Forget me not: Scenes from another childhood

Strange, the things we remember from our childhood. I remember running away from the doctor’s clinic all the way to my house (a good 15-minute walk) at age seven, when I overheard mention of ‘an injection’. “I am so good at finding my way back from anywhere,” I thought then.

I remember being curled up in a hospital bed, reading Picture Post, and eating gallons of ice cream post my tonsilitis operation at age nine. Somehow, the ice cream didn’t taste as good when I didn’t have to fight for it.

I remember feeling a little happy-sad whenever my answer sheets were read out loud by my teachers in school. “The more they applaud me for my academic brilliance, the less my chances are of being cool,” I thought. All I wanted was to grow tall and get those curves. I wanted to be the bad girl, the back bencher, the one who didn’t have to know the answers. I wanted straight and silky hair that would get tossed when you toss it. My long, unruly, curly tresses never listened to me. As punishment, they were oiled and plaited for years.

I remember going for haircuts with my dad to his barber and feeling quite nice that they never complained how thick and curly my hair was. I hated ladies’ salons.

I remember my cat Pushpi giving birth to four kittens one morning at my feet while I was sleeping. She seemed really busy, licking her babies who climbed all over her, attacking her teats, their eyes half-shut. They looked ugly, and clumsy, like wet mice with no ears. This is what motherhood must be like, I thought.

I remember my mother staying up with me all night, as I struggled to breathe with my asthma. She tried everything – propping a pillow, rubbing my bony chest, giving me a hot water-bottle to hug, feeding me warm water with honey, fomenting my lungs with bags of roasted salt or ajwain. And she went to work the next morning at 6.15 am. Being a mother was hard, I thought.

I remember my parents fighting and me wondering if I would get to choose who to be with, if they separated. My father meant wanderlust, newness and culinary journeys; my mother was about security, consistency and the warmth of home. I wanted both, and I was always confused. Decades later, I am still confused. They still fight. They are still together. I can’t believe children keep parents together. There must be more.

I remember hoarding all the goodies my dad got — scented erasers in animal shapes, pencil boxes, stickers, little notepads for doodling, really long pencils, 3D scales and other things — and allotting them to my siblings as if it was my loot. I always kept the best stuff, but I thought they wouldn’t notice. My brother told me recently how much he resented it.

I remember poking a boy in grade four with my pencil, because he told me his point was sharper than mine. It missed his cheek and got his eye. He got a clot. I got outcast. Years later, he accosted me in a college canteen. “Are you the girl who poked a boy in the eye? I am that boy,” he said, shaking my hand. “You have the same smile,” he added. He wrote me notes. He made me tapes. He broke my heart.

I remember my mother knitting for every child in the family, however old or young. I also remember that bag where she kept little rolls of leftover yarn from her various knits. Those were for us. Once she ran out of wool while knitting a peach sweater for me and couldn’t find a matching shade, so she used orange, hoping I wouldn’t notice. I did. Everyone did.

I remember Rishi Kapoor. And his vibrant, multi-coloured polo-necked sweaters. My mother made mental notes from his movies and copied each one of his sweaters for the three of us. So there we were, romping in Rishi Kapoor-polo-necks in Bombay winter. And one day, the school announced that all sweaters should be red. I was a little sad that day.

I remember my mother’s baking and her mixing the baking soda, sugar, flour and cinnamon powder in geometric proportion. Her cakes always rose. “She’s so perfect,” I thought, “I am never baking.”

The funny thing is, we spend so much time trying to create happy memories for our children, but we never know what will stay in their minds. And that is the great unknown of parenting.

This piece first appeared as my column in the Indian Express Eye magazine on Sunday, September 16, 2012


15 thoughts on “Forget me not: Scenes from another childhood

  1. Superb post… I wonder about this myself too. My 3-year-old son remembers the strangest things out of our adventures together and finds adventure in the simplest events.

  2. What a lovely post lalita! Had a very balming effect on me and brought back memories hidden away..the bottomline about creating memories nonchalantly while attempting to create those that may or may not stay is so right!!

  3. Wow… beautiful post… childhood memories… siblings… mothers.. everything sooo sacred and so precious to us. At times I find myself almost struggling to replicate my childhood for my kids. then i end up realizing AGAIN that mine will be just mine and my children’s memories will be theirs alone. At the most, they’ll share memories with their siblings like they share a set of parents. Like I share my childhood, my memories with my sister. beautiful post.

  4. Dear Lalita Iyer,
    Read your article “forget me not” and as mentioned that you had asthma attacks. Please get it checked up may be you are allergic to cats, which leads to asthma attacks. My daughter had the same and was found out after allergy tests.

    • Dear Capt Sharma. The asthma was hereditary, got it from my grandfather. The cats came in much later. I wouldn’t worry for my child, coz it has been scientifically proven that children exposed to animal fur early in life actually become immune to all their allergies. Touchwood, Re is very healthy.

  5. Loved this blog post. Thought of these lines from a favourite poem by John Burnside…
    “Give me a childhood again and I will live
    as owls do, in the moss and curvature

    of nightfall
    but never really seen,”

  6. I almost cried as I read this soniaFrom: mommygolightly <>Sent: Sun, 16 Sep 2012 18:40:41 To: soniacardoz78@rediffmail.comSubject: [New post] Forget me not: Scenes from another childhood

    mommygolightly posted: “Strange, the things we remember from our childhood. I remember running away from the doctor’s clinic all the way to my house (a good 15-minute walk) at age seven, when I overheard mention of ‘an injection’. “I am so good at finding my way back fro”

  7. Haa haa… I remember dad scrubbing me with besan and malai! Yes, I was his doll. My brother stealing tamarind and hiding them in my toys. Mum teaching me tables and I got bored and fell asleep! I lost mum when I was 9 and dad at 18 but they still live with me through their memories! Today at 32 it means the world to me! Thanks for the lovely post!

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