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10 April 2008

Memories are Made of These…

All good things happen in summer.
Mangoes and Jackfruits and…
Me? 

Summer. A clever child knows that one only blows on the palm of the hand to make a wish -- in summer. Holidays come in summer. And laughter. And fun. I was a clever child. I was born in summer. Well, nearly so. I grew a whole inch this summer. I did, too. 

Bird calls, tentative and joyous, banana leaves, soft and smooth, a cloudless sky and I am glad to be alive. I am three. Mother used to say, “She is only three. What would she know?” Ha, fat lot my mother knows. It is all locked up inside of me. Where would it all come from later?

I learnt to skim a stone over the water in the pond. And as the sun beat down, I was surprised to see a rainbow shimmering in the water. Yes, the best things happen in summer. 

I walked up to the edge of the pond and stared down at its rippled surface. The steps are slippery. What if I fall? My brothers and sister are having a water fight at the other end of the pond. I feel envious. I don't know how to swim, you see. My cousin is standing on the steps, pouring water all over himself with a cup. I gaze at him thoughtfully. It seems much more fun to splash around in the pond. Or may be he doesn't know swimming? 

His brother is floating lazily along the steps. He doesn't know how to swim either. He told me. Once, when I was feeling miserable. Somehow, that made me feel better. He was my idol. Not that he was the best-looking of the lot. That distinction went to my eldest brother. Quite simply, he was kind to me. The age difference between the other children and I, was, on the average five years. What would they have to do with a baby of three? He would, though. He made me paper boats, and taught me how to skim stones over the water and to sit silently so we could watch a kingfisher fish -- just about everything.
I'd been away from him long enough. I wanted to hear him talk. At the ripe old age of nine, he sometimes talked of things I could barely comprehend. But, with the inborn wisdom of woman, I learnt to listen. You learn a lot that way. I took one step forward. And felt the ground fall away. Darkness enveloped me. Broken here and there with sunshine ripples of light that flashed against my closed eyes. The water felt warm in the noon sun. 

I was cocooned. Safe. I moved my hands and legs experimentally. Fine. I was swimming. I opened my eyes, eager to share this discovery with my cousin. And then fear struck. There wasn't anything to see. My eyes hurt. All my childish fears of bogey raised their heads. Dim, dark shapes were moving around. My movements became jerky. The water was no longer a haven. I opened my mouth to call for help. Why hadn't my cousin taught me that if you open your mouth under water, half the pond would empty yourself into your stomach? But my child's mind still had faith. He would save me. He must. With every movement, I was slipping further away from him. At three, I learnt what terror was. 

Suddenly, I saw, felt? A shape moving towards me. I nearly screamed. But I was afraid of choking again. I knew I was going to die. Don't ask me how. I just knew. The shape came nearer. It grazed the top of my head. I kept as still as I could. The shape came back again, this time catching the back of my neck. And I was pulled upwards. What was mere seconds had seemed like hours under water. Oh yes, I was glad to be alive. 

I looked around with watery eyes and blue lips at a circle of frightened faces. And then I turned and ran up the steps. I knew what I was going to do. Doesn't every child? Guaranteed to bring everyone running, you know. I cried enough to fetch up a storm. My brothers and sister and cousin promised everything on earth, the earth itself, if only I would stop crying. I cried harder; I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw my cousin laughing at me. It was he who had pulled me out. See, my childish faiths do come true. So now, he was idol plus hero. He and I, we understand each other. I looked at him and cried harder still. 

Some memories linger much more than most. I remember my grandmother coming running around the path, her long hair streaming behind her. It is strange the images that are retained. My mother followed her. And I stood there howling. They picked me up and put me over the stone wall of the old kitchen and pressed hard on my back, pummeling me roughly until I had coughed up all the water I had swallowed. They dried me. And fussed over me. I had never had such attention before. Or since. I was given a huge piece of palm jaggery all to myself. An unexpected treat. Maybe I should fall into the water more often. 

I sat there and watched my father chase my brothers around the grounds for not looking after me. And I gurgled with laughter. My cousin gently chucked me under the chin with his closed fist and said, half to himself: “I wonder what you will be like when you grow up?” If only he had known, I doubt he would have pulled me out. 

Sticky face, sticky hands notwithstanding, I buried my face in his neck. And offered him a piece of the sticky, half-melted, half-chewed piece of jaggery. It was the ultimate sacrifice. He took a piece with due acceptance of all the honour attached to the offer. 

And then, he and I, we watched a kingfisher come down to fish, now the pool was empty. 

All the best things do happen in summer.

© Anuradha Warrier
2001

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