Akka (sister) and I were busy doing homework. I was the annoying ten year old, and she was the know-it-all thirteen year old. Our study tables were placed next to each other. Just like our beds.
We used to have a bunk bed – she would sleep on the top and I had the boring bottom bunk. Not much is remembered of that, because 5 year old akka would randomly stand up on the top – and Amma (Mother) decided that she needed to get rid of the bunk bed before akka started jumping from the top.
So, we got matching twin beds. I was always on the right side, and No, she could not cross the line and try to cuddle next to me at night, even by mistake. Each night, I would solemnly draw an imaginary line down the middle and say “This is my side, don’t cross it”. While she would just laugh, cross it, anyway – and we’d end up fighting.
A few weeks ago, in the midst of a crazy downpour, I was hurtling down a slick, slippery road in an auto driven by a maniac. I can be (more than) a little paranoid at times, and so I began to imagine gory accident scenarios – of the auto skidding and flipping over, and of me being pinned in the resulting mangled mess, and having to be cut out of it. And then, from nowhere, a memory from my childhood came flooding back.
It was 1992 and I had just turned 10 years old. I was living in a tiny 1BHK in Madras with my grandmother, attending a school I hated with all my being, while life as I knew it was quietly being dismantled back home in Bangalore.
His hands were wrapped tightly around his father’s waist. His cheek crushed against his father’s spine, as they slowed down rapidly to go over a speed breaker. A light mist covered the city and the roads, as father and son moved on a scooter which emitted smoke and sound in equal volumes.
The boy gripped on, looking plain terrified. He was not worried about his father driving rashly; which was near impossible. Not because his father was a careful man, but mostly because the scooter could not overtake a snail on sleeping pills. He was not even worried about the fact that it was the first day of upper grade school. That meant no more kindergarten, no more bossy old hags hanging around you, no more school meals, no more of that cajoling and petting and prodding that had almost driven him crazy.
The terror lay at the bottom of the bag that swung back and forth at the handlebars, as his father weaved through the non-existent traffic. He flung a look of deep disgust at it.
That’s how people described the area we first moved into. We moved to Thane (Mumbai’s do-i-need-a-passport-to-get-there suburb) some 20-odd years ago; a place that was a reclaimed dumping ground.
Andhon ke shehar mein kaana raja – literally, in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Sure, I stayed in a so-called-fancy ‘flat’ in the area among the sprawling chawls around, but once every year, I was made to realize where I really stood in the universe.
This memory is sponsored by Bollywood and David Dhawan.
If you ask me to name one thing that Bollywood does better than Hollywood, I’d say double roles. Seeta aur Geeta, Ram aur Shyam, Gopi Kishan, Chaalbaaz, Judwaa, and that movie with three double roles, Aankhein.
Double the stupidity, double the fun.
Not only in movies, but in real life as well.
It was the 4th standard Results-and-PTA day. Or that day of the semester when Mom took a half day leave from work to hear my teachers tell her how good I am and how good I can be if I attended school for more than 3 days a week.
Like other normal school kids, I was terrified of PTAs and Result days. However, unlike others, I always went for a preemptive strike and explained all that went wrong in that semester to Mom a few days before Results day so that there were no surprises.Every semester, I religiously reminded her that the ‘Very Good, Very Good, Very Good’ streak will stop at the box where it says ‘Attendance’. It will read ‘Satisfactory’. Ma, do not panic. Remember the food poisoning? Remember the 99 fever? Yeah. That. “Teacher tomake kichu bolug toh bole diyo shorir kharab chilo“*.
To quote Akshay Kumar, ‘everythingwasplanned‘.
“Aaji, when is your birthday?”
The question was innocuous enough, though it was the first time I had asked it of my grandmother.
“I don’t really know” she replied. Probably driven by the incredulous look dawning on my face, she added, “Aga, no one really bothered to keep track of these things when we were young. I had other siblings too, and in any case, everyone was too busy to think of celebrating birthdays.”
I was put in a crèche since the age of five because my mum and dad were both working and couldn’t leave me alone at home. As I later discovered, many of my schoolmates were also packed off to the same refuge of temporarily abandoned kids every afternoon under the watchful eye of Miss Leela, who would keep us there till our parents would come after work and pick us up. Miss Leela (aunty) was a middle aged lady with a stern face, a biggish family of four children, and a government servant for a husband. As the ritual went – every day, her family would vacate the house for work while we poured in. Come evening, we exited and they entered, leaving chance days when her only son and the daughters were occasionally home and could play with us.
Everything was well planned for the day. I would be dropped by the school auto rickshaw to this place along with three other friends. She would help us change out of school uniforms and hurry us all to the kitchen. Apparently, this was a part of the training she intended to impart. Strangely, I was used to eating with my left hand (in my head it left the right hand free for writing, colouring, etc. I think I have always been compulsive about clean hands).
I was the object of her constant annoyance because “good children eat with right hand only”. You had to finish with everybody else and not litter the place. It was almost a sin to be faster or slower and some slackers were regularly shamed for wasting food. Prayers were compulsory before lunch.