Missing My Childhood Enchantments

Our childhood is filled with moments of fixation that transport us into parallel worlds. What enchants us as we grow older?

marbles

It could last for a few moments or carry on for several years. The child’s fascination with objects and people is mysterious and unpredictable. A crinkly, red cellophane would be my rage for all of 10 minutes on a Sunday morning, and next week I would be obsessed with my Barbie, carefully brushing her hair over and over again. I was especially delighted when my mother would buy me a tea set, either in glass or plastic; I would invite the neighbor’s little girls and serve them make-believe tea and biscuits on the finger-sized cups and saucers.

As I grew up, stationery became my favorite possessions. I couldn’t be parted with these things and I would hoard colorful, patterned, fancy pencils – sometimes even steal from other kids or pick up abandoned stuff from the classroom and stake my claim. Farther along the age lane, I began to treasure books, beginning with Enid Blyton’s earliest collections of Noddy. At the same time, I loved my box of satin ribbons and my jar full of glass marbles. I would count the marbles everyday to ensure my brother hadn’t taken any and spend hours gazing through the swirled, patterned universe of the blue, green and gray roundels. I never got tired of twisting the marbles between my thumb and index finger, sitting alone in the balcony, letting the full gaze of the sun pierce through the solid rocks.

In my teens, I became an avid coin collector. My classmates from school were instrumental in giving me coins from around the world, but it was my banker father who first sparked the love of numismatics in me. The thrill was about imagining the countries from which the coins came, the legends on the side, the year it was minted, and observing any special characters on the obverse. The foreign script on the coins fascinated me and I promised myself I would learn all the languages of the world someday! Today, 15 years later, I still have those coins. While I don’t spend much time in pursuing this hobby anymore, I still smile insanely when I take out the pouch of coins from the cupboard and spend an hour or so in just going through the larger, heavier and more older coins.

My father is an avid stamp collector and has more than 10,000 stamps from around the world in his albums. As children, my brother and I were awestruck with the sheer range of stamps – the size, the colors, the characters and figures – it was like reading a micro-story, published on a single panel. Try as we might though, we just didn’t carry on our father’s love for philately into our teenage or adult life. We outgrew the fascination.

Today, having lived more than a quarter of a century, I am left with this empty feeling: I do not have any definite hobbies. Apart from writing, which I consider a passion and also a means of earning, I don’t indulge in enchantments anymore. Writing is also a conscious act of meditation. I think about a particular topic I want to write about and just go on to write. But writing doesn’t enchant or fascinate me.

What I lament is my inability to find that “sparkly, red cellophane” that can keep me hooked for immeasurable moments. Those enchantments allowed me to push the centrifugal concerns of my childhood – homework or sleeping on time or missing TV on weekdays – to the background and focus on something utterly inconsequential. Today, when I think about pursuing a hobby, more often than not I think about excuses for not taking it up. I worry about the money I would have to spend in picking up a hobby or the effort it would take to drive from home to a hobby center somewhere in the city. I also think about the “worth” or “purpose” of pursuing a hobby.

The other day, when I took out my dwindling collection of ribbons and unspooled the smooth length of satin, I was left with bittersweet memories … and in those brief moments of reminiscing, I was transported to another place. In this universe, nostalgia was the measure of time. The clocks didn’t matter.

What fascinated you as a kid and do you feel you could pick up your childhood enchantments today?

How Watching a Movie Online Turned Into a Cultural Experience For Me

The Lunchbox

I just watched a Bollywood flick online. It was a theater quality print (as the elders and authority figures of our generation are so fond of calling it). Meaning, some guy running a video CD parlor somewhere in Mumbai secretly filmed the movie as it ran First Day First Show in some single-screen cinema hall. The picture was punctuated with peals of laughter, definitely not what the film director intended for such a moving romantic drama. The silhouettes of popcorn totting lads and regional accented conversations on cellphones added the much needed gravitas to an already somber film.

But half-an-hour into the viewing, I realized that far from disturbing the proceedings, the studio-like canned laughter recorded by default by the video CD guy – pirate, if you prefer the euphemism – lent me an element of comfort.

Let me provide you with some background. As is the norm in my life, weekends are reserved for movie watching with the husband. We have our own schedules through the week and weekend, but like clockwork we take out time over a Saturday or Sunday to watch a couple of movies. In fact, I maintain an Excel sheet with a list of movies I have watched: the lead stars, genre, and my primary reaction to the film. Yes, I am a through-and-through movie buff and love my 90-, 120-, 180-minutes of love, tragedy, comedy, suspense, thriller, and horror.

Unlike my husband who has stringent requirements for the quality of print, I am an easy person to please. It’s too expensive to head to the theater every week and neither do I have the patience to wait a full 6 months before a movie appears on DVD or satellite TV. So, if something’s available online, I play it. During the weekdays, after a stressful day at work, I turn to books to help me relax. However, if time permits, I do sneak in a movie! Tonight was just one of those nights where I was on speed-dial with office updates and decided to watch an independent, small-budget romantic-drama that has received unanimously glowing reviews from the critics and public alike.

And so, half-and-hour into the movie, lounging on the couch, I felt a sense of comfort as I listened to the laughter and ambient sounds recorded into the online print. It felt like I wasn’t alone and that I was drawing in from the common pool of the people’s reactions: their laughter, their snigger, their gasp, their pin drop silence in a particularly poignant scene. I felt connected to the audience, even though we haven’t shared physical space. It might appear as a lonely movie watcher’s moment of validation but it also hit home that partaking of pop culture can never be an isolated experience. Culture is immersive, experiential and participative, and it can only thrive when allowed to be reviewed, remixed and recalibrated.

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You remember the unexpected joy of borrowing a book from the school library or paying 30 rupees for a second-hand book and then finding notes on the margins? I have had the pleasure of experiencing several such moments. The dedication on the flap of old books would feature a birthday / graduation / season’s greeting, along with the name of the “gifted” and the year, and I would scour telephone directories to see if any matches turned up. It was a thrill to hold books that was read, felt and experienced by someone else, and then be privy to their thoughts as they jotted down notes in the margins.

Me writing this post as a means of stretching that singular experience, in this case, watching a film that was available online – and waiting for my readers to share their thoughts on my experience tonight, is just another example of this principle of culture.

Over to you, now.