Certain memories have a strange way of remaining with you all throughout one’s life. Try as I will, I cannot fathom why they are still there from so long ago, while others just fade and then totally disappear.
What are my earliest memories?
I can remember cuddling up to my father as a little child, rubbing my face against the stubble on his cheeks and gently falling off to sleep, listening to the dull sound of the sea waves in the distance. Some nights, when sleep wouldn’t come, I would stare at the pitch black square outside the windows and feel terrified of the figures that I thought I saw there. When it rained, the fear was multiplied, as the incessant sheets of the downpour would make the darkness more intense. On other nights, however ,the moonlight brought a kind of magic, transforming everything. Even now, trees and foliage drenched in the silvery whiteness of moonbeams, gives me a high.
The smell of the sea was always there in the afternoon breeze . I could watch the palm fronds swaying languourously in those lazy hours, for any length of time and not feel bored. Many evenings were spent on the sea shore, digging out mussels and walking nimbly across granite rock embankments.
The smell of rose water, even now, brings back memories of a distant old aunt who used to live with us in our joint ancestral home. There were rows and rows of bottles stacked on the shelves in her room. Her son used to sell them, I think and on days when she filled up those bottles with rose water(can’t remember exactly how she went about making it, some concentrate was added to distilled water may be), the fragrance would be swirling around in all the rooms. We moved out of that house when I was around eight, never saw her after that, as they too had gone off to some place, the house itself being sold off by all the family members, as there was no one staying there anymore. The smell of rose water brings back that aunt although there is nothing else that I remember of her, apart from her name, not even what she looked like.
I have no idea how old this house was. Even in my memories of childhood, the walls and floors had that ancient feel . I even remember one of my cousins falling down through the floor of one one of the passages on the upper storey, down to where there was a kind of open bathroom with a well in the corner. As far as I can remember no great harm was done.
I remember sliding down the railing of the stairs countless times. And that door on the right-hand corner led to a very dark room with no windows , where the females of the house delivered their babies. I must have been born there too.
I do remember the mid-wife in a white sari hurrying in and out of the room when my youngest brother was born and somebody accompanying an elderly lady doctor with a slow gait, into the house, carrying her important looking black bag . The room was dark without any sort of ventilation and the whole ambience was that of mystery.
We slept in the room upstairs farthest to the right . From the window on the other side , we could see the sea and specks of boats coming in . There used be a “raat ki rani” bush in the front yard. My eldest brother seen in this picture , used to procure stamps from his friends in school with the promise of gifting them squirrels, which he was reportedly adept at. When days went by with no sign of the same, it was from these windows that he would see them approaching the house accost him on home-turf and he would then beat a hasty escape.
I remember the cranky old woman, who lived in one of the row of rented houses, just outside our compound wall. Almost on a daily basis, she would pick up a fight with the neighbours, who were as voluble as she was. Hurling abuses on the top of her voice, she would grow hoarse with the shouting, and then would start beating on a vessel with a stick so that the clanging sound would drown out the voices of her opponents.
I remember the death of an old man in the neighbourhood, when I was around five , of being told for the first time, that death meant no coming back and how the cold fear and sadness swept over me with the realization that my parents could die too when they grew old. I remember standing there at the end of the lane, crying, waiting for my father to come back home, the growing dusk adding more melancholy to the vague sadness and loneliness. Years later, there was this recurring dream I used to have of me standing at the edge of a vast desert like terrain, completely alone, with vultures flying all over, across the sky and for some reason, on waking up, I would recall the feeling of dread that I had experienced , as a child when I became conscious of death as an inevitable end of our lives.
I can perhaps say too that the spectre of death, waiting in the wings,to take over life, has been a kind of constant undercurrent, lurking in my mind and has therefore emphasized for me, as a philosophy to live by, why love and understanding and not negativity and hatred ,should be the compelling factor governing the way we think, feel and act. For I would want to breathe my last at peace with myself.
Who knows about tomorrow?
P.S: My elder brother and I paid a visit to this house many years after I’d written this. These pictures were clicked on that occasion.