Thursday, April 21, 2016

Q is for Questions

In the first decade of my life, say between four and seven years of age, the following three questions (along with their sub-questions) occupied my thoughts and dreams:

Question #1: What magic makes the woollens shrink in the trunk?
Early October, every year, the big trunk in the store room was opened and emptied out. Warm clothes stored in it were aired in the sun to prepare for the inevitable winter. Shrunken balls of naphthalene would roll out of the creases of warm jackets, knitted jumpers and sweaters made by my mother and shawls with Kashmiri embroidery that were stored with extra special care (usually wrapped in old muslin cloth). Despite the mandatory airing, the smell of naphthalene would cling to all those clothes for a good few weeks. Even now, that smell takes me back to the in-between time of the year when autumn is almost out and winter is just getting started.
I remember being made to stand by the big trunk while my mother took out sweaters and 'garam baniyane' warm vests, knitted with white or cream coloured wool, which we wore under our white school shirts. Overpowered by the strong naphthalene smell and the scratchy wool, I'd squirm and squiggle and get my ears pulled or bottom smacked to stand still. Almost always, my favourite sweater would be declared too small for me and passed on to my sister. 
Who makes my clothes small every year? Are there fairies who live in the trunk? Are they related to the little people who live in our radio? Why don't they shrink Daddy's suits or Mummy's favourite 'angoori' (green like grapes) cardigan? 

Question #2: How do people move houses?
Do they get a huge saw, squat and start sawing at the base of the house? How do they load the house on a truck? How big is this truck? Do houses have roots like Papaji's (my grandfather) radishes? Those milky white ones he yanks out of the soil, shakes off the dirt before offering them to us to eat, ignoring my mother's instructions to wash EVERYTHING. 
'A little dirt will only make you stronger.' he would say and take a big crunchy bite of the unwashed white radish that tasted like sweet milk.

And the last one is deep...real deep:

Question #3: How does Rajesh Khanna (Indian film super star of the seventies) come back to life every Sunday? 
There was a time when I was perhaps six or seven, Doordarshan (Indian TV channel) telecast Rajesh Khanna's three super hit films in quick succession. They were Aradhana, Anand and Safar. He dies in each one of them and in two of the films his death scenes were so potent, our entire neighbourhood was in floods of tears. We were one of the first houses to get a black and white TV set, thanks to my father.  It was quite normal for a crowd to gather around our TV set every Sunday evening for the film. In fact, once the TV had to be moved out into the veranda to accommodate all the people. It was a religious film, I think. I wasn't interested. But I remember watching a neighbour climb up the guava tree in our veranda to secure the best seat in the house.

Back to the question--this business of Rajesh Khanna dying, followed by my crying and feeling sorry for him and not being able to sleep because 'babumoshaye' (famous dialogue piece) kept ringing in my ears and then finding him frolicking around trees or cracking jokes with Amitabh Bachhan a few Sundays later, did my head in. 

My grandmother's tales of reincarnation didn't sit well with what I was witnessing at a young and impressionable age. Who was this super hero who died of cancer and then came back looking just like his old self, all grown up, a few weeks later only to die of cancer again?

The only question that haunts me these days is: Do I look fat in this?

I guess, I was more evolved when I was little. 

A couple of years ago, at a school fair, I spotted two photographs that reminded me of question number two of my childhood.

The first photograph is at the top of this post. The second one is here, along with an explanation:

A bit about the photo at the top of this post...

I'm reminded of this oft shared quote of one of my all-time favourite writers: Roald Dahl.


  1. Haa it's so funny that you remember the questions you had when you were little.

    I never heard of moving houses across bays! That's just incredible!

    I remember a question I had when I was a kid. My mom had a little hand puppet that was a baby wrapped in a blanket. I didn't know it was a puppet at the time. Every so often the baby would magically appear and visit us, I remember being so excited and seeing the baby's hands and feet moving. Lol the baby had two different colored arms but I never even questioned it but I did wonder why the baby would just show up and my mom would be holding it. The baby lived in her "Hopeless Chest", a trunk that here is called a "Hope Chest" but my mom always called her's hopeless.

    Great post Arti!

    1. Thanks for sharing your childhood memory Shelly.
      Sometimes, I wonder if we were better off being that naive when we were little. Kids,these days, are so sharp. I don't think they have to wonder about anything...thanks to google. I feel like they're missing out on the magic. Or maybe this is what generation gap is all about.
      It's always lovely to see you here.

    2. I totally agree! I think my mom fooled me with the "baby" until I was about 10 or so. I was so naive, but in a good way.

  2. So Cute!
    My mother had a similar trunk with napthelene balls... but was spared of the "garam banian" as it never got that cold in Bangalore...
    As for Rajesh Khanna, it was miraculous, how he came back alive every time..

    And the TV sharing with the neighbors happened everywhere back then :) My relatives in Delhi jumped over balcony walls to their neighbor's houses... Now waiting for "R" ....

    1. Those were the days...I'm starting to sound like my Grandfather! refusing to present himself...still thinking!

  3. We all have our questions I guess...mine was definitely about how the voices came out from the transistor radio? were there little people living inside the radio?
    Roald Dahl's quote is so apt..... let's go find some magic ....

    1. I often wondered how Roald Dahl remembered so much about being a child. That magic is in all his writing. I found another similar magician of a writer in Budapest. Bought a bunch of her books for children. Her name is Eva Janikovszky. Waiting eagerly to get to them in May.
      Hope you find some magic today, too. hugs. xx

  4. Another beautiful post, Arti. Ah, the simplicity and naivete of the childhood!

    1. I know Ruchita...those were the days. xx

  5. Another beautiful post, Arti. Ah, the simplicity and naivete of the childhood!


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