“Toffee se meethi hai, churan se khatti hai
Khatti meethi hai teri kahani”
I am sitting gazing blankly at a lifetime of memories strewn around me.
Glossy, laminated pieces of me stare back mutely. Some smiling, some grumpy, some indifferent, some bored. I peer into guileless, innocent eyes searching for a glimpse of myself in them. I stare at the beaming smile and feel oddly disconnected with the person in the photograph.
She reminds me of halcyon days spent being happy, simply because she knew of no other way.
Summers spent running free around the lawns and orchards surrounding her house. Stuffing falsa in her mouth uncaring of the stains left behind. Clambering up branches to grab the lowest hung amrud and never ever stopping to do any such mundane thing as washing it before making short work of scoffing it. Attacking the tomatoes and cauliflowers and driving the maali mad. His threats falling on deaf ears because she was, of course, her Dadaji’s ladli.
In all of this, firmly by her side, was her partner in crime. Her able helper, her pesky little brother. He who wanted to do everything with her, and he who also wanted to do everything for her. Her real live moving crutch. There, determinedly holding her hand, always.
There to help her hobble away from the thrice a week torture that came in the form of Masterji. Masterji would arrive, armed with a harmonium, hoping to introduce her to the joys of Raag Desh, while all she wanted was for him to go off to his Desh! Her Mamma had always wanted to have a daughter proficient in the art of classical dancing and singing. Dancing was out, so singing was the chosen form of persecution. Masterji would arrive, a servant would be sent to call Babyji, and Babyji would make a dash for the summer house gazebo with loyal brother by her side and servant in hot pursuit, closely followed by said Masterji grumbling at his fate.
But brother dear was also there to steal her katori of amras from the dinner table laid out in the garden during summers. Wickedly indulging himself with her share, every single evening. Before going on to quickly drinking his own, lest she get to it! Her screams of outrage having no effect on Mamma’s ladla. The sneaky kid always, but always, did this before the rest of the family arrived at the table. “Koi baat nahi beta, tum badi ho” being their unfailing rejoinder to her complaints. “But I’m always going to be badi!” she would say. “Will he always get away with everything?!”
Where did those carefree summers go?
How did everything change so quickly?
My Dadaji’s hands, which never failed to lift up to bless me and to shield me from my mother’s wrath, are now just a distant memory. My Mamma’s hands are no longer there to plait my hair into two neat twins interwoven with red ribbons. Nor to run them over my forehead as I lay in her lap drowsy with sleep. My Papa’s hands aren’t there to swing me up to jump across little rivulets caused by the monsoons. Nor to hold me tight when I wake up shivering from being pursued by imagined raakshases.
Nor to protect me when the real raakshash came.
All swallowed up in the relentless passage of time. Leaving behind whispered memories of days when I was young and untainted by the ways of the world.
Waqt badal gaya hai … Sab kuch badal gaya …
The only thing that hasn’t is my partner in crime.
He who still hasn’t let go of the hand he was clutching in all of the glossy laminated pieces of paper scattered around me.
“Kuch nahi badla Di, meri zindagi ka sabse important hissa aap thi, aur rahogi”
Mere papad ka tukda, my brother Arnav.
For all of Anjali’s faults, both real and perceived, her adoration of her brother was never in question. He had been the one constant in her life. Unstinting in his support. And yes, unforgivingly crossing the line in his blind devotion of his sister.
I wanted to show a glimpse of how Anjali’s childhood may have been. Carefree, secure, loved. Her affected leg a mere irritant coming in the way of fun, and not a “handicap”.
Thank you so much for reading. Please do feel free to let me know what you think 🙂