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.