In my last blog, I mentioned about spending my early years in India. I was born in India, in a city which was once the capital, but not any more. That city is still considered to be one of the cultural hotspots of India. I was born in that city, in a large extended family spending time with grandparents, parents, siblings, surrounded by uncles, aunts, and cousins. In spite of belonging to an extended family, I was a shy, quiet, introverted girl, who felt awkward if there were a large crowd on occasions like weddings or religious celebrations.
I joined a local school at a walking distance at the age of six, although my brothers were allowed to join schools which were more reputed, but needed to take public transport. I was a bookworm, so school was a refuge for me. One year later, my father had to leave the city and work in a small village, four hours train-ride ( remember in those days, trains were not fast ) from the city. So my mother joined him and I and my little sister tagged along with them. We lived in that small village for three years and went to the local primary school.
Those three years were the best days of my life, and those three years have shaped my personality and inspired my love of nature and love of writing. My father was working as the Manager of a textile mill, where most of the people in the surrounding township used to work. The textile mill produced both machine-made and handmade fabric. I used to be fascinated by the work they did, and being daddy’s girl, sometimes strolled around with my father when he was supervising (this won’t be allowed at all nowadays)! Being a city-girl, I was mesmerized by the natural beauties of the surroundings. We were provided a beautiful bungalow to live in, and inspired by my father’s vision, we had large and lovely gardens - both in the front and back of our house. The most enchanting memory is the swing - which was the main attraction for many children in the neighbourhood, and how much we enjoyed swinging on that simple rope-swing every day, countless times!
The new township was neat and clean, cemented roads, and all the houses were one-storeyed cute bungalows with flower and vegetable gardens. It was a fairy-tale place for me after residing in a buzzing city with three or four storeyed gigantic buildings. But it was long time ago, none of the houses had electricity, or running water, and the roofs were all made of asbestos (which absorbs heat). We were not the richest people, but my father had a modern outlook, and he spent his own money and time to create a heaven for us.
He took initiative to decorate the house with flower-plants in the front, and vegetable garden in the large backyard. We had help, because in India, even now helps are available. But my father made sure, every morning we got up early, and water the plants. He considered the stay in that village as a big life-lesson for his kids. Even my brothers came to visit us in their vacations, he made them regularly weed the lawn, and water the plants - the climate being tropical, plants needed watering every single day, sometimes twice a day.
My father also got a deep Tube well installed in our property, so the water could be pumped to the washrooms, kitchen, and the garden. To lessen the temperature inside (no air-conditioner), he got a wooden roof installed under the asbestos. Curtains made of special fragrant plants, called Khuskhus, were also placed in all windows of our house.
Those were the most delightful days of my life, not only because the bungalow was so comfortable, but also because I very much adored the natural surroundings and the simplicity of the people who lived there. The house I lived in, and my neighbours lived in, were cemented brick-buildings. But there were small huts close by which were made of mud and straw. Sometimes I used to visit those houses from where children used to come to the same school where I went!
Talking about school, there were only two government-aided schools - one a Primary, another the Secondary. In the Primary School, boys and girls used to study together. After grade four, they got separated. Having only one building, the girls had classes early in the morning, and boys had their turn after the girls left at 10 am. Something very special I would like to mention here. When I was attending the school in the city, we were wearing uniforms, and carrying backpacks and water-bottles. When I went to this village-school, other children looked at me with an astonished look - as if I was a stranger. I found that they did not have uniforms, in fact their clothes were as ordinary as could be (perhaps hand-stitched by their mothers), they were not carrying water-bottles, and the most shocking - they were not wearing shoes! They were walking to school bare-foot!
I felt a little awkward in that environment of bare necessities! And I came home, and I told my parents - I don't need to carry a fancy backpack, and I am going to school barefoot. My father was the most important person in that community, but he and my mother agreed to my decision. From the next day I walked barefoot to school, like every other child, and I felt beyond happy! I felt I belonged to that community. The other incident which I remember till today is about a little boy who was in the same classroom with me. That boy came to school every day very much unprepared, in shabby clothes, did not do any homework at all, and every day he used to be punished by our headmistress. I remember feeling so sad for him, and I used to wonder why he never finished any school-work or failed in the exams. Now the face of that little friend of mine comes back to haunt me.
The other special memory of my childhood in that quaint little village was my friends, who gave me their delightful company and so much joy in a short time, that even now, in a sorrowful moment, I close my eyes, and imagine not to have left my haven at all. I don't know if I inherited the genes from my grandmother, who was a voracious reader, I couldn't live without books. In those days, in a small village of India, there was no library in the girls' section of the school. That was devastating for me! Fortunately, our neighbour's son, who was a year older than me, realized how much I longed for books. He used to borrow books from his school, and brought them to me. And I, being a bossy bookworm, made sure he finished the book too! We had created the smallest library in the world - with only two members.
How much I remember one of our male teachers! My father made arrangement that one gentleman, who used to teach the boys, was going to come to our house to teach me and my sister every morning. He was so punctual, he never missed a day, and we could see his umbrella exactly at eight o'clock in the morning. My little sister was very outgoing, and did not like spending so much time reading, she would rather play hide-and-seek with her friends! At quarter to eight, both of us used to look out the window and prayed to God that our tutor didn't come on that day, Every morning exactly at eight o'clock, we used to spot through our window his umbrella moving towards our place without any exception. Oh, those were the days! At some point, the teacher became very ill, and he had to stay home. He invited me and few of his other students to go to his house, and he used to teach us math while he was lying in his bed. Forgot to mention something really fascinating in those days! On my first day at the village primary school, I walked with my neighbour's daughter, who was probably two years' senior to me. I went straight to her classroom with her, and the teacher asked me to read few sentences from a book to find out what level I was! I was already reading any book I could find, so it was quite easy for me, and finding me so fluent in reading, she allowed me to be with the students two years older! Her decision was the final decision. That placement might be unbelievable in present days, but that's how it was!
We came back to the city after three years because of an accident happening to my mother, in fact we had to leave overnight not even saying good bye to anyone.. But I always missed that quaint little town, little haven of mine, and saved that experience in a very treasured corner of my heart.