did talk in the 5th but only sporadic. We sat next to each other throughout the 6th and 7th. Surprisingly, she was very possessive about me and didn’t like it when I spoke to other girls. We fought a lot when this happened. She never came out with what was making her angry. How was I supposed to know? Even in those days, I had the knack of ignoring people when they incurred my displeasure! In the end, she always ended up pacifying me and things were back to normal until the next fight. Where she always came 1st or 2nd in the class, I was somewhere around the 20th among 50 girls. Inspiteof being supremely intelligent she was a very down to earth kind of a girl and it never bothered her that I got such low grades. However, she did help me when I got stuck with maths. I imbibed the liking for maths from her. She never tired of explaining the sums till I understood and then it was for a whole lifetime that I never forgot. Her first project was to explain LCM and then HCF. Much later it was the decimals into fractions and vice versa. We were together only till the 7th when my dad moved to Secunderabad.(another city in South India). We however did keep in touch through letters.
I also remember a pastor residing in a small cabin like structure behind the statue of Mary. He was old and a very friendly person. He used to be very happy when we went visiting.
Another facet of my nature I remember throughout is that I have never asked anyone for money or anything else which could be bought with money. I never was that kid who pestered their parents for chocolates or video games or anything that children pester their parents for. Only once I begged my dad to buy me a pair of school shoes because I was sent back home and I didn’t want to miss my classes. My poor dad went around trying to pool enough money for my shoes. When he didn’t succeed, a kind hearted neighbor came up with a suggestion that everyone shell out whatever they could spare. Everyone agreed and came up with a rupee or a ten. Very soon there was enough money and I breathed a sigh of relief. This image is so clear in my memory. I can see myself, a 7 year old, in the arms of my dad as he carried me whilst running from pillar to post. That memory is stuck in my mind probably due to the very rare occasions my dad carried me. We were four girls and if they carried any one of us, the others would clamor to be carried too!
Some things when told to a young child often enough that child will tend to believe it. I lost count of the number of times I was told by my parents, uncles more than aunts, that I was changed in the hospital and I was not their daughter. Sometimes when it got too much, I would burst into tears and beseech them to take me back to my real parents. I was called by some nicknames like “the dark one” “Ugly” . All this because I was of a wheatish complexion whereas my sisters and mother were fair. Obviously I took after my dad but in those days girls had to be milk-complexioned or her parents would have to give a fat dowry to get her married. I really believed that I was exchanged and imagined my real parents to love me irrespective of my looks. These remarks stuck in my mind and for a good many years I thought I was ugly.
This story too got repeated often enough in my family and relatives circle. When I was born, my sister, who was just a year older than me, dragged me by my legs and dumped me outside the house and bolted it. Every time either my mom noticed and brought me back in or a passerby would knock on the door to tell my mom that a baby was lying on our doorstep. She even used to pinch me because there would be weals on my tender skin. All this happened when I was brought back from the hospital as a new-born. This went on for a few days till my sister was severely reprimanded by everyone. In the meantime, she found me more interesting than the dolls she had and treated me like one.
Strange but whenever I try to imagine myself as a child, an image of a dark-complexioned, a little sad and a little serious face would emerge. I try to picture a smiling me but not succeeding at all. It is only these last few years I remember myself as a fun type. And yet I was told I was naughty as a child!