Contrary to the popular perception of me, I’m a small town girl.
From a very,very small town in the Aravallis, which is the oldest zinc mine in the world; where they used retorts upside down and fired it from the top to extract the zinc from ore. A town so small, you wouldn’t know which kid was eating at whose house, and it wouldn’t matter, because you’d just walk somewhere and invite yourself for lunch. So small, that standing on the window sill and shouting was the best way of wireless communication. So small, that the cool area under the water tank was our picnic spot. So small, one dad in the area was assigned the task of teaching everyone’s child how to ride a bicycle.
In short, everyone was everyone’s child. Everyone was everyone’s bhaiyya or didi and aunty or uncle. Save for the parochial bongs who went into dada, kaku and mesho mode.
At 3 and a half, we all hung behind a school bus. It was worth the royal slap I got. Then I insisted on buying white glass bangles, one of which broke in one of the adventures fifteen minutes later, and it left a scratch on my wrist. That’s when I retired from this bangle-wearing business.
At 4, my boyfriend (at the time) and we set a bed on fire. No, literally. He’d learnt to strike a match. He asked me to get water to douse it. I got it in a soap dish. Let’s not discuss the consequences of the incendiary incidence.
At 5 and three-quarters, I fell down from a slide, and scraped my chin. My entire class pitched in to do my classwork and homework, because you can’t think or write without scratching your chin.
At 10, I wrote an essay, and ate a lot of kothbadi and keekar, the English names of which I’m not bothered to look up.I got a dressing down for chasing a peacock up a hill when the Republic Day parade was on.
You get the drift?
Everyone of all ages was allowed to play football with a tennis ball or anything round which could be kicked. As an asthmatic and a very clumsy kid, I was allowed extra rounds in sitoliya, because, well, we played fair like that. We even played fair-trade holi by getting those tesu ke phool (palash) for colour, and our neighbours, the Bohras, didn’t mind lamps on diwali on the shared parapet wall. I would wake up at azaan hours because it served like an effective alarm clock, or allah-ram clock as we used to call it. I gatecrashed many Christmas parties, and sang many a Christmas carol.
As a ritual, the new bicycles were handed over to the elders in the area and they’d inaugurate it by finding the freshest cowdung and cutting the cake. That was our rite of passage.
And when the guys taught me how to ride the selfsame bicycle without holding the handles, aunty C scolded me. Everyone on the street gave me the mom-eye for taking a risk with my life. As a precious and precocious child, it wasn’t allowed.
Then we grew up. Boys made banana shake and magnetic induction jokes, and when we girls couldn’t understand any of it, we sent two boys to spy, and they too came back converted.
I also stopped getting invited for kanya pooja, the one they hold for pre pubescent girls to protect the boychild or get one. I’ll never know.
The rest of it is a blur in the spotlight under the study table and hopscotch on punnet squares. And then one fine day, some more academic achievements later, I was given the red tie. Head girl. Easy yay.
What followed is anyone’s story of cutting the cake of the bullshit of adulthood.
Teachers’ day came by, and I was asked to be the Principal. While organizing the event, I said something in a brief moment of anger, -something I don’t remember. But I heard this sentence for the first time in my life – “We don’t want a *girl* to be the principal of the school.”
What followed is anyone’s story of cutting the cake of the bullshit of adulthood. The scarlet tie was my shame. The whole class, the whole set of friends – every person I’d known since birth – turned against me, in a heartbeat that skipped, and gave me palpitations. It ended with me tearing up, and tearing up every single memory that remained. That retort, that which was mine, turned my life upside down.
I am still katti with them all. They’ve all moved on. But somehow, I haven’t. With them, I am also katti with my childhood.
Hence, I’ll never know where exactly I will grow up.