Category: Childhood

The room on the roof

The room on the roof

Our house in my hometown is way larger than the flat we live in back home. To the twins’ absolute awe and delight it is a stand-alone bungalow, has a huge room on the first floor with a large terrace.

Till a few years back they were too young to go exploring and we managed to keep them grounded (pun intended!). My mum imagined them sliding down the steep bannister and running up and down the stairs and promptly issued a blanket ban. Then there are monkeys, no not mine, real ones – aggressive and fearless – that roam the neighbourhood. We all thought it was best to restrict the children to the ground floor.

Till they were about 5 or 6 they complied.

A few years later they made their way to the first landing then to the second until finally they ‘discovered’ the room. Since the holidays were almost over by the time they made this momentous discovery there wasn’t much they could do. They had to be satisfied with leaving notes all over the doors and windows labelling it as ‘H&N’s room’. And that was that!

Next year the moment they arrived they scooted up to assert ownership. The room was quite bare since it wasn’t much in use and the twins set out to rectify it rightaway. First, they decided, it needed to be furnished. During the long summer afternoons, while all of us adults shut ourselves in our rooms with the hum of the AC for company, the twins went to work.

They picked a mattress from one of the rooms on the ground floor (taking care to replace the covers back on the bed so no one would notice) and lugged it up. If you’ve ever tried walking with a full-sized Sleepwell mattress you’d realise how determined my 6-year-olds would have been. Next they needed tables and chairs. They decided the ground floor had one too many and dragged up some chairs too. The furniture was old, heavy and sturdy, lovingly made during my grandfather’s time. The twins, it would seem, were sturdier.

How they managed to do all of this in complete secrecy remains a mystery.

They put up some more notices at the door, instituted a ‘tax’ for entry and the room was done. That year they spent entire days up their fiddling with the large old broken down radio, carrying up food and juice and playing all kinds of pretend games. It was a relief to have them out of my hair.

Everyone is now reconciled to the fact that that’s where they’ll stay. Their bags are carried up the moment they arrive. They continue to love the place. Despite their fear of monkeys, they walk out onto the terrace and spend hours on the swing.

Last week they decided to have a screen-free day. They spent the morning going up and down busily. Then N pretended to be stranded up in a tower (or something of that sort) and sent down a rope while H tied all kinds of supplies – water and cold drinks and biscuits – which she’d pull up and then he’d run and join her for a snack.

I watched them, glad and grateful, that there was still time before they outgrew their childhood and that silly as their make-believe games might be, they still could trounce technology.

They continue to believe the room is their discovery – no matter that it was my parents who got it constructed after much discussion and many hours of pondering over the plans. “They might have got it built,” argue the little ones, “but then they forgot about it and we discovered it.”

Linking up with

Mackenzie at Reflections from Me.

A basket of tomatoes and some life lessons

A basket of tomatoes and some life lessons

Picture Credit: PIXABAY
The other day I was at the vegetable vendor’s picking out well.. obviously – vegetables. As I moved to the tomatoes I was joined by a boy of about 14. He dug into the basket turning the tomatoes this way and that, picking out some then dropping them back, then picking out some more. Finally he asked me, ‘How do you know which is a good one?’
Deja vu struck.
While we were growing up we lived in a joint family. While my sister and I did our chores (my mum saw to it) most of the mundane outdoor tasks were handled by others in the family. It might have had to do with the fact that we lived in a crowded area and mum wasn’t certain we could negotiate the roads safely on our own.

One day, perhaps the house help wasn’t around or maybe because my mum decided it was high time I learnt to do this, she handed me a bag, some change and asked me to go buy vegetables.

I mean, seriously? Vegetables? The teen me was completely appalled. I could imagine going out and buying stationery or books or sweets or clothes. But vegetables? What a mundane, unfashionable, low brow task to be saddled with! My entire teen self quailed at the idea rejecting it outright.
I refused.
“If you can eat vegetables, you can go buy them too,” said my mum and I saw her face settle into that familiar determined look my sister and I disliked and dreaded. If you know even a little bit of my mum you will know she can really dig her heels in, specially  when it comes to, what she thinks of as, teaching us a lesson.
I didn’t stand a hair’s breadth chance. So there I was with the most embarrassing jhola (cloth bag) in one hand and the money in the other off to buy vegetables at Chantu ki dukan – that’s what the vegetable vendor was called! I bent my head, praying I wouldn’t bump into anyone I knew, as I threaded my way through the crowded street.
I cannot recall what I bought. I just remember picking up a handful of something, mumbling out, ‘Half kg of this’, handing the money and walking home in a blaze of self-consciousness.

And here was this boy, how easily he asked for my help and how gladly I gave it! Standing side by side in a rather companionable silence we picked out tomatoes. I wish I had been more like him when I was his age.

So dear H and N, here’s the lesson for the day:
People are more likely to offer help than laugh at us if only we cast aside our nervousness and ask for it. We might be laughed at for pretending to know something but the moment we voluntarily expose our vulnerability and  enlist someone’s assistance we create a bond putting them firmly on ‘our side’, so to say.
No matter where you are – at a new school, at the library or in the sports ground, don’t be too shy or scared to enlist people’s support, even if they are strangers. Ask for help and you shall get it in greater measure than you ever expected.
Have you ever been in a situation like this, where you’ve been to embarrassed to ask for help? Do share. I’d love to add your experience to mine when I talk to the kids.

How do you eat your mangoes?

How do you eat your mangoes?

The other day I was watching my kids eating mangoes. The fruit is peeled, stones discarded, then diced into neat little cubes or slices (if I’m feeling lazy). I then leave it in the refrigerator to cool till we get on with lunch. Later, the kids pick the fruit off the plate with fruit forks or toothpicks.

Mangoes in Lucknow have always been plentiful. I had once stumbled upon this quote by Ghalib, Aam meethe hon aur bahut saare hon.
That’s exactly how they always are here.
During the summer our cousins would come to stay with us. Each afternoon all six of us aged 4 to 10, would sit around a tub of mangoes out in the aangan. The tub would be full of water to keep the mangoes cool. We’d be dressed in the barest minimum – vests and slips – as we fished out the mangoes, oblivious to the heat, and competed at amassing the largest pile of guthlis. We’d peel the fruit tooth and nail, quite literally, and bite right into the pulp, delicious juice dripping from our hands, running down our chins and smearing our faces.
One of our favourites was the Lucknow Safeda. If you know anything about this particular variety you’ll know it isn’t meant to be pealed and cut at all. It is more juice than pulp and has to be sucked on, not eaten.
There’s a whole art to getting through this fruit and I’m not sure I’m equipped to explain. Let it suffice that it has to be handled with all the Lakhnawi nazakat you can muster. No, I’m not being a snob – the nazakat is crucial. The thing is the fruit has an exceptionally fragile skin. A little inelegant impatience and you’ll have the guthli shooting right out from the wrong end (of the fruit, of course) splattering you with juice and pulp.
Each time that would happen the expression on the face of the callous offender would be priceless, giving us hours of laughter. What’s worse, he would get an earful from his/her mum because mango stains are the devil’s own work when it comes to getting them off.
Anyway, once you’ve got down to the guthli without accident you scrape it off with your teeth and discard it. Finally you slurp off the remaining juice.
I am sure we weren’t the most sightly of sights, yet it was the perfect way to form strong bonds of shared memories. Perhaps that’s why even though we don’t meet, sometimes for years together, we can take up from right where we left off, the sweetness never varying quite like that of the dussehris, langadas and safeda.

Aam will always remain a very khaas part of my childhood memories.
Sweet memories and some thoughts

Sweet memories and some thoughts

Mel from Stirrup Queens has invited us today to share a memory of our favourite childhood candy and I realised I had more than one. Don’t worry, though, I promise not to get carried away.

To begin with there were these phantom cigarette candies. I shared this on Facebook sometime back and heard from many many friends saying how they missed them just like me. These had a texture quite like chalk and were sweet enough to put you off sweets for a long time, or so I thought when I recently sampled them again. I’d thought they were dead and gone till one day I got a call on the intercom from my 9 year old asking permission for a cigarette that his friends were offering. I completely freaked and asked him to come right home. And this is what he got. It brought back many many fun memories. When we were young, we would put them to our lips and pretend to blow out ‘smoke’ during the cold Lucknow winters. 

I also remember a ‘sweet man’ who was quite a favourite with all of us. He’d stand outside our school with a huge box, which he hung from his neck, stacked with all kinds of sweets. My favourites were these tiny pink rose flavoured sweets that I cannot remember the name of. They came in a peppermint flavour too but the rose were my favourite. I remember the fragrance more that the flavour. Regrettably, I have never found them again.

Those were certainly simpler times. Sweets back then were simply an occasional indulgence, nothing more. They didn’t need to boast of additional benefits. Have you noticed how these days they come ‘packed with energy boosters’ or ‘fortified with glucose’?

And so each time our child has a meltdown and we reach out for a sweet to pacify our sad or angry toddler we can tell ourselves, “Wow I avoided a tantrum and I gave him an energy boost!” A win-win situation, right? And it’s way easier than helping him work out strategies to cope with his anger/grief. Advertisers have certainly made the whole exercise guilt-free.

Okay I’m over analysing this whole thing but I do have a lot of issues with sweets and the way they are marketed. For instance, have you seen how Kinder Joy comes in a boy version and a girl version?? I mean, must sweets (and toys and books and everything else) also have a gender now?

Despite all the advertising hoo-haa I wonder if my kids will remember them with as much affection and nostalgia as I remember my phantom cigarettes.

Linking to Mel’s #Microblog Mondays .

E has to be for Enid Blyton

E has to be for Enid Blyton

1897 – 1968

 

I cannot imagine my childhood without her. For a long time I thought she was a ‘he’ called Gnid Blyton. She is Enid Blyton.
I then lived in a rather congested city area where houses
were stacked close together and green garden patches were rare treats. We did, however, have endless open terraces stretching across houses. Sitting there dreaming over my homework I would lose myself in Enid Blyton.
She became my favourite companion as together we followed Jo, Bessy and Fanny up the Faraway tree dodging Mrs Washalot’s deluge, sliding down Moonface’s Slippery Slip or gasping from the cold water the Angry Pixie threw at us.We picnicked on the
wide green moors with Julian, Dick, George and Anne when I wasn’t even sure whether moors were people or places or both. I could almost savour Aunt Fanny’s fruitcake and plums from Kirrin Cottage and wash it all down with cool lemonade. Some days we’d clamber onto the wishing chair with Peter, Molly and Chinky and fly away to far off lands.

And of course there was school. Malory Towers, St Clairs! I’d watch a game of Lacrosse though I could barely pronounce it forget figuring out what it was. I learnt from Irene that music and maths go together. I rolled in laughter at mam’zelle’s English and was inspired by Alicia’s pranks.
Oh it was all so much fun. Enid Blyton was all of that and
more.

Boy she was prolific

At the peak of her career she was writing 50 books a year.
She would start writing after breakfast and continue till 5 in the evening
stopping only for a short lunch. She did, on an average 6000 to 10,000 words a day. There were rumours that she had a team of ghost writers because people found it difficult to believe that one woman could write so much. She even took legal action against a librarian who had said so and won the case.
She said the stories flowed from her imagination without her needing to think about them. She didn’t believe in research of any kind and wrote simply from her imagination. She would often have a red shawl draped around her knees. She felt the colour red provided stimulation to her mind.

Her life

Sadly, she didn’t have a very happy childhood. She loved her father very much but he left the family to live with another woman. She was heartbroken. She didn’t get along with her mother who disapproved of her
writing. Later she wasn’t much of a mother herself to her two daughters.
And there’s more bad coming.
She was said to be a ruthless self promoter. Her understanding of marketing and branding were way ahead of her times. She looked into each aspect of her books including the designing. It was she who insisted all her books have that trademark signature. She didn’t shy away from using her daughters for publicity and they were brought out to be ‘displayed’ to her fans. Her daughter Imogen writes in her (Blyton’s) biography that she was ‘without a trace of maternal instinct’.
However, her fans were her real family. Her books had everything that her own life didn’t.

But there are detractors of her work too..

… plenty of them. Her books were allegedly unchallenging and without literary merit. She has been termed ‘elitist’ (George from Famous Five owned an island), sexist (Check out this remark made by Julian for George, ‘You
may look like a boy and behave like a boy, but you’re a girl all the same. And like it or not, girls have got to be taken care of’
) and racist (Golliwogs were often depicted as the ‘bad’ ones).
Critics called her plots unimaginative and repetitive.
Schools banned her books in the 60s and BBC refused to broadcast her works!!

And yet she has survived..

It cannot possibly be all marketing, can it? A magical world on top of a tree, a chair with wings, toys that came to life at night – heck an entire Toyland, pixies, fairies, elves and goblins… unimaginative?? Nah!
As for the repetition.. I loved it. I waited for it. Come on, kids love repetition. Not for nothing have I told the same stories to my twins countless times.. sometimes even back to back.
You get the idea? I will not listen to anything against her.
And so millions of young ones and the not so young ones, continue to adore her books making her one of the widest selling authors ever.
Some of her books have been ‘polished’ to make them suitable for the 21st century. What do you think, people? Would you prefer a ‘polished’ Blyton for your kids? Think about that.
Meanwhile, I’m off to paint my house red.. maybe then a book will happen.
Oh yes the clue for tomorrow – She’s a lady (again!), she doesn’t have the quintessential pretty heroine, in fact she’s definitely overweight, and (this is the giveaway clue) her heroine’s in love with Mr Darcy. Come now tell me.

**********
This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.
 
Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Meet me on Instagram @obsessivemom06

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