Trips back and forth
A dreamy mood is all that it took. I gazed up at the sky and noticed that kid… that kid running by. He seemed to be in a hurry, his hair, white as snow, afloat in the backdrop of the blue sky; he seemed to leap across it. Who was he? Running as if on a treasure hunt, his eyes I could not see. It was as if he was making a spirited effort to reach out to someone or something. And yes, he brought back to me the memories of days… days when, as an eight-year old, I’d watch the sky and see different countries and continents that bedecked the firmament in my imagination which, of course, was very real to me. I’d never discuss with anyone the thoughts I had about the sky or the world-map in my atlas. Perhaps I should have. Or perhaps I shouldn’t. Anyway, I didn’t.
One evening, I saw Africa in the sky, a silver lining around it. There were no people I could see on the face of it. The face was woolen white. Perhaps the people, the grasslands that I’d read of, and the Sahara, were on the face opposite to the one I could see, I thought. I thought I’ll learn to fly, fly a kite for kites seemed to reach all places in the sky. Everyday I’d arrange for a coin to buy a kite – some days my mother gave me the one-rupee I needed, some days some uncle or aunt. A typical Indian “mohalla” of the lower Indian middle class it was, that I lived in. My house was, however, the most beautiful I’d seen. The open verandah was bejeweled with nature’s greenery, a creeper it was – I forget its name but it had pinkish flowers that would often fall, the floor swathed in them. The roof of the house had flowerpots too – we had the marigold, the rose, the cacti and flowers I could not name. The house was a home – a two-room house that wasn’t extended to three to save some space for the creepers and the flowers.
And yes, every evening, though I didn’t see Africa after that particular evening, I’d try and fly, fly a kite. What I often saw were shapes I could not name for perhaps they were some distant lands that I did not know of and which neither my atlas depicted. Every evening my attempts at flying the kite were thwarted by my own desperate efforts to make it fly. For these attempts of an eight-year old, no kite could bear, and before long, it was torn or broken even before I could make it fly. My neighbours often watched me do that. As a child, I was too conscious. I could see (or so I imagined) that they laughed at my inability to fly the kite – their silent sarcasm prodded me to try and try and one day, I found the kite could fly! Thrilled, excited, delighted I was, as if my kite conquered the skies. And I wanted to show everyone that my kite did fly!
As a four-year old, I remember, in a rented house we stayed. It was my birthday. Dad had gifted me a toy-gun that had an arrow-like thing that stuck to the wall whenever I shot it. The moon that night was too “big”, ‘twas a full-moon night. It seemed to me close enough for my arrow to strike it. It was too big to miss, I thought. I aimed carefully at the shining white disc in the sky and in the darkness of the night illumined by the moonlight I shot at it, only to lose my arrow in the dark. I could not, that night, find it again. It had reached the moon! But how do I get it back? I was worried and so remained until in the morning I found my arrow on the roof of the house. It was lying there and I was delighted to find that the friendly moon had sent it back to me. Thank you, moon, my heart exclaimed!
Once, when I was about ten, I was returning home with my mother after school. I held her finger as we walked back home – mama’s boy I was. Mischief wrought havoc and poor me, I picked up some peanuts from a street-side vendor’s ‘thela’ (the four-wheeled carriage that they use). He caught me. He accused me of stealing. I knew not what to do. Mother knew it pretty well. Some slaps – I remember not how many – were instantly imprinted on my cheeks and in my memory. But that wasn’t all. The real show began when I reached home. About a hundred hold-your-ears-sit-down-get-ups I had to do, holding the two ears and repeating, “I won’t repeat it”, while mother’s cane occasionally rendered some shots on my tender buttocks. It was a lesson of a lifetime. I cried a lot, said sorry, and later mama hugged and kissed me. That was the first time I took something without permission – I stole peanuts – and that was also the last. I’ve often learnt things that way, the hard way.
In the hill-station of Almora I’d begun my schooling at St. Agnes ’, in pre-nursery, at the age of two years and a half. There were just two kinds of things for us kids to play with. One was a number of duck-shaped rocking structures in which two kids could sit at a time, swaying back and forth. And another was a desolate wooden horse. Poor thing, it couldn’t rock. It stood there, rock solid. For some unknown reason that horse fascinated me and though it couldn’t rock, I’d always sit on it, alone. That was how I played with it. And I doubt if I ever took to the ducks. A vague image of the time is that on the way to school I had to take a flight of stairs, and I’d often see a pile of shit on the stairs. One day, as she tells me now, my mother was telling a neighbouring aunt how good a boy I was – that I would never wet the bed nor my pants. That very day, I came back home, uncomfortable in those wet pants of mine, as if to claim that I wasn’t that good a boy, after all!
Today, I’m not wetting the bed or my pants, I’m not playing with that desolate broken horse which might perhaps have vanished by now or been replaced by one that could rock, I’m not shooting at the moon, I’m not searching for Africa, and I’m not flying any kite. Perhaps, I am too grown up to do all that. Perhaps I am not. After all, I still climb trees on a whim, blow feathers in the wind, and catch the dancing falling leaves. I still haven’t perfected the boomerang I was fascinated with once upon a time. And I have only started making sand castles and those will take a long time to be more creative with. Though I know the boy I can see leaping across the sky is one of the clouds, clouds that know how to float across the sky, assume myriad shapes, and hoodwink the like of me into believing that there was a continent up in the sky.
Today, I am just sitting at my desk and wondering how I used to wonder. I hit (as I still do every now and then), frequent (albeit erratic) bumps along that most mysterious and unpredictable of curves they call the ‘learning curve’. This learning curve has taken me on a ride from pre-school to college and then to grad school; from the ‘A, B, C’ to the ‘alpha, beta, gamma’; from a kid to a grown-up, and trips back and forth.