[Many of my friends have been sharing this post, http://thepoetryof.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/a-certain-south-indian-childhood/, over the past few days. It’s a lovely post, really poetic and yet it doesn’t strike the same chord in me that it does with people who experienced that childhood. However, it inspired me to write about another kind of childhood, the one that I grew up with. I am not attempting to replicate the poetry of the original, because I suck at poetry.]
A certain Middle Eastern childhood is fondly remembered as the time spent sliding down sand dunes, and going on school trips to Khor Garden and Alladin’s Kingdom. It was characterized by early morning assemblies where you recited an Arabic prayer and the English translation. For a long time, you believed the background music to ‘Saare Jahaan Se Achcha’ was the weird electro-beat setting that emanated from a Casio keyboard. Your sense of patriotism was linked to songs from 90s Hindi movies that nobody in India ever watched. Twice a year, you woke up at 4AM to sing the National Anthem at the Indian Embassy on Republic Day and Independence Day. Every school occasion happened in twos – one each for the Boys and Girls wing. If you were in the school choir, you were most likely a go-between for note-passing between the Girls and Boys’ wings. You remember the drip-dripping of the leaky AC’s in hot Portacabins. The smell of a dust storm while you walked to the schoolbus. Practicing PT Drills with painted eggboxes, feather dusters and other odds-and-ends, at 12PM on a blazing hot day. Sports Day. Teachers who were your friends’ mothers, and your mother’s friends. Loyalty to the Indian school you attended. Inter-school competitions. The yearly Bazm-e-Alig debate and art competition. Being featured in the local newspaper every time you won something, even if it was first place in a poetry recitation contest in your own school. Eid Fair, that glorious glittery spectacle where you could ride a Giant Wheel and eat ras-gola’s. Watching kids whose parents sold their raffle tickets win useless prizes at the Eid Fair. You know the smell of falafels as intimately as you know the smell of filter coffee. You know that no amount of Ruffles Lays, or even Pringles can replace the spicy taste of Oman chips or the cheesiness of Pofaki. You learnt the art of creating a cost-effective salad mountain at Pizza Hut while you were still in kindergarten. A birthday meant a party at Dairy Queen, with a clown and an ice-cream cake. You only saw cows on special school trips to milk factories, and birds on trips to the zoo. You owned a bicycle but it could only be ridden within your house, or at the Corniche. You played “outside” in building corridors where footballs kept tumbling down stairs. Hide and Seek meant you had to run from home to home, trying to figure out who was hiding in whose house. Dark Room, where you stumbled on things and gave yourself bruises. Showing off how you could climb up the door frame and clap your hands. You were raised by all your parents’ friends, together as one collective unit. Going for any and every class that was the current fad. Swimming. Taekwondo. Art. Carnatic Music. Keyboard. The smallest of excuses was all you needed for a party at someone’s house. Parties meant group performances. Plays with background music, and voice-overs. Elaborate backdrops painted by Art teachers. Choirs where kids and adults belted out the latest hits. Potluck dinners, that had pasta alongside thayir saadam. Dancing to the latest hits. TT tournaments. You have an extensive knowledge of Indian mythology that can only come from parents who wanted you to know everything about your culture. So you know the names of Bharatha and Shatrughna’s wives. Balvikas class. Thursday bhajans. Group classical music performances on Thyagaraja Day. You had a bookshelf filled with ‘educational’ books. World Book Encyclopedia. Tell Me Why. More Tell Me Why. Still More Tell Me Why. You never read any of it. You owned a computer because it was meant to be educational. The Encarta CD with its encyclopedic quiz. Learning HTML to create a Geocities page. Hacking your friends’ computers. Chatting on MSN messenger while your mom screamed at you that phones were free and Internet was not. Prince of Persia. You spent hours discussing HW with your friends on the phone, because, phone calls were free. You spoke to your grandparents every week, and they always yelled down the line as though they were projecting their voices across the ocean instead of through a telephone. The innate apprehension of that far away day when you would have to move back to India, because it was your “home”. The feeling that India was a vacation destination, the place you went for your summer holidays. The place where you spent an entire month being told how your accent was wrong. People looked at you strangely because you came from a place whose name they couldn’t quite pronounce. You tried explaining the geographical boundaries, and describing your life back home. A home that wasn’t really your home. A home, a childhood and a life that has been video recorded on countless Betamax and VHS tapes that haven’t been replayed in years.