Bachpan Ke din Bhula Na dena

Never easy to forget where you came from, and how. Often the journeys lie in ourselves, like tid-bits and odds and ends secured away, bundled up and pushed at the back of some cabinet; they lie there to be found and revealed anew, in the solitary groping of things past, or in the mutual sharing of remembrance.

How often you’ve said to yourself let me return. To that laughing meadow called childhood, that dizzy merry-go-round, so dizzy you wanted it to stop because the fun and the laughter of it was choking you and you wanted a break. And in that break more memorable things happened. A caress. A hug. A kiss. A finger to hold. A lollipop to suck; or better still, cold chocolate and cream as long as a stick. And then a wipe. And then a wash. And then a change. And then a bed. And then a snugness that eventually became the shape of sleep. Cuddled. Coddled. Lullabied. Held. Held close and warm. That was childhood. For some. For a few some.

You’d wake up and wail and the coddling would resume as if you were the new gift of a new day. Baby soaps. Baby creams. Baby food. Baby toys. Oh baby, baby! There was that song too that was sung that way —- “Oh, baby, baby…” But that was about a baby of another kind. Pardon me. That baby and this baby, they are different babies. Such are the tricks that language plays. The ones you kiss and caress and put to sleep are called babies.

The ones you kiss and caress and put to sleep are also called babies. They are another kind of babies. Never mind. But that song. It had other lines. It also said something about it being a wild world. And something about that world being hard to get by.As hard as coming to believe that water, any water — bubbling, untreated, polluted, sieved off a puddle — is sweeter than mother’s milk. Because my mother’s milk has dried up in her breasts and her breasts have turned like shrivelled prunes. It’s all this heat and the walking with me sometimes and sometimes with that load of things on her head. It’s also feeding me all her share of water, like mother’s milk.

Can’t tell which is harder for her to carry. Me, or that unwieldy load. Don’t know what’s in there, didn’t know we had so much to truss up. Sometimes she flings me, sometimes she flings the load. I began to wail the other night, suddenly awake on the gravel by the roadside in the darkness. And my mother tore off my clothes, and that put me to rest. Oh, baby, baby, it was hot in those clothes. They were sticky, and probably they smelt too, because my mother made a face, like the face she makes when my father sometimes comes home. But there’s no him now, and I don’t know where we’re going.

In the afternoon — I can’t remember which, but it was afternoon because my skin felt like when I touched the griddle on the fire by mistake once — a bus came along and my mother rushed to its side and threw me. Up. But where exactly or to who I cannot tell. I screamed, mid-air, having left my mother’s hands and not having arrived in another’s. Oh, baby, baby, what a moment that was. On, baby, baby, the gravity I defied, the gravity I succumbed to. And then I struck something, hot and hard and poky, and I fell back into my mother’s arms and she made a face as if I had failed her or something, returned. I could only cry; my mother asked me why but what could I tell? It wasn’t one thing, there were so many things to be crying about. And then I saw a boy, not much older, and I thought what a lovely mother he had. And what a lovely childhood. He was draped, like a big doll, on the side of a suitcase, blissfully asleep, and his mother was dragging the case. It looked like a toy, that case, because it had wheels. And it seemed to me it might have been the boy’s birthday and he’d been clutching his gift. Such a childhood. Just stop.

When I was only small,

They put me in a nursery and they sold me a rhyme;

And I sang it always and for all,

Until one day it dropped on me it wasn’t

worth a dime.

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