Monday, October 02, 2006

Memories of childhood

My earliest memory is of Saroja - not a coherent picture, merely a wisp of an image of a smiling person I adored. I was apparently 2 years old then and Saroja was a maid in our house. I don't remember anything till almost a year later, in a different city, I remember running between rooms in a long corridor shouting meaningless things trying to sound impressive to my uncle and aunt. I especially remember very clearly the puzzled expression on my uncle's face. I was later told that they had just had their first child and I now wonder if the bewilderment was actually fear that their daughter might also terrorize unknown people with meaningless statements some day. I also vaguely remember a boy and girl from some house nearby who would occasionally play with me downstairs around the house.

My clearest memories, when I became aware of myself as an independent entity seem to be after I started school at the age of 3. It’s as if from then on, life acquired color and texture and form. I didn't even like school very much. I remember crying every day, every single day about not wanting to go to school, hating it, protesting, screaming, sobbing, dragging my feet on the ground. I remember the kindly face of Mrs. Emmanuel and my desire to impress her. I remember writing meaningless things like the alphabet without knowing what they were or why they were needed. I remember walking from home to school accompanied by my grandfather mostly, but sometimes riding on the bicycle with my father's peon Srinivasan. Sometimes my mother would give me a mint lollipop as an incentive for me to go to school. I still recall the sheer joy of the moment - of motion on the bicycle and of the minty sweetness of the lollipop. There couldn't have been a happier girl than me then.

I remember Meenakshi the huge menacing servant maid who was sometimes sent to escort me to school, standing and peeing behind trees enroute, while I was made to wait. And when I protested, she would step on my toes hard, really hard, squishing my toes till I screamed with pain and couldn't think of anything else but the pain. I hated her so much. And yet I was powerless and sent to school again and again with her. I remember playing with her daughter though, a lass a few years older than I, making idlis out of dried red mud.

Another memory - a friendly watchman in a big rich looking house located on the way to school. I remember the house too - a house covered with colours and colours of Bougainvillea. Every time I waved to him, he would give me a bouquet of the pink, orange and red flowers and this was truly a highlight of going to school.

Of the school itself I remember little, except a vague feeling of terror at being caught not knowing English; or being caught not knowing to count beyond 100. To me, numbers like alphabets were another strange concept that meant nothing beyond the rhythmic chant of repeating them in sequence. I also remember being hit on the knuckles, being asked to kneel down on the table, and even worse, standing upright on the table for an entire hour because I didn't do my homework or answer something right. Among all subjects I remember Moral Instruction the most, because Mrs.Monto the instructor guaranteed us that we would all end up in a sea of tea - or thats what I thought. This possibility was intriguing and caught my imagination as I imagined myself floating along in cardamom scented sugary syrup. Later I came to know that she meant 'Thee' the Tamil word for fire, and not Tea. I don't know what kind of person threatens first graders with burning in hell for eternity, but I am very glad for the Thee Tea misunderstanding.

I even begin to remember individual classmates at this point - Durga Devi, Singaram(who always said Rhesus when he meant urine), Javed (the curly haired spectacled boy who seemed to know everything) and Kavita (the most popular girl in class). How does one become popular in first grade at the age of five and acquire a following? I guess some people are truly born leaders!