Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Past Forward

I was in Prep, or Junior Kindergarten, my second year in school. My assigned seat in class was right next to the door, in the front row. It was two or three people to a desk – these strange trapezium shaped desks with coloured Formica sheets table tops. There were no personalized desks, and the one I was sitting on was blue. We wore red and white sleeveless uniforms that we had to wear with black Bata shoes.

The day started like a regular day. In all probability, I must have thrown a tantrum at home for not wanting to go to school in the morning. My mother would have coerced me into going. And so, there I was.

Turned out my ‘partner’ this very annoying boy was absent that day. Thank God.

Class began – The theme for the day must have been fruits, or animals, or something similar. I remember just after a few minutes, someone disturbed the class – a peon, or someone from the office accompanied by a little girl, not much older than most of us in class. She was wearing a pink skirt, and a white t-shirt. Not in uniform. I’d never seen her before. That meant she was a new girl. Yippee!

For some reason, I’d always loved the concept of a new kid in class. This image of a lost kid, not knowing anyone in class, not knowing which page we’re on, not knowing where the office, or the loos, or the canteen or the water cooler was, not knowing the rules in class etc, etc. And then I had this secondary image of me being somewhat of a saviour, helping the kid out, showing them around, and being friendly yet at the same time keeping my distance and the upper hand.

So the teacher and the office staff had a quick discussion, and it was inferred that the girl indeed belonged to our class, from now on. I figured that in those few minutes, the teacher had gathered all the essential information about the new girl. She was introduced – Her name was Aditi. (I mentally noted that it was especially similar to mine) Her family had shifted from the United States of America. (She was the first real person I knew from there. At age three, I found that rather exciting.) (The class seemed to show great enthusiasm for that bit of information.)

The teacher pointed to the empty seat next to me. Aditi was instructed to sit there.

As soon as she sat down, the entire classroom surrounded our table and wanted to know more about her. There must have been something exciting about her being a girl from the United States. All the girls wanted to be her best friend. Aditi seemed rather overwhelmed with this attention.

The teacher introduced me to her, and made some casual remark about the similarity of the names.

Smile. She seemed nice.
I decided that she would be my friend. I think, if I remember rightly, without her asking, I filled her in with what was happening in class.

Because our names were so similar, we immediately took a liking to each other. That moment itself decided that we should be the others new best friend.

In the following small talk, we found out some vital information about each other – both of us had sisters, hers was younger, mine older; and we lived practically opposite each other.

In the following years up till Adi left this school to join another one, we were nearly inseparable.
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When we were little, we owned one of those big beach-balls. We were my sister Urvi, my cousins Radhika, and Kush and me. It was a beach ball cliché – big and stripey and colourful – red, blue, yellow and white. Most of the times when we weren’t at the beach, it was deflated and stored in one of the cupboards.

So one day, when all the cousins were over, and talking about something that I as the youngest didn’t quite understand and found rather uninteresting, I left the room in search of something to entertain myself with. What I found was the deflated beach-ball.

(Here, I tell you a couple more details that will help you understand the story better – our flat was on the 12th floor and the building had a large compound that was always filled with wandering drivers, servants, watchmen, and children. Also, as a child I was easily and deeply and more often than not, lost in my imagination, creating and escaping to worlds that seemed more real than real life itself.)

So anyways, while in one of these trances, with beach-ball in hand, I found my way to the window and began dangling it outside in the air – making it fly, and do many cool things. During this act, my fingers lost grip and the ball fell 12 storeys to its death.

This was followed by an extreme rush of shock and fear within me and I could not bring myself to 1) tell someone older and wiser about the accident and 2) run downstairs and retrieve it. I remained silent and found something else to divert my attention.

An hour or two later, when the gang at home went downstairs to play in the garden, I tried searching frantically, staring at the uncluttered ground for the ball. I remember my brother asking me what I was doing, thinking me to be a bit strange, but for the years after, I don’t think anyone ever knew, or wondered where that beach-ball disappeared to.
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It must have been when I was around 4, maybe 5, I can’t remember, that I met my aunt and uncle for the first time. Of course the first time that I remember – they had seen me before, when I was in diapers and a cradle, but that hardly accounts for anything.

I knew Preeti Masi, and Zafar Masa were arriving – I was told that the night before meet them-give them a hug-be nice-be good-don’t fight with your sister-talk to them-reply when they ask you questions etc. etc. etc. I had heard so much about them in the past few years that I think I might have loved them already.

It was at some unearthly hour in the morning – around 3 or 4. I don’t know what the urgency was to meet them at that hour, after 4 years, what’s a few more hours? I was woken up by my mother, and instructed to go outside. I didn’t expect it to be this early. I hated even more than now to be woken up at hours I consider still fit for a good night’s sleep. I was wearing my very cute white night dress, which had a story with pictograms on it. I had chosen to wear that the night before, because I liked it, and I didn’t know which way Masa, Masi would like me, and I wanted them to like me. Also, the nightdress had a story to it, which if ever asked I had an entire speech to give about it, but unfortunately I wasn’t ever asked.

That night for some reason, my sister and I had slept in our parent’s room. I don’t know why, maybe it was because of the aunt and uncle arriving, who knows. My parent’s room was at the end of a long corridor which opened up into the living and dining room. I followed my sister out into the corridor rubbing my eyes, half asleep, half a zombie, half cranky, my eyes still adjusting to being awake, they hadn’t seen us yet. The ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ were standing, walking around, observing, surveying the living & dining room, considering this was the first time they were visiting this house. I remember them as two strange people dressed in dark colours (or was that because the room was mostly dark) with these very abnormally large suitcases.
They saw us.
There was this sudden morphing of expression on their faces, from wonder and speculation to recognition to a smile to joy to a let-me-give-you-a-hug. The excitement was undeniable and visible even through their hushed whispers (to not wake my grandparents) and limited gesturing. I realized they already liked, maybe even loved me – and I sensed it wasn’t because of the very cute white night dress. They did the regular thing, relatives seeing us after too long do – Are you Uditi? Are you Urvi? Are you the older one? Are you the younger one? Do you remember us? We met you when you were little. Oh you have grown so much already. Ameeta, I would never have recognized them, Uh, Preeti aren’t they cute etc. While my mother stood by looking absolutely proud and with the familiar oh-stop-now expression on her face.
Personally I never got it. Not now, not then.

So we hugged, a long-warm-tight-oh-we-missed-you sort of hug, they smelt nice and answered all the questions, with a smile on our faces, albeit slight and shy. I think my sister did all the talking, and me all the nodding, as is usual.

The next thing I remember-nothing intermediate-is us on a train to Pune. We were friends already.
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This is a series of three memories from my childhood. Each is recorded through an illustration and an essay, based on my personal and the complimentary personal memories of those who were part of the incident - to form the larger picture and piece together the collective memory.

The project was initiated to tackle history writing methodologies. While writing history, often facts are not confirmed, are based on prejudices of the historian, are edited according to the historian's preferences, are not mutually agreed upon by both sides and hence what you get is one-sided viewpoint. Here, I've used a different sequence for sourcing the information for each memory, to observe and compare the three memories.


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