Sunday, October 31, 2004

A room from the past

Today, for the first time in nearly 15 years, I stood in the room where I spent my earliest days. Childhood bedroom. Not relating any background details here but it felt so strange, so spooky. If it’s true that we leave a part of ourselves, a ghost, in every place we ever visit or pass through, how many different ghosts might dwell in that 14 ft by 14 ft physical space where one spent one’s childhood? There’s me, getting up in the morning, sullen and bleary-eyed, making excuses for not going to school; there I am hurriedly eating a gooey, half-boiled egg in a little bowl before rushing for the school van; reading about the Gingerbread Man in a Ladybird edition (reading level four), or the Jataka tales in an Amar Chitra Katha; putting my audio cassettes in a neat little row (with my prize acquisition, Amar Akbar Anthony on side A and Naseeb on side B, right on top). And so many less-than-happy memories too…

I hadn’t seen the room in over a decade and I hadn’t even thought about it (save for fleeting little memories where the setting was a given) all these years; but when I stood in it today it felt like nothing had changed at all. Which is whimsical and sentimental, I know, for everything’s changed.


  1. This was a brilliant blog! I don't have many exciting memories of any 'home' as such... Dad working with the Indian government meant that every two years we would pack our bags, trunks etc and head for another town, another city. My mum’s constant complaint was, “There’s no time to decorate the house. The minute I start unpacking we have to start packing and move to another place.” So, I really didn’t belong to any place, any residence or any lane in particular.
    My ‘home’ was the hostel in a sleepy town of Ajmer. And I never cribbed ‘bout my life in a boarding school. On the contrary, it was comforting to be with so many kids my age. It was actually comforting that pimple marks was a calamity that had not just hit me but also others my age. No one was saying, “Oh! It’ll be fine. Forget it.” Everyone around me was cribbing with me, “OOOH! MY GOD! HOW ON EARTH WILL WE SURVIVE THIS??” The point is, at that time I heard exactly what I wanted to hear. No grown ups giving gyaan like, “Arre! Tumne zindagi dekhi hee nahi hain!” If I had a problem of pimple marks it was sheer bliss to know that others were coping with the same problem too. It was nothing more nothing less for anyone. It was a time when I thought that all people on this planet were leading the same lives, facing the same set of problems (boyfriend-breakups etc etc) and overcoming them because problems obviously weren’t meant to last (The boyfriend mantra for instance, was simple. Forget the old guy and find a new one before Feb 14th and manage a Valentine card).
    Our lives revolved around the ‘bell.’ The day started at 6 am when sleepy heads went to the loo, changed, had a glass of hot milk with Parle-G biscuits and started doing PT on the grounds by 6.30. Then it was breakfast, classes, lunch, singing and dance rehearsals, tea break, games time (duffers like me sat in the cupboard and bunked games for years), homework time and finally dinner. When it was time to take some ‘pangas’ we were doing our bit. Sneaking in tuck from the canteen for a midnight feast, sharing a beer can between seven girls and insisting that we were ‘completely talli’, preparing heart shaped PARLE G birthday cake for a friend and keeping it near the window overnight so that the ‘cake could set’, watching television, giggling and gossiping, passing letters for boys across the roads and ardently helping guys to meet their girlfriends at odd hours (1.30 am, 2.00 am, better still 3.00 am).
    THAT was life and I loved every minute of it. And then I realized the biggest lesson… That life was not the same for everyone. That lives changed, people changed, events took place and words like ‘circumstances’, ‘struggle’ and ‘destiny’ were suddenly such an intrinsic part of our vocabulary.
    And, somehow accepting this has been the hardest lesson for me.

  2. Ya well, I sometimes do wonder what it's like for people who've spent most of their childhood moving from one place to another, never really settling down anywhere for any length of time. Some of my friends have parents in the Army and I wonder what it was like for them. Haven't had that experience myself; I've basically lived my life in just three homes (one of which was just for a little over a year)

  3. you know who this is, right? I have been itinerant so long, and so frequently, that I become uneasy, ill-tempered and restless when I stay in one place too long. At the same time, shuttling around, like the Japanese MRT on steroids, makes me unhappy, lonely, and aggressive as hell. Catch-22, only more so.

  4. My childhood has basically been a continuous movement with us not living in a country beyond a maximum of four years.

    What I have learnt along the way of experience of settling in new places, making new friends, painful partings is that while all the places I have stayed have a special place in my memory, they are part of history and do not really mean anything when I revisit them now. I did feel a strange sensation when I had the occasion to visit one of my childhood homes, but I could not relate anymore in the present.

    My home I have discovered is not the physical place where I or my family may live but basically my mother, where she is, is my home. She defines the physical place called home for me.

    (I don't know why but reading a couple of your old posts today seem to be evoking strong personal reminiscences and thoughts from me)