Thursday, April 16, 2020

N is for Nidar aka No fear #AtoZChallenge

A Hindi word today: Nidar (adj.) means fearless. Ni= not/nil and dar = fear
(Photo shows Joan Miro's art: clicked at Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelona, 2019)

"What's three times seven?" Mummy asked.

"20" I said.

"Learn your 3 times table again. I'm going to the kitchen. You better know it all by the time I'm back." Mummy issued her ultimatum.

I tried. I promise I did. But the makhi (fly) kept troubling me. I hit it with my book and it flew off. I followed it. It flew to the window and sat in between the metal bars. I went closer. It didn't move. It picked up its two front legs and started rubbing them just like a filmi villain.

"Are you ready?" called Mummy.

How could it be so soon? I was just going to learn my times-tables after squashing the makhi.

3 ones're 3
3 twos're 6
3 sevens 're.... mmmm....ah!

"I've had enough of this." she said and told Daddy to take over.

Daddy emerged from behind the large leaves of Punjab Kesari, his newspaper, and said, "Hmm."

Mummy left to fulfil her ministerial duties in Beji's kitchen.

By the third attempt, Daddy had given up too. He took my hand and walked me to the back door--the last door of the house that stretched like a railway bogie. 

"Stand outside and think about it. I know if you pay attention you'll learn it but tumhara dimag to karastaanion mein lagaa rahta hai." (your brain is always cooking up new ways to do mischief)

I was being punished. Punishment and school work or homework (as we called it) went hand in hand. Slaps and ear pinching were common practice to ensure neat handwriting. My parents were extremely Victorian in their disciplinary ways when it came to the serious matter of education.

I was told to stand outside, in the verandah we shared with our neighbours, behind the door for as long as it took for my brain to remember what 3 times 7 was. 

Whether the door was locked or not, I didn't know and didn't have the guts to push it open to check. I stood there, sobbing silently.

I was six. The sky was getting darker. Late evening was turning into night. 

Soft notes from the Mandir and the Gurudwara reached my ears. It sounded like the loudspeakers were clearing their throats: Ahem... Ahem...Scratch...Scratch...getting ready for the evening  arati and paath (prayers). Soon the air will fill with familiar sounds and keep me company. The thought was comforting. 

The in-between hours when stars come out to twinkle and kitchens send out smoke signals are like Dr. Who's Tardis: when five minutes of play with friends can stretch out like a century in a six year old's world. That ever so precious gap between finishing ones homework and being called to eat dinner cannot be sacrificed for anything, not even number 21!

I could wait no longer. Sounds of children trickling out of their homework prisons into the freedom of gullian (lanes) were beginning to mix with evening prayers. Not knowing what to do, I started walking. I had no idea what my plan was or where I was headed. All I remember is turning away from the door and walking towards the back lane.

Till date, I cannot recall the route I took. 

But my legs or Neena Didi'd stories or perhaps it was my rumbling tummy and the thought of  delicious kada prasad navigated me to the Gurudwara.

It was a good distance away from our house. And until that evening of 3 times 7, I had never gone there alone.

I had had a few helpings of bhog ka kada prasad (end of prayers offerings) when a very worried looking bhaiya (neighbour) from our gully came up to me and said, "Tu yahan baithi hai? Sab tujhe dhoondh rahe hain!" (You're sitting here? Everyone is looking for you.)

Details of how Beji and Papaji gave my parents a royal telling off that night--"Enne nikke je bacche nu koi ghar to kaddha hai? Aai kiss tarah dee padhaayian ne?" (Who throws a six year old out like that? What sort of an education is this?) will reach my ears via my chachas and I will rub my hands in glee like that fly--yes, exactly like a filmi villain--and whisper to myself: "ab aaya na mazaa?" (Now you understand what it feels like?) 

Time was Tardis that night.

In my parents defence, the time lapse between my 'outstanding' performance and their discovery that I had gone missing was 15 minutes.

But 15 minutes is a lifetime when you're standing in punishment, trying to figure out why the number 21 eluded you so when 3 crossed (x) 7's path?

The gap between my parents' discovery that I'd gone missing and bhaiya's sighting of me sitting cross legged in the women's section of the Gurudwara enjoying shabad kirtan was just under three hours.

They were worried. Really worried and scared.

"Tennu jaraa wee darr ni lagaya kudiye?" (Did you not feel even a little bit scared, child?)
Beji and Papji and Mummy and Daddy will ask me the next day and a couple more times till the events of the night of 3 times 7 will become part of the stories my family will recall about how fearless I was: bilkul nidar. 

No. I wasn't Fearless Nadia*, the hunter wali all the time. I had my fearful moments. 

There was a film once on TV. It was a tale of fantasy and the main character was cursed by a witch. As a result, he became disfigured. Imagine the sixties over the top special effects make-up and you'll know what I'm talking about. The kind of image you'll see in a funny/humorous meme today. I was so petrified of that face that for a very long time after watching the film I needed Mummy or Daddy to take me to the bathroom to do susu (pee). That face haunted me till I graduated from school, I think.
About the picture today: 
I don't know what Joan Miro was thinking when he painted this one but it shows the state of my brain and me that night so very clearly.
About the painful practice of learning times tables by rote:
For the readers who are not familiar with the rigours of the Indian school system: my parents were told I could skip a grade in early years as I seemed to know a lot--I think the teachers mistook my chattiness for cleverness--so at age six I was in a grade where the learning of the three times table was considered imperative for survival.
Are there any stories or memories from your childhood when you showed no fear? Or any where you were full of fear? I'd love to hear if you'd like to share.
Leaving you with this clip about Fearless Nadia*: the first stunt woman of Indian Cinema.
Take note of her jump at :36 (took me back to my childhood)
and keep watching (if you have time) to find out how an 'M' was changed into an 'N' because of an Armenian fortuneteller's prophecy.


  1. Wow..As children we are so fearless and yet so afraid! I shudder when I think of the tables..I found tables of 7 and 9 incredibly hard as a kid.

    1. Cheers:) Yes, the nine times tables wasn't the easiest for me either.

  2. Hari OM
    UGh... times tables.... yeeecchhhhh..... then later, logarithms. Ironically, now I am pretty good with numbers and started out in statistics! Something must have worked.

    I don't recall ever being fearful - except for that time on the yacht with no sails... end of life flashing stuff, that was. But no, am not a fearful person. Circumspect, yes. I like to assess risk!

    Loved that wee movie clip and am off to watch part two now. YAM xx

    1. Cheers Yamini.
      Yacht with no sails? Picturing you like Fearless Nadia:)

  3. Tables, argh!! Mom taught me 5th table directly after the first one. The clock helped, you see. ;)
    I did get my share of punishments though they were mostly for not eating. :P
    Incidents of fear, hmm... We were at Shirdi when I was less than three. I was so confident about the bus we traveled in that I slipped away, entered bus and stay at a window seat. My parents came hunting for me and carried me back. (no guesses what I did). ;)

    1. That must've been such a scary time for your parents!

    2. Yeah, they were quite scared when I vanished.

  4. What a fearless six years old you were! I do recall being fearless around same age as yours and walk home from school without waiting for the pick up lady who usually comes and drops us back and forth from school to home. Our home wasn’t that far from school honestly 🙈 but everyone was mad-mad and worried just like you described here 😀. And time tables....don’t even take me there 🤪. Remembering what I went through to learn them I never forced my children to learn them...luckily they are in a calculator friendly era where they don’t have to worry about knowing tables. Loved reading you Arti. I keenly await for your next post everyday 🤗.

    1. So we have all been little fearless Nadias in our bachpan. I like that.
      Thank you for always reading my posts Pinkz.

  5. I was fearless back then, but in those days we were allowed more freedom so it came naturally. Now, a suggestion. The three times table is simpler than the seven times table, so seven times three is..22?

    N is for ...

    1. Full marks to you Keith...I'm looking at number 22 in a brand new light.

  6. I love that phrase "your brain is always cooking up new ways to do mischief". That is a badge of honor to always be looking for new experiences and ways to enjoy life. Sounds like you found it on this night and it's much more memorable than your times tables. I would love to take a trip on the Tardis and experience time like a Time Lord. Weekends In Maine

    1. Thank you for your words--I like the way you've put it--that night has such a story to tell:)

  7. Your post makes me wonder... How as kids we were all so fearless... Again on the same lines I don't see fear in my 5 yr old...and I see him wanting to grow up soon and be like the grown ups... I too remember as a child I too wanted to get older soon so that I can get more independence... But now, we so called grown ups have so much fear in us... Known fears unknown fears... Fears which are logical to have and many fears which are illogical too!! I wonder was it really wise to want to grow up then and know all the maths tables :)!!

    1. No Ira---it wasn't wise at all. Look how blissful babies are. I aspire to be like that...who wants to be wise and serious? Not me, for sure.

  8. "All's well that ends well" and I'm glad you got home unharmed. I love the part where you were rubbing your hands together in satisfaction like the fly. That cracks me up. Your stories are wonderful.

    1. Cheers Jade. I'm so happy you noticed that detail. Every time I notice a fly do that, it reminds me of a mean villain.

  9. That has to be hard for a kid to learn times tables like that...

    The Multicolored Diary

  10. The innocence of childhood is fearless isn't it? As we grow, grows the fear, almost all the time its fear of losing someone/something precious to you. N for me was NAUGHTY!
    I used to play with Amma's hair, braiding and styling as she slept to take a nap on Sunday afternoons.I was hit by a strong sense of revenge & i happened to mercilessly cut 6 inches of my mom's precious possession, her long thick hair, only because she once gave me a boy cut. Like mom, I too had thick dense hair (at one time) which was attacked by a Kingdom of lice & short haircut was the best way to treat it. Long thick hair was associated with being beautiful i felt ashamed when i was made to look like a boy. I was ashamed in my school class.
    I was fearless only till i cut her hair, the minute i had finished, i was trembling & shivering in fear.The only safe zone was hiding next to Amuma's cosy bed. In no minutes Amma got up and soon my mischief was the breaking news.My Appa took the slim dangerous cane stick with full force to hit & wuffff the top 1/2part was loosely dangling in air. It was funny and Amuma couldnt help laughing,the serious moment suddenly & insensitively turned comical neverthless i was still punished to do a 100 situps holding my ears.(Though we were never hit, the stick was used only to scare us,I used to be very proactive in planning such skillful tasks.) It wasn't the punishment,what broke me totally was, Amma did not utter a word,she was totally quiet standing in the balcony touching the uneven tips of her hair and weeping silently.But it was it, within half an hour she went about the day's routine & never ever brought it up.
    This left a deep scar in my head & still hate myself for that.I still remember her sad face for which i was responsible. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words!

    1. Silences speak volumes Vidya and silences reveal volumes too. Thank you for sharing yet another dhamaal episode of your growing up years.

  11. PS: I still fear Silence. I can handle harsh words but can't digest Silence!

  12. I'm trying to figure out how to follow your blog to be able to read you after the challenge. There's some issue between wordpress and blogspot. In case you know, do drop the process on my blog.
    I was extremely fearless and more than that I had that streak of a rebel. I believed I was Jhansi ki Rani incarnation.
    I also think parenting until the 21st century was basically Victorian. At least in the middle class Indian set up and tables ruled most households.

    1. You and I have a lot in common Sonia. Older sisters--Jhansi Ki Rani syndrome:) I've alluded to it in my 'B for Bullock Cart' post this month.

      About the wordpress/blogspot incompatibility--I haven't a clue. Will do some digging and see what I come up with.

  13. Another wonderful, is somewhat harrowing story. Oh the dramas of childhood! Multiplication tables, and endless stretches of time that only work in your favor if you're having fun.

    I was a very fearful child, and there would never be chance to mistake me for fearless. On the other hand, I knew 7x3 was 21, so I guess that's a trade off. :-)

    1. A good trade off Deborah. You'd be given an extra helping of pineapple pastry for your cleverness in an Indian household:)

  14. Beautiful story, I could visualize little you, trying to struggle with 3X7 table and seeing the makhi, moving its front two legs... Well this brought a smile on my face, as this was very common sight even for me back in those childhood days, and also the mosquitoes, we used to have real strong mosquitoes in Kota, and they could bite even from the clothes.
    Nice share, Love Nisha

    1. Thank you Nisha.
      Happy to know you enjoyed the post:)


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