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?

To Dream is to Fill Your Life with a Happy Purpose

Wings of Freedom

Childhood dreams spur us towards accomplishments meant to fulfill our larger purpose in life. But what happens when the very pursuit of these dreams stops us from living a liberated and happy life? Can our long-term dreams and childhood desires hinder future successes?

I am 6 months short of turning 30 and have lived through a tricky decade. It’s generally understood that the tumultuous 20s are a time for working overtime on achieving your dreams. I began by scoring excellent grades in college, securing an exciting job in the print media and landing a steady date. There, ambitions fulfilled! Well, not quite and not so easy. I didn’t realize that it was just the very beginning, the prelude in fact, to a decade of struggle and heartache in a bid to accomplish what I felt was the purpose of my life.

Like most kids, I dreamt of being various “persons” as I was growing up. At 4, I wanted to be a doctor, at 6, a teacher, at 8, an astronaut, at 10, a biologist, at 12, a poet, at 14, a scientist, at 16, a geneticist, and by the time I was 18, a historian and writer. These choices reflect the elements that caught hold of my attention at the time. It was exciting to imagine the transformation from what I was at one point in time (a fringe-haired girl wearing frocks and playing with flowers) to becoming this other being, complete with clothes, mannerisms and attitude.

At the age of 6, when you dream of being an astronaut, you only think about wearing a white suit and flying in space. This is also the reason I choose to use the word person and not profession to talk about my childhood dreams.

Take a step back now and think about the distance you have to bridge from that childhood idea of wanting to be an astronaut to the reality of growing up and being one. You have to pass through the rigors of high school science, graduate with the highest scores possible in the most obscure of subjects, all the while staying ahead of the 50-odd potential space cadets who also want to make it to the prestigious program you have shortlisted that only happens to accept the Top 5. Or, you sit through entrance exams, apply at numerous institutions, cajole your parents into emptying their life savings on your tuition fee, slog through half a decade of even more obscure theories and practicals, then sit through more rounds of interviews and cross-examinations before finally receiving a letter that announces: you have graduated! At this point, when the child in you wants to rush to the closet to wear that revered Space Suit and do the Moon Walk, comes the time to wake up: only a few fly to space, the rest are drafted to work as a junior assistant to the assistant manager at a space agency, or drafted in service to tabulate statistics and code astronomical numbers that verify the trajectory of the satellite around space debris, or any number of permutation and combinations of clerical and admin work. The horror!

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A permanent fixture of my growing up years was my love for books. I have always been that girl with a storybook in her hand, sitting by the window (or the couch, the floor, the bed, the balcony) and losing myself in the stories of another land. There hasn’t been a day in my life when I haven’t read a tale on magic, fairies, adventurous sailors or frightening Greek monsters! While I changed my mind about being a doctor or scientist as the fancy took me, I never questioned that I would one day be an adventurer!

What it boils down to is this: As kids, we aren’t afraid of dreaming big because none of us know what it entails. Fulfilling and achieving dreams at that age doesn’t require a whole load of preparation. We use sticks to dig bugs out of the wet earth in the backyard of our houses and casually mention to our best friends, ‘hey, you know what, I am gonna be an astronaut when I grow up. You”ll see me flying up there, right next to the moon and sun and stars”.

What is the exact point at which we stop believing in these simple statements of truth?

At 18, when I chose to become a historian, it was a career choice first, and a secondary means to relive my childhood dream of being able to discover new lands, solve ancient puzzles and piece together stories of people long buried. It was happenstance that a History major would allow me to do all that. I clung to the notion that if I could just get waltz through graduation, scramble through a post-grad, and zombie-walk through a PhD, I would finally get to be that adventurer. I did not think about the financial repercussions of choosing ‘Ancient History’ as my major; I had vague notions of digging through archaeological sites and being paid my the government to unearth lost treasures. Yes, I was mature enough to realize that I needed money to survive, but not savvy enough to understand what that meant in day-to-day terms.

I was absent minded, sort of daft, lost in the world of reference books, happy to be spending after-college hours in the library, and my weekends pouring over research papers. My world revolved around ancient civilizations and I was in a state of bliss. Academic life for me was a journey of discovery and self-actualization. I saw my friends curse the reams of text they had to read or dread the surprise test. I actually looked forward to these! I was in love with the subject and the idea that here I was, step by step, fulfilling my dreams.

Before long, I had graduated with honors. My professors were my cheerleaders. The next step was to apply at the only university I knew worth applying at: Oxford. This is the point at which the reality intruded, again. Just as the child grows up to realize that becoming a doctor is not a costume party outing, I understood that getting through university didn’t just involve applying and flying there! You have to prove that you can read, write and understand English. You have to sit through entrance exams that endeavor to check your mathematical and reasoning abilities. As if that wasn’t enough, you have to pay for all through your last life savings. Let me not get started on the extraneous requirements of being proficient in two foreign languages, of which one has to of course be an ancient one. Once you are satisfied that you can make the cut after all, barely, you got to find three professors who can give you stellar recommendations!

Till the point you get an acceptance letter, you live in an in-between state. ‘Will I be considered worthy to be a future historian?’, you ask yourself, all the while hoping and praying that a foreign institution grants you approval for achieving your dreams.

Like scores of others in my place, I secured admission, was told I would get a percentage of bursary, but not the full scholarship amount. My world collapsed. No money means no admittance. I wrote back to the admissions officer, hoping for a miracle, stating my intentions of continuing on the path of discovery in spite of facing a hurdle at this nascent stage. Of course, I was wished best of luck and that’s that! For the next two years, every time the door bell rang my heart raced. I imagined it was the postman delivering a letter from one of the numerous charity / scholarship / rich institutions from whom I had “requested” aid, announcing my acceptance. While I knew the improbability and insanity of my fantasy, my heart was just not ready to give up.

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I trudged on in my early 20s, congratulating myself for at least achieving good grades, at least securing a terrific job in the print media, and at least landing a steady date (err, online). It was supposed to be enough. It was supposed to be the beginning of an exciting life. It seemed practical to forget about academics for the moment and focus on earning a living and making it big. After all, in your 20s, you also want to be able to shop, eat out, hang out with friends, visit theme parks, travel, and splurge on the good things.

The 20s was depressing and I was not happy with the direction my life was taking. I hated that I had to wake up each day to rush to work, stay after hours, edit horrendous copy, and design pages for the attention-deficit public, where as my dreams were slowly turning into mothballs in the corners of my mind. I felt victimized by fate. Why wasn’t I born to a rich family?

While I focused on becoming an editor and writer, I never lost track of events that took place in the art world. I participated in seminars and workshops, read journals and papers, and shortlisted courses I could study after a couple of years, as soon as I had saved up enough money to pursue my dream, once again.  This was just testing times, perhaps it was god himself who wanted to check if I was devoted enough to achieve the dream?

I grew estranged from my family as they couldn’t understand why I was trying so hard to pursue my dreams. They saw me as an ambitious girl, but couldn’t see the desperation behind the ambition. The desperate need to make a dream come true. It was all I knew. It was the only thing I had planned for in this lifetime. Apart from a career as a historian, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Oh, I was good at writing and editing, but it didn’t fulfill me the way history as a subject did. If I couldn’t be a historian, I thought I would stop being me. That was at the crux of it. I was a child who was holding on to her idea of growing up to be someone.

I quit my job at the newspaper and in the ensuing decade pursued opportunities at a museum, study at an arts management institute, and finally got myself a master’s degree in Ancient Civilizations. Today, I am married and balancing work, personal goals and professional commitments.

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The most painful lesson the decade has taught me is that dreams can be as deadly as knife edges. We are taught to achieve our dreams, sometimes by paying a high price, but lauded when we do achieve them. Stories of persistence are taught to us in school, through retelling of folk tales by our grandparents, and on the 70mm movie screens. We are consistently bombarded with glorified images of the poor, boy-next-door striking gold at the lottery, or the simple girl-next-door becoming the next top model, or the kid from a small town becoming a five-star chef, and countless other stories of people achieving their dreams through luck, sheer persistence, happenstance or good fortune. Some of them give up on their childhood fantasies, having spent long years struggling to combine their dreams with making a living – and finally, putting food on the plate won. Some others chip away at the wood consistently and many decades later quietly triumph.

The thing is, society’s idea of achievement is also closely connected to youth. Achieving dreams and making it big are projected as youthful pursuits and the vanguard of the young. In our 20s, we are slowly tinctured with messages of a ticking time bomb, as if dreams come with a sell-by date and if we don’t achieve them in that golden age, we are bound to miss the boat. We are subtly compelled to travel, find a soul mate, strike it big in the industry, and balance family and social commitments on the ten to 12-year arch of the second decade. Our parents start sending us Harry Potter-like howlers about our depreciating youth (read beauty and fitness) and urge us to settle down. There are just too many things hitting us from all quarters. The need to then achieve your dream becomes all the more urgent and poignant. After all, your dreams will have legitimacy only if you are in the peak of your life – and that peak is supposed to be your 20s.

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We are once again at the beginning of my criss-crossing narrative. I am 30. Today, I realize that the pursuit of my dreams literally pushed me out of having a shot at another kind of life. I was so focused on the goal that I lost sight of the larger picture. I could have tried my hand at singing, music, drawing, cooking, languages, or even setting up a business. But the thought of giving up my one dream filled me with dread. I feared being a failure – in my own eyes. I feared the censure of the public that knew me in the academic circles. Having tried so hard, for so many years, I assumed that I just had to keep trying, to keep pushing and not give up.

I failed to understand the very essence of having dreams. To dream is to fill your life with a happy purpose. Dreams are there to motivate you to get out of bed every morning and spend the day with purpose. Dreams instill in us a sense of discipline. Dreams are also a way to guide us; they tell us to avoid extraneous stuff and focus on what truly satisfies us.

What happens when you cling to a dream at the cost of your health, your social life and your family? What happens when you fail to realize that perhaps there is a chance that you are Not a Suitable Candidate? What happens when you stubbornly refuse to devise a Plan B? What happens when you lose sight of the everyday necessities required to survive?

Time does heal many a wounds. It allows you to withstand shocks that you think you can never overcome. The best part about growing up is that you get a chance to reflect and forgive yourself. I look back on my journey with a sense of relief now; I got to learn such an important lesson about the purpose of dreams. There are stories waiting to be written. You will see me sharing notes, soon.

Container Full Of Synecdoche

Photography copyright Chandan Gomes

Bits and pieces, odds and ends

Junk and clutter, the sacred and profane,

The road map to my house

Is alive with throbbing veins 

Follow the trail of shoes and books

The chipped walls ripened with age.

A left from the coiled wires

& lavender-cupped underwire,

Go past the broken mirror and half-seeing eyes 

Toss your coffee cup into the stainless sink

Pay homage to a faith-less god.  

Here is a container full of Synecdoche

A cartload of rusted archives

Those given away or hidden, rest

Within the cartography of my mind.

The shutter captured our moments

Things froze on the click

We all get ready for the frame, to

share space on painted bricks

—-

The things that we so lovingly and ordinarily pick and fill the house with are really our tombstones, surviving long after we pass away. They blend into our routines, define our body’s trajectories around them and mute into the foreground of the scenery – overlooked yet a necessary stopgap that completes the picture of home. They are not remembered; they become part of the living, as us.

Without the laundry-bag-school medals-shrine-of-Christ-the-junked-computer, we become merely names who own walls and claim possessions. The knick-knacks are a memory sieve, full of drama waiting to be retold to the stranger, the guest who wonders about its significance. It’s a signifier of our stories. We are, these are. Don’t take away one without the other. Incompleteness is what our memories are known for. Let the objects be present to share their view.

Trail of paper cuts: mapping paper memories

Introduction by Sam: This post explores the sensual aspects of humans and their objects of writing. Not only writing instruments, but the paper, the surface, the act of writing itself… and their associated memories and feelings are dissected in an almost compulsive way to show the romantic relationship that we construct with the experience of writing.

Continue reading

Cartography of Memories

Stereotyping the Contours of A City-and-a-half That Inhabit My Mind, All For the Sake of Remembrance

India:

Multicultural Regionalism / Sectarian & Caste Disparities |

Land of Plenty / Of Beggars, Slums and Poverty |

Explosion of Cuisine, Language and Culture / History of Violence Against All Minorities | Scientific Minds and Techie Genes / Yes, Slumdog Millionaire Was But a Film

 

i.

It’s not the city where I was born that I reminisce about every so often, rather, it’s the city that birthed who I was bound to become that I miss and covet today. I was born forty minutes sly of midnight in the hot, humid May of 1983, in a city that competes to be epithetized as either hot or humid.

My earliest memories of Bombay[1] are safely guarded and regurgitated from the lens of my three-year-old self: large, muddy grounds; sweet shop and bakery right beneath our five-storeyed apartment; curious neighbors – one of only 60, who inhabited the three-building colony, as we call it; the loud calls of the golawala (crushed ice-and-flavored-syrup vendor) pushing his wooden cart through the tar-lined roads; Vespa, a scooter brand – the first of its kind; and hoardings of Bollywood movies on billboards across the Juhu Beach. These sepia-tinted flashes fork like lightning scripts across my nightly dreams even today, never allowing me to trifle with the physical – and metaphorical – cartography of a city that is part of my mind’s map.

ii.

Today, that map is renamed as Mumbai, and its old-time street vendors vanishing under the “sorcery” of development, modernity, market economy, and Googleization. Let us not lament the loss of what is already past. It’s certainly not as if we intended for the cotton mills and handicrafts industries to shut shop or for the mill employees to adopt the new binary-prefix of tobacco factory (employees).

Growing up in the 80s, 90s and 00s means my generation has had the privilege of watching history in motion. From single-screen theatres we now hung out at multiplexes and malls; we got air-conditioned taxis and public transport; our schools evolved with regional languages as compulsory subjects to adopting French as an optional paper; we saw textile shops fighting for prime real estate with readymade garment houses; small porcelain toys and View Master gave way to Scrabble and Battleship Earth; and once-a-month movies screened via projectors in the neighborhood park got scrunched into video cassettes, VCDs and DVDs. It’s called globalization and nostalgia plays tricks with memories, convincing me that the good ol’ days were indeed golden and all that is post-modern, commercial, easy and fast is overrated.

iii.

Street culture permeates Mumbai. It’s a city for the street-smart. It’s been referred to by all romanticists and businessmen (how odd to compare the two) as the city that lets you dream and gives you second chances. We are big hearted like that. We are aggressively money minded like that. We grab our inch of space and queue up, elbowing out the other 20 million bodies, to stake a claim to the 400 square feet apartment / train ticket for suburban travel & window seat once inside the train / telephone bill payment queue / water-filling depots and hand pumps / college admission / street food / gang fights / saving up to celebrate our noisy, colorful, bright and sweet-meads filled festivals.

The thousands of tourists who visit the city each year are amazed at the swathes of commonalities and disparities that co-exist simultaneously in the same temporal and spatial framework. You would find a couple of Mercedes E-Class, BMWs or even a Porsche share bumper space with scooters stuffed with four-of-a-family and even the international media’s leitmotif for our country – the bullock cart and other strays jamming traffic. No, but you won’t find limousines here (that’s too Las Vegassy), and be it our movie stars (who like to keep it sedate with all-terrain SUVs of the Toyota kind) or the city’s billionaire businessmen who have made it in to the stock markets of NY, we love to appear extravagant without appearing to try too hard.

Yes, we do have holy gurus and fraud spiritualists who love nothing better to nurse the pale hands of the Amreecan Bohemian and rechristen the belles as Madhubala, Madhuri and Meenakshi (all famous Bollywood heroines). Mumbai’s underworld also frequently makes news – they are world famous in India, as the saying goes – with a generous sprinkling of dons, thugs, drug peddlers, extortion mafia, and sex traffickers.

iv.

Community life is intense (not just in Mumbai, but across India) and fits together like a jigsaw puzzle; my parents come from a city in southern India, Chennai (earlier Madras – we do have a peculiarly niche habit of renaming places and destroying geographical markers that dig roots in the mind) and speak Tamil, an ancient Dravidian language. For the sake of bread, cloth and shelter (roti, kapda and makaan are the Great Collective Indian Dream) they migrated to Mumbai in the mid-70s and picked up Hindi, our national language. Mumbai is located within the state of Maharashtra, whose dominant language is Marathi, so my parents also picked that up. And, with our neighbors coming from all states of India, they also happened to roughly-speak Gujarati, Parsi, Bengali, Punjabi, Malayalam…you get the drift? It’s not for nothing that we think in our mother tongue, analyze in Hindi, compute in English and speak in the global languages of French, Japanese and Spanish. We are multi-tongued like that.

Mumbai’s working culture is frenetic, full of long-distance commutes by train (the ones set-up by the British); only the capital city of the country, Delhi, has a full-fledged metro system, with other cities just beginning to lay metro lines. Pub culture is a phenomenon that might be just 20-years-young, after all drinking, disco-ing, chilling out and going on dates are symbolic of the Western – Amreecan – culture. The working population unwinds in the trains and buses, chomping on peanuts, reading newspaper, listening to walkmans and iPods, and sharing gossip with fellow commuters.

Mumbai might have not patented this yet, but we sure have dibs on maintaining multiple cliques of friendship, a group for each branch of our daily activity: the children of your neighbors became “a” set of friends you hang out with on the stairs outside your apartment; in the evening you play with a group of kids who belong to the three to four buildings adjoining your own; you have kids to go to the bus-stop with and only certain kids whom you share the bus-ride with; you have classmates and canteen friends; library mates and sports pals; after returning home from school, you go for tuitions with your tuition-friends and attend prayer classes with your religious friends; and trust me, they are all friends – bosom buddies whom you share snippets from the various shards of your life. Once you are all grown-up, you maintain a different set of friends for attending career coaching classes and entrance exam classes; you have buddies with who accompany you on trips; and the one or at best two best friends who never mingle or mix up with all the other friend sets and sub-sets you maintain. Totally, a Mumbaiyya way of being.

The lives of our collective households are not mothers or grandmoms, but out dearly, beloved maids, security men (whom we fondly call watchmen), door-stop vegetable vendors, coconut sellers, iron-man (the coal-streaked laundry guy who picks up our clothes, presses it, dry-washes it and returns it – free home delivery, no less, and no tip given {that is such an Amreecan thing to do}), the child caretakers (for the double-income couples who can afford it), and the sundry types of travelling vendors – flower seller, milkman (yes, on cycles with large aluminum cylinders even today), newspaperman, junk collector man, knife sharpener man, kerosene man, candy and ice-cream man..of course, we have shops, boutiques, malls and hyper-markets selling all these things, but we are used to luxurious door-step deliveries like that. It builds the character of the community.

You must have also peeked into our colorful and bright festivals; it’s not always Diwali – the festival of lights, or Holi – the festival of colors, that are celebrated. Those are two celebrated by the larger public. The glimpses of colors, music, bonhomie and community togetherness you might have caught on movies are largely exaggerated for the purposes of beatific cinematography, however, exaggerations are based on perspectives of truth, so let’s just say that many families do go all movie-like and celebrate festivals and marriages in Mumbai with pomp.

~~~

Key to the Map: Water

The monsoons have gate-crashed Mumbai this June and the hosts are only too happy to welcome the sudden chill to the party – after all, 40 degrees Celsius, with a relative humidity of what, is something to have heated discussions over. But we do more than gossip or small talk with bearish, we have a peculiar affair with them, we romanticize them, we sing songs, Bollywood-style within the windowed secrecy of our homes.

We devote paeans to the monsoon god, Meghduta, the cloud messenger and fantasize about hot onion, chilly and potato fritters dipped in Maggi Tomato Ketchup and cutting chai as perfect accompaniments to the dripping orchestra outside. In ancient India, people of the Indus Valley Civilization (who were one of the first to populate the Indian sub-continent some 5,000 years ago) worshipped Indra, lord of heaven and the thunderstorm. After all, abundance and bounty of agricultural land was tied up with the monsoon.

On an exaggerated average, every fifth Bollywood flick would feature the heroine getting wet in the rains and the hero dancing with her on the streets, in the park, inside the bus, underneath an umbrella, all the while praising the romantic samaa (atmosphere) and enticing his lover to take shelter from the downpour in his arms. Ah, can’t praise the virtues of snuggling up to your partner the next day and calling in sick to your boss under the pretext of pneumonia. We are filmy like that.

Monsoons, however, have also drawn out Fear and Loathing in Mumbai. Six-years-old, in what has come to be known as 26/7 – a serial moniker, the first of many for oddly disparate tragic events that shook the city – torrential rains bombarded the metropolis and submerged the erstwhile island, and left its commuters and residents stranded in the worst possible places – on flyovers, highway lanes, inside buses, trains and other public and private transport services, offices, schools and residential complexes whose ground and first-storeys quickly submerged under the unexpected deluge of rain.

How did we survive? Well, as someone who personally witnessed the unfolding events and got stuck in the floods, I heartily recommend hand holding with a bunch of complete strangers. We walked through the city from our work places to our homes, in the pitch of night, with no electricity and only the light from the cloud-hidden moon to keep us sane and grounded. We braved chest-high flood and used bus stations as our mile-markers, finally reaching home in the wee morning light. Petrifying? Yes! Exhilarating? Hell, Yes!

͠~

Cashews, Carnivals and Claus: Goa

When I hit five, my banker dad and homemaker mom promised us (my elder brother and I) a long vacation in a city which had a fraternal history comparable to Mumbai – Goa, a beachy-touristy-sleepy-Feni high city-state on the west coast of India, which patiently bore successful rulers from the Delhi Sultanate (early 13th century) to the Portuguese (18th century).

Goa was a revelation. Piercing sunlight, sweet and tangy jackfruits, plump and happy people, and cotton-candy like sand under your feet – too many generalizations, well it’s all true. The raw, sandpaper scent of the sea and salt always lingered in every neighborhood and forestland was never far away. We had plenty of mud to play around with in our apartment and indigo-colored leaves to decorate our mud-pies with.

The city gave me two enduring legacies: belief in tooth fairies and anticipating Santa Claus. Mumbai’s cosmopolitan culture meant that Father Christmas was never really in vogue back in the early 80s, however, you could also attribute it to me being too young (hardly three) for my parents to initiate me into Claushood. Midnight candlelit masses, churches swelling with hymns and choirs, stern nuns in their starched habits and benevolent fathers with their canes – it was otherworldly for me – like I had landed straight into the sets of Omen before all the evil stuff began.

My papa took me to lotus ponds and jumped in to pluck giant stalks for his blue lotus (Nilofar is Arabic for blue lotus). We also pilfered cashew fruit from trees and went scootering to village squares and town markets for the best deal of the day. There would be fairs at school, weekend visits to the more than 100 beaches (yes, I am exaggerating here, clearly, I love the idea of beaches) and tinkering with the tools in the garage shop downstairs to our apartment. I also learned how to build sand-castles at Colva beach and collect giant shells from Mandolim beach. My love for gardening originated in the butterfly, dragon-fly and moth-fly buzzing mini-flower pots mom kept in the balcony – and my first stage play and song-dance routine also took place in the Goan school (the role I played? a gardener!). I witnessed my first carnival at Panjim, masked men jiving on streets and mad-hatter tattooed on the head of another. The meaning of gayness – abandoned joy – became known to me at 5.

These swatches of remembered retellings aren’t magnified bits of childhood memories. These are certainly not nostalgic musings. We indulge in nostalgia when something close to our hearts is beyond reaching…what I share about the city that gave me dreams and fairy tales is not tenuous as wisps of nostalgia, but as legible as the lines that marks our palms. I think when you grow up on fairy stories and Santa Claus and the beating drums in the forest and music and lyrics, you tend to loop those snippets into longer spindles of your life’s narrative. Writing has allowed me to do just that.

The city has yet to see this story-teller in the last quarter of a century, however, in Goa, I left behind traces of spools that would someday allow me to pick up the threads. Today, I spun those into a yarn about the cartography of memories and the pleasant trappings of geography. Bon Voyage.


[1] The christening of Bombay can be attributed to Portuguese writers and travelers to India in the early 16th century, who referred to it as Bombaim (meaning, good little bay) – Shirodkar, Prakashchandra P. (1998). Researches in Indo-Portuguese history.