Friday, October 07, 2011

Strange times

I don't visit doctors all that much now but there used to be a time when I did. For a rough, scratchy throat maybe or some ache in the tummy or a dull headache or quiet, strong fever. The doctor would ask, "Where does it hurt?" Even physiologically, it was always a little difficult to determine. Like, was my stomach hurting three inches to the left of the navel or two inches below? Or all over? It was hard to say.

Growing up and now fully grown up, I stopped going to doctors. Although, in times of silent distress that all living beings go through, I have tried to address that question - "Where does it hurt?" It's a question I asked myself before I decided to shift out of Mumbai for the first time, decided to give up law, decided to major in Sociology instead of English, decided to be a vegetarian. It's interesting because this question, often, does not come up. It's quite possible to be hurting but not realize that one is in pain. Of course, very often, there is no pain or hurt. It's just a question you ask to shake things up a little in your head.

A couple of days ago, I had a re-union of sorts with a couple from friends from school. I was meeting one after nearly 12 years and the other one I'd met briefly in Delhi last time I was there. But this time round, she'd come with her adorable 3 year old boy! I must say, he is the sweetest, gentlest, little boy I have met in a long time. Usually, I get on famously with little girls. Boys are a different story. But this boy was a smiling, friendly fella. Maybe my jinx is broken now.

After putting the child to bed, my friends and I talked. After a while, they spoke and I listened. It dawned on me that death doesn't always happen once. It happens many times over. From the child I was to the city I grew up in to the kind of people I shared the world with - none of that exists any more. Not even a trace of it.  If I didn't remember my shared history with these friends, I wouldn't even know who or what they were talking about.

I think there's a strange strength you need to relive your childhood. Especially with people who know you since then. Nostalgia feels like those huge tidal waves that wash all over you with brute strength, buckling your knees and making you fall. You may get up. But you'll always get up dizzy. Possibly with salt on your lashes and sand on your lips and little cuts on your hands.Yep. Memories, especially childhood ones, are very disorienting.

Last few months have revolved around the past. Flavours, fragrances, and people from childhood have featured in a big way. Including books, aspirations and childhood hopes that one pinned satin ribbons on.
In the spirit of nostalgia and the sweet-empty sadness it brings up, I will quote Ray Bradbury here. He is a writer who treats memories the same way a pianist finishes off a ballad - with elegance, sadness, and a little musical silence at the end. This is from one of his books I'm reading now, 'Dandelion Wine':

'Clock alarms tinkled faintly. The courthouse clock boomed. Birds leaped from trees like a net thrown by his hand, singing. Douglas, conducting an orchestra, pointed to the eastern sky.


The sun began to rise.


He folded his arms and smiled a magician's smile. Yes, sir, he thought, everyone jumps, everyone runs when I yell. It'll be a fine season.


He gave the town a last snap of his fingers.


Doors slammed open; people stepped out.


Summer 1928 began.'

I chose this paragraph because I feel it represents the innocent head rush we've all experienced at some time or another. That this day would mark the beginning of an epic summer. And we loved it then and forgot it later.

Youth. Where did it hurt?



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