Monday 14 November 2011

Farewell Childhood

Almost every one I know turns nostalgic when they talk about their childhood. They describe the days gone by in glorious terms, filled with innocence and abandon. I disagree. I believe that people who tend to romanticize the past are people who are unable to deal with the present.

I can deal with my present and I have no hesitation to admit that childhood for me was far from the carnival it is made out to be and thank God I’m not alone in this thought process. Pt. Ram Shastri, F.Scot Fitzgerald, Javed Akhtar, Sant Gyaneshwar have written extensively about their early anguished days. It is believed that most creative people have a troubled past because of which they transform into artistes.

I don’t know why but we are reared to believe that childhood is blissful while in reality it is an extremely turbulent, lonely and often frightening phase. It is a phase when you have so many questions and almost no answers.

Psychiatrists say that if adults peeped into the hearts and minds of their children they will never recognize themselves. Hindi films portray the young hero and heroine running into forests and plucking jamuns from a tree. In reality the sepia images are far from lyrical.

On many occasions I have tried to recreate my past in to postcards but unlike our films the images get blurred and dissolve. When I concentrate harder, incomplete visuals fall like dew-drops on my blank canvass and I weave my own story, part fact and part perspective.

I recall hazy images…

…A two year-old huddled in a cloth cradle placed in the centre of the room very often filled with guests and conversations. Young as I am I understand that getting out of my space will be an invasion into the adult world so I stay in my cradle soundlessly without stirring for hours...Only sometimes when the guests overstay and I’m uncomfortable I call out to my mother and ask, “Ma have the guests left..?” The guests are amused by my shyness and the family almost proud of my self control. “It is extra-ordinary to depict such restraint at such a tender age” they say.

Strange, nobody pauses to ponder what goes on in a child’s head…Why I behave the way I do. Can it be because most of the time adults are too busy and don’t pay adequate attention to children or perhaps they don’t sense anything amiss in their surrounding?

If I jog my memory further I recall a rope swing tied to the balcony door of our old home facing a crowded street. Every evening I’m put on this swing and pass my time watching the hawkers and the vendors. At dusk when my elder brother returns home after a tired day’s work he gently pushes my saddle and says to mother, “She sits there looking out of the window day after day…wonder what she thinks.”

We assume most of the time that children are day-dreaming but my brother had given thought to my silences and he was right. I was thinking. Day after day I was worrying about the vendors on the street… I was worrying about how they would carry their belongings and find their way home...Was I clear in my head to express this to them…? If I had would it not have frightened my parents..?

Today as I sit on my desk to write this article many montages play in my mind…

I remember my first visit to a Railway Station accompanied by my father. He bought our tickets at a modest window and then led me through a crowded passage to a tall bridge. It was a mighty iron bridge with circular design on the steps. I refused to climb the bridge for I feared slipping down from the little holes. My father was worried. He pushed three fingers inside the circular design and demonstrated why I could never fall down the steps. “You will fall down only if the bridge collapsed” he explained.
I remembered that. After that I prayed every night that the bridge must never collapse. One day, I forgot to pray. I was certain that the bridge had collapsed! In the morning I rushed to the balcony and was surprised to find the bridge in place. I felt betrayed. Had I wasted my precious time in worrying for an unworthy cause? My heart and mind was restless with questions but there was nobody to provide me answers.
I assumed I would resolve all my conflicts when I attended school but those were hectic days burdened with accountability. The school bag, the rain coat, the water bottle...One had to remember to wear the canvass shoes for the PT class, the salwar and ghungroos for the dance class, the Guide uniform for the extra curricular activities…Every day the time-table had to be checked, the home-work completed, uniform ironed and shoes polished.
There was too much to learn in too little time...How to walk in the rain and the floods, how to catch the bus on time and solve the Algebra sum, how to wash the lunch box and put it in your bag, how to cover the books and put the labels, how to remember the lessons, recite poetry and make presentation on the annual day.
It was a turbulent phase filled with self doubt and as time went by the anxieties only multiplied. The pressure of better grades, the pain of puberty, the rivalry in the class room, the embarrassment of pimples, the changing attitude of those around and the changes in your own body language. There was too much to cope and too little support.
Childhood was a lonely world…
Then one day, I still remember clearly, the family was travelling to a relative’s home by the BEST bus. As children we were trained to grab an empty seat to prevent from falling down in a moving bus. So that day like every time I charged towards an empty seat and was about to plonk when my older sibling pulled me up and seated my mother instead. I was confused by her action and when we got off at our destination asked her about it. “Because” she explained, “You have become a big girl now and Mother has turned old. It is her turn to be protected by us.”
I was not sure if I had heard it right but when I looked up the skyline appeared different colour that day. My sister’s words reverberated in my ears and in days to come there was ample proof of it. Anupam Kher once said in my interview that when we grow old it is usually others who make us aware of it. How true because a few days later for the first time Father sought my opinion on purchasing a new dinning table...Suddenly the older girls in the building did not stop whispering when I joined them...Suddenly I stopped enjoying being with my younger cousins.
Finally the umbilical chord with childhood was broken. Finally I had my passport to adulthood. Finally I was free to inhale and exhale, to make my choices and pursue my vision without seeking permission. I was free to make judgements, follow my path and speak my mind without interference. I was free to live my life and make mistakes, to regret or rejoice, to exercise caution or be reckless.
Unlike school or college adult life was a spinning ride without trappings. It provided all the answers I had been looking for all my life. Now I shopped my clothes, purchased my jewellery, decided the menu and even planned my investments. There was not a single door I did not know how to open or a single conflict I could not resolve. I knew how to win friends and influence people. I knew how to negotiate a better deal for myself at work place and when relationships soured, I knew how to restore them. I was no more weighed down by domestic or moral dilemmas.
I never missed my childhood and never craved for the days to return. Perhaps people who do are people who fear looking ahead. They fear getting old. I don’t because the older I get the wiser I turn. So what if there are a few grey strands in my hair today and my reflexes have slowed but ‘m less anxious and more enriched today than I was as a child.  According to me the real picnic begins now and there are innumerable examples before us. Indira Gandhi…Dhirubhai Ambani…MFHussain…Dev Anand…Lata Mangeshkar and Amitabh Bachchan have never looked back only ahead.
It is time we stop glorifying the flashback scenes where the hero and the heroine get lost in the dense forest and climb on to jamun trees…Who cares for the sepia tones. I want to lead my life in rainbow colours complete with Dolby sound. I don’t want to look back…Only forward.

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