Put your hand inside a box and close your eyes. The first thing you fish out of it happens to be my first book of nursery rhymes illustrated with animals against a blue backdrop, dog-eared and much loved, usually held upside down and read with animated pleasure. Next, you find a beautiful red polka dotted dress, with white flowers (now yellow) drooping from a tiny belt. There are bits and pieces of broken glass from vases too delicate to survive the journey. There are many magazines, mostly Sanandas. Oh yes, Maa loved them. Some issues are missing, she tells you. Some paper cuttings and books the packers did not bother themselves with. Baba’s oldest briefcase, stashed with files. What are these things? You ask incredulously to a man who loves paperwork more than his morning cup of tea. Oh those, he sighs. Remember the share of land I was forced to sell a decade ago? I didn’t want to let go of it, I wanted to build a house for us. But I sold it, and all I have are these papers proving that I made a bad deal.
You might find a thin orange notebook I used once-upon-a-time. I have not chanced upon it yet. Go ahead and search. Hand it over to me once you find it. It has the first poem I ever wrote. Class three. A fight with Dada, and I end up spilling tears into my first poem. I don’t remember it properly, but I do recall the silliest lines of them all-
But, why why why/ When I cry?
Perhaps it was right then, that sadness became an essential part of everything I created. I shoved the copy into some corner of the cabinet, along with many other firsts. My first doodle, first fountain pen, and the first broken part of my first doll. My first set of colours, or rather, the ones I clearly remember, were grand. Camel 24 Oil Pastel Colours. I took them to school the next day, a place I hated as intensely as was humanly possible.
And somebody stole them.
No, I wasn’t given a 24 colour set again.
(12 colours will do just fine, said Maa.
You keep on losing things, she said. What happened to your identity card?
I lost it. I am sorry.
How can you lose something that is hung around your neck?
They wanted to see it. It was snatched away from me. Then they tore it.
The students. They don’t like me. I am new here.
Then complain about it to your class teacher for God’s sake!
She doesn’t like me.
Naamer maney boltey parini ager din. (I couldn’t explain the meaning of my name.)
Did she ask you to explain it?
What did you say?
I told her that it doesn’t mean anything. Why did you give me a name that doesn’t mean anything?
Of course it means something! I don’t know for sure. Oh I just read the name somewhere and I liked it. Schools these days, they interfere e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e…)
Are you done yet?
Oh those. Yes, Jack Dawson and Titanic. Old posters those, I’ll throw them away later. We have had enough of peeking into boxes for the time being. Sometimes these cardboard pieces can’t really bear the weight of your dreams. They sag and droop, and leave marks on the marble floor you have just polished. So we move out of the freshly painted rooms and walk.
Mild autumn sun.
Rain dusted roads. I look at my footsteps, and the washed lane sparkles like never before. A regular boy across the road leans towards a glass window. I ask you to notice the lopsided grin and school boy eyes. He is flushed with pleasure with every sound he picks up on the bends, and so are you. I’d understand once I’m done with the boxes back home.
I don’t like strangers as a rule. So I politely scrape their last words off my plate. I’ll get used to this, I tell you, once I unpack.
Now you know who’s fragile.
Handle with care.