Lately I have been feeling nostalgic with the intensity of a dying man. I cannot remember a great many details of my life as well as I previously could. Numerous memories seem to have surreptitiously slipped my mind. And some never revealed themselves to me.
When I was born, my father was extremely busy with his new role as editor for a young magazine and mother juggled between her unbelievably wayward four-year old along with my newborn needs. Ten months passed breezily after which we lost dad in a tragic bus accident. The state of shock and disbelief lasted longer than I could understand or perceive. Ever since I’ve come to my senses and understood the gravity of my loss, I’ve tried to re-construct him through his beautifully descriptive diaries as well all possible incidents, anecdotes and impressions I could gather from others – family and friends. As in the case with most deceased people, everybody usually speaks of him with regard and respect. Although after drilling mother excessively, I have come to know his flaws as well, which have made him more human in my eyes though not any less remarkable.
A self made man despite hailing from a modest background, wherein even basic amenities struck as extravagance or luxury. But his refined demeanor and neat ways reveal his lotus-in-a-pond stature. Realizing the limitations of his family, he took upon himself to support his graduation by teaching others. He worked hard and came to the city of Mumbai and soon enough worked his way into a promising career in journalism. He was enormously multi-faceted. He wrote on art, movies and socialism and loved nature, gardening and creating things. He interacted with people from all walks of life and made friends with his easy-going manners. Even so, he could be quite distant to people he took an instant disliking to. He was specific in his objectives but liberated enough to not expect anyone else to do things for him unless they wanted to out of their own will. In fact, he was quite ahead of his times and thoughts when compared to most men of his chauvinistic generation.
No wonder he was able to win my equally fiery and fiercely independent mother’s heart. They met on a train — within a year they were married and happily settled in their nest. At 29, he had his own house and he was sharing his life with the woman he loved at first sight doing what he loved best — writing. It’s fascinating, his story.
But I am unfortunate for even though I know him I don’t really know him and I have never heard his voice. And most of all, I don’t know how he felt about me. He wasn’t vocal about such things. He wasn’t emotionally expressive. I know he didn’t want me because my mother had a critical first pregnancy and, understandably, he didn’t want his wife to go through any further trauma. I don’t grudge him that. However, I do wish to know how he treated me, our moments together. All I know is he would feed me tiny morsels of breakfast before he left for work and spanked me lovingly when I tore the front page of Illustrated Weekly with a young tot’s wholehearted enthusiasm.
Because of the unexpected series of circumstances that followed after his death, mom has forgotten a crucial chapter of life. And it’s not just because she was in extreme shock but because she had to raise us. We couldn’t wait. Life couldn’t wait. She had to put her agony behind and get back on career mode (she had quit working), start a whole new career in journalism from scratch. While she got busy with her efforts, I grew up, ignorant of the questions I’ll ask myself later.
There were no photographs for a long time. There were no memories. I ask everyone questions about those first few years but I can sense they are making futile attempts to remember me. It’s pathetic and amusing at the same time. I know they do not remember. It was a hard time, and those memories had to be blocked to survive and move on. So I took it on myself to try and trace me. I have vague flashes of the time when I was four years old. I remember myself much better from age five.
And this is what I’ve gathered: I was a melancholic, shy and nervous kid for the world but a spoilt handful for my mother. She was the only person I liked and spoke to. I thought I owned her, really. I think I still do. I had a terrible rapport with my brother. He was too angry with the unknown forces about losing his father to cope with anything else and I was often at the receiving end of his bitterness. Luckily, things became wonderful on that front in the future.
I began going to school when I was two years old because there wasn’t any crèche and the elderly amma (a portly old lady who loved me dearly) couldn’t come before lunchtime. I was too young for school but I liked scribbling on the slate or fiddle with a colorful Chinese counting rod.
Since my first birthday wasn’t celebrated and the others that followed were nothing grand either, mom decided to host a lavish celebration for my mundan ceremony. Getting my head shaved bald didn’t seem an exciting prospect at first but when mom said I’d get a lot of gifts, I reluctantly agreed. She was right. I got more gifts then I probably received during my wedding. From steel crockery to cash, toys and books, silver and gold jewelry, clothes and even a brand new slate – you name it. I cannot remember the food but I do remember crates and crates of Goldspot, Limca and Thums Up. Some of us kids mixed them up and thought we had created alcohol and insisted we are woozy after a sip. I cried bitterly as the barber shaved my hair. All the while I held on to my mom like a scared kangaroo baby, tearing the pallu apart by constantly pulling her sari pinned around the shoulder area. In retrospect, I admit I made the cutest taklu (baldhead) on this planet. Dressed in a pure white lace, three-tiered outfit with a matching hat, custom made by a bunch of Parsi ladies in Colaba that specialized in wedding gowns, I looked like a little bride myself. Albeit a bald one.
The only two gifts I can recall from the event are a set of books I got from my mom’s boss. They had exquisite illustrations. And a pair of silver bangles from our family doctor. I still have the bangles but I cannot find the books. I am pretty sure they’re still in the loft at my old place somewhere.
Just like the hope I will discover the forgotten pieces of my existence someday.