Before college and high school, before crushes and heartbreaks, before Science got split into three different subjects and Social Studies into two, even before we were taught integers and fractions. Back when we wanted to grow up. Back when we were kids.
If you ever followed the road opposite to the Ganapathi temple in Medical College back then, you’d reach the Medical College quarters. It’s where more than half my childhood lies, it’s also where I decided I didn’t want to marry Kunjacko Boban after all.
I was the annoying little sister who cried on cue and made sure my elder brothers were scolded and punished by my parents for mischief that I’d worked up – that’s what my brothers would tell you anyway. Served them right too, they called me fat all the time. But either way I was still the little sister, with a tiny potbelly I’ll admit, and could always be seen seated on Achu Annans shoulders or carried by Kannenan on his back 😀
Biju chetan and Aju chetan were the neighbours Kannan and I spent most of our time with. (yes they’re brothers). We were undeclared best buddies, with a share of harmless details of our exploits to be kept secret from both our parents. We were always present at each other’s birthdays. In those days it meant Birthday cake with icing from Jayaram bakery, the quintessential puffs and cutlets and samosas, homemade chicken curry/parotta, juice and icecream etc.
We usually waited for our parents to leave before kicking off with cricket in their compound. We bowled with the 8rs pink/white rubber balls or the more expensive optic yellow tennis ball for 30 rupees that was handled with more care. I was always the underdog, Kannan never took me on his team. Achu annan occasionally joined us, he was nicer and always picked me. I’m sure the rejection scarred me for life. Though it made more sense when we played football, cos I always ran away with the ball, err, in my hands, that is. Football was too boring for me anyway.
I owned like one doll or two whose faces I had disfigured in an attempt to beautify, you don’t sit inside playing with those when everyone else is outdoors. At times when I got bored I’d sell fish on the back steps of our house. Different shaped and sized leaves painstakingly stacked and arranged neatly, I’d diligently make sure no flies sat on them and that my customers got the best and the freshest picks. No none of the boys ever visited, even my parents never visited though I always invited them very nicely. I don’t think they were all that impressed.
When corporation people unloaded sand in front of Biju chetan’s garage, the others would jump from the low sunshade onto it while I would nonchalantly prepare mudcakes using cherattas (coconut shells) and coax anybody who’d care to taste them. Yeah nobody ever did.
When it got too hot to play outside, we played Video games (cartridges and joysticks, people?) at their place. The four of us would huddle in front of the tv. Countless runs of Mario and duck hunt and I don’t even remember the names of the rest of the games we played. Afternoons meant more cricket/video games followed by cycling/badminton at our place in the evening. We usually went back home only for lunch and in the evening when it got too dark and the games were over. Sometimes we’d fall asleep on their beds, nobody was ever home in the day, even otherwise it was okay I think. Anita aunty was always so sweet (still is), she gave us the best birthday gifts and even had me cutting her son’s birthday cake once.
During vacations when everyone else left for holidays, we’d be in empty quarters abandoned by their residents, plundering the guava and mango trees there, checking intermittently and listening intently for any sign of intruders, other than us, of course. At times we’d bring back home the fruits of our labour the parents never noticed. We made tons of envelopes using newspapers and cooked rice –it was our mini project-, wondered what to do with it and eventually sold it to the lady fishmonger who routinely visited our homes (she gave us 2rupee coins each) 😀 Any spare change we ever got was spent in buying and stocking pink rubber balls, once we started playing they got lost so often, and eating the round pedas at the Milma shop in the main road.
When we weren’t playing or searching for the umpteen lost cricket balls on the other side of the road, Kannan and I were busy fighting, physical mental material psychological every kind of possible damage included. Following which I obligingly cried to let my parents know. They knew, I think.
All our plots had mango trees and during summer seasons we’d eat fat and ripe orange and yellow mangoes raw and pulpy in the morning, noon, evening and at night.
We were forever sweaty and covered in dirt, always running around and shouting to each other loudly, sometimes across goalposts (always a distinguishable rock), or from opposite sides of the wicket (3 aluminium rods each) or the court net (that we had a proper one though), or even across compounds. We always got home after dusk, exhausted and happy. We’d shower, eat, watch Doordarshan and fall asleep somewhere in between. Unless we decided to fight, which was twice a day, followed by my drama.
Those were the days when happiness meant wearing your favorite dress on your birthday, and the prettiest and nicest strangers were the ones that smiled at you. When soiling your clothes was the way to be and nobody minded except the elders. When summer didn’t mean heat as much as it meant cricket and cousins and mangoes. And spending all the time under the sun were 4 (and at times 5) tiny people forever playing and fighting and laughing.
And I’m mighty glad we were loud enough for a lifetime 🙂