As I scroll to my next page on my Kindle trying to digest the daunting details of Dostoyevsky’s short story “the dream of a ridiculous man” the wailing little girl in the story suddenly springs up memories of my own wailing as a kid on my way to my Kindergarten, Jagadamaba Shishuvihara on maid Channamma’s trunk. I take my eyes off the Kindle and stare at the wall looking back at my childhood days.
“Do you know what happens to children who refuse to go to school”, my father’s roar rings in my ear from my Amygdala. He pinched my left ear and holding it took me to the dishwashing area behind our house as I followed him wincing. He pointed at the perfectly formed round brickets of Cow dung hurled on the wall and shouted: “You will end up throwing balls of Cow dung on the wall for a career like our maid Channamma”.
The Gold Chain that he gifted to me when I completed my Engineering Degree with distinction appears less significant now compared to the ear pinching correction that he gave me.
I smile at the memory, fold my Kindle and close my eyes taking a journey into my childhood.
I was surrounded by smells and fragrances right since the day I was born. My father’s incense business was thriving and my parents were living at our incense factory to keep vigilance and I lived with them till I was three. The blended perfumes stored in large stainless steel vessels,aluminium containers of natural floral and animal extracts stored in wooden racks in the ‘scent room’ and the smell of Vanillin fascinated me.
The building on 100 Feet Road where we produced our incense products and where I was born was rented out to us by Mantralaya Mutt in Mysore. The building, constructed during Tipu Sultan’s period was subsequently bought by Raghavendra Mutt from one Mr. Ali Khan. The place was not occupied for a very long time since it was dreadfully rumoured that building was haunted. My father, a rationalist, did not bother about invisible obstacles and rented the large building for less than a reasonable rent.
Rain trees planted on either side of the wide road had become huge and hosted many different birds. Their early morning calls and chorus are a fond memory. The whooping calls of Cranes are still so nostalgic that even now my brother Sridhar and I engagingly look at each other at the Tennis Court whenever we hear their cries.
We had four Bedford vans that were used for sales and two bullock carts for local transportation of materials. The rocking rides to the Octroi office on those carts with the fragrant wooden cases in them are still green in my memory. Chain smoking, bow-legged Siddappa taught me how to manoeuvre the bullocks by the rope.
My brother Sridhar and I pestered supervisor Bashir for swords made from wooden planks for us to fence like Spartacus. While fencing, I once hurt my hand when a sliver of wood slipped into my finger. My father’s hasty footsteps with his angry stare at the sight of my bleeding finger brought an end to our swords. We also made bows and arrows with bamboo sticks and jute threads, which, again, got banned since the sharp end of the arrow scared the hell out of Father. We created our own adventure since the only instrument for entertainment was our imagination.
My brother Sridhar was just 15 months older than me and my ‘go to’ mentor. We were very close and carried out many childhood adventures together.
Our very first Tom Sawyer moment was a heist together when I was four and he was Five. We robbed away an entire bamboo basket full of the irresistible Nippattus and kept on top of the Kitchen platform. Nippattus are deep-fried and delicious spicy snacks made from gram flour and rice flour. Not getting enough from the live-in cook, we carried the entire basket to the attic, climbing the eight-foot stepladder that led up to it. We ended up spending the whole morning chatting and eating almost the entire basket blissfully in the attic. After having finished more than half of the basket, Sridhar suggested that we should not to get out of the attic before sundown lest we were caught and punished. At some point during our adventure, we dozed off and went to sleep. Noticing the unusual silence and then realizing our absence, Kakki, our domestic cook notified my brothers. Everyone started searching for us. We were just not to be found anywhere. Guru and my brother-in-law came rushing back from the factory worried, tense. Just before approaching the police to report us missing, my brother-in-law Annaji Rao, decided to take one more look around the house. He ruled out the attic as it was dark, dingy and needed a climb up the eight-foot ladder and assumed that we were incapable of climbing up all the way and sitting in the dark space by ourselves for so long. He thought of checking out just as well and burst out laughing as he saw the two of us sleeping. Like always, the elders had underrated us.
I was moved out to live with my grandmother, six older brothers and my older sister when I turned three. I did not have a separate bed till I was 6 or 7. I would sleep alongside Guru, my oldest brother or Vanaja my sister 14 years older than me with a warning not to fart while asleep and if I did I would be made to sleep separately.
As the youngest of the seven brothers I was lucky for I was easily forgiven for my mischief. My brothers were more influential in my childhood than my parents.
Childhood memories are essential in life because they create a benchmark for happiness. When we bring out the child in us by shedding our egos and laugh and act like kids we genuinely experience joy.
During these testing times and lockdown, switch off the TV, set aside your Smartphone, go back to your childhood.
Narrate all your fond memories to your family members, and don’t miss any opportunity to bring out the child in you while you do that.