Tuesday, June 27, 2017


was home. The place that was "Ghar". When we moved to Chennai in 1989/1990 I am not too sure when, walking down the railway station, I remember asking my mother, "Hum Ghad jaayenge na mummy?". 

I was predominantly under my grandmother's care who spoke neither English nor Hindi. I spoke Marathi and no Tamil. I perhaps got my talent of picking up languages from my mother. She had already learnt Marathi to a certain extent and was particular I speak it. My grandmother continued to speak to me in Tamil, took me to school and brought me back, I still have no clue why and how she managed. But I understand in retrospect that woman was made of super strong reinforced steel. 

My grandmother had three children. A son and two daughters. By the late 80-s both daughters no longer had their husbands around. One was taken away by cancer; the other left of his own volition for reasons best known to him. The son was someone I have met twice in my life. Otherwise this uncle character was non-existent. 

I have so many scenes from when I was 4 or 5 that are fresh in my memory. My father had already left us to our own devices when we were in Bombay. I remember one particular Holi celebration thing in our building. I hadn't 'paid' to be a part of it and I ended up eating a sweet or something that I wasn't supposed to as I hadn't contributed to be a part of. A 3 or 4 year old having an extra sweet was such a big issue that I was shivering in my shoes that my mother is going to scold me. When the other kids complained to my mother, she made them understand I was a child and I had no concept of money and paying. And she gave them the money. Took me up to the terrace later and there were balloons filled with coloured water. 

Gumboots. Footwear that I got to wear only on the rain-drenched roads of Bombay. I never saw them again (until I went to the US) and neither did I ever have to use them in my lifetime in Chennai. 

Walking to the school with my grandmother. Getting slapped by a really young teacher in school because I finished a year's work in one day. And my mom coming the next day and providing more books that I continued to finish. I guess the teacher was stressed about how to handle a kid like me and didn't know what else to do. 

I was a neat kid. I kept my stuff in place. I folded my uniform. As my mother said herself I was a blessing of a child - well behaved & obedient, I grew up to give her 'trouble' she'd say. My mom ran a very, very tight ship. This story that my mom repeats a lot is of when we were shifting from Bombay to Chennai and my mom told me to sit in a corner. My mom and paatti eventually forgot about me in all the work of packing and shifting. I had curled up in the same corner and had gone off to sleep. It was only after my grandmom's guttaral "adiyayyyyyy kozhandhai enna di panradhu" or something like that, that they realised time had passed by too fast.

And I would cry if it was Saturday and there was no school. My mom and grandmom would dread telling me there was no school. "Aaj school nahi haiiiii" and wail. 

I used to correct people who said "Gavaaskar" and tell them it is "Gaa-vas-kar" not "Ga-vaas-kar". I was a pronunciation nazi even then. 

I used to go to sleep saying "Parda Baaandh" and wake up saying "Parda Khollll". I guess I knew early that all the world is a stage. :p

I had a peculiar behaviour as a child. I had an over active imagination, made up stories and would say that out aloud to people walking by on the road. Either the listeners were amused or what, I dont remember but the strangest thing, I would throw things that were in our pretty humble apartment, plates and tumblers and toys and clothes to whoever I believed was poor. Some days my mother would wonder whats happening and where the things were going. Neighbours would collect whatever they could and give it back to us. Some of the stuff would be gone for ever. 

I disliked my name as a child. When asked what my name was I would say either "Mahalakshmi" or "Mehr-un-nisa" in our commute in the local train. My mom used to say she'd have co-passengers assume she married into a Muslim family. 

My mother worked with IDPA in Mumbai and on one of the trips with her to office, I had learned to say "Gaadwa sala" from the peons and I for some reason went and said it to someone in my babysitter's family. Ajji, as I used to call her. I got slapped :p. And me being me, my cheek was red as a beet for a while. I still remember that staircase, parts of that house and a boy there who used to wash his eyes often. I dont even know why I remember these scenes, but I do. 

My mother used to volunteer to rescue girls who were trafficked into the flesh trade and her help was most required when they needed to communicate with girls trafficked from Coimbatore, Salem, Trichy and Madras, in Tamil. Those kids, my mom recalled much later, used to cry that they'd be anywhere other than the hell they were in and were willing to cook and clean in exchange for food. On one of these trips, my mother left me in the care of two kids.. I remember an area that was perhaps a chawl or a hut. I am not too sure. A stool fell on my toe and I was bleeding. I was in the care of two very young boys, who I still remember, carried me and ran to the nearest doctor and gave me a chocolate and gold spot. I know for sure they couldn't afford that chocolate or that cold drink. I am not sure if I cried or bawled. But I remember the goldspot. :) 

The boys were scared to tell my mother but she knew how to diffuse the tension in such situations, hugged those boys, thanked them and we left. My toe still carries the memory. The nail hasn't stuck to the bed since. 

I used to wail and bawl each time my mom picked up the Tanpura. To me it was my competitor as it found a place on my mother's lap. I wailed and bawled each time the cooker whistle went off. I remember my grandmother wrapping my thumb with something so that I would stop sucking my thumb. Of having a phobia and giving my mother a hard time each time she poured water on my head. Of having a phobia of looking into the drum filled with water. I still gasp and cant down at a water body, whose depth and extent and I cant fathom. 

I left Bombay and with it I slowly pushed my knowledge of Marathi deep in the recesses of my mind.  

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