Tag Archives: childhood

Paperboat Promises

When I was a little girl living in Calcutta, I learnt how to make paper boats. I suppose it was one of those things you pick up as a child. You become adept at making boats and aeroplanes from notebook paper in-between classes. My fascination with making “art” out of paper extended to the point where I became slightly obsessed with origami at some point. I suppose the fleeting nature of such art attracted me greatly. Just like one becomes enamoured with the short-lived rose.

Nowadays, I play with words in the hope that they will last beyond the page. Beyond the reading. And perhaps, beyond me.

My poem, “Paperboat Promises,” was published in The Montucky Review today. You can read it here.

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Filed under anecdote, poetry, Writing about writing

A Childhood Confession

Left on my own

 

An edited version was published by South Asian Parent on 9th May 2011.

I grew up with a nanny. She wasn’t exactly hired help. In reality, she was my father’s mashi (mother’s sister). I called her dida (grandmother). 

It did not start off as dida as my nanny. I was initially left at a crèche, but their callous ways of not having changed my nappy for hours horrified my parents into looking for other suitable caregivers. Many came in succession. There was this one woman who would tie me up to a table so that I wouldn’t crawl away. Let me tell you, that woman lost her job before she could blink and say “What the …?!”

Dida was a good option. She had taken care of my baba as a child. She loved spending time with me, despite my barbaric tantrums (another story for another day). My parents begged her to become my nanny.

So as the story goes, both my parents had demanding jobs. While my ma had an erratic schedule with her air hostess job at Indian Airlines (she would be gone for days, sometimes slipping away at 4 am in the morning for an early morning flight), my baba would toil away at an engineering firm in Calcutta until late in the evening. It was the late 80’s, and they wanted the best for their only child. I was often left alone with my dida and the maid servant.

 For the most part, I was a happy child. I was a popular kid at school, and had friends in our apartment building to distract myself with. I was pampered. Fed the best of everything to maintain my health (I was an underweight child). If I ever threw a tantrum and refused to eat, the maid and dida would get scolded. When baba went away on long tours across the globe, he always brought me the best of chocolates and toys. I remember when even before the hand held video games came to India, I had one at my disposal.

Once my sister was born (I was nearly six), Ma decided to get flexible hours. She gave up flying and became a ground staff, to be able to spend more time at home with her new baby.

I remember being faintly resentful that she spent all her time with my sister, who couldn’t even talk yet. Sometimes, I wondered why she had not done this when I was younger. I was jealously possessive of my mother’s time. But don’t get me wrong. She was an awesome mother. She would make time to sit with me and have inane conversations about my day. She would make me study under her supervision, especially Bengali, which I faltered at. Sometimes, she lost her temper because I couldn’t remember simple spellings. She would feed me herself on her off-days, and sometimes, we would watch a video together. Those are my happiest memories.

A snatched moment

The year I turned nine, baba was transferred to Dubai, and Ma decided to give up her job to come with us. Now, I always had Ma at home. When I woke up, it wasn’t the maid shaking me awake, but my mom. When I came home from school, there was a glass of sherbet waiting for me, made by ma. Life was what I had imagined it to be, having watched my friends and their housewife moms.

I wonder if as kids we ask too much of our parents. At nine, I did not know what a sacrifice it had been for my ma to give up her job. I had no idea how depressed she was in a new country, with no one to talk to. I suppose at some level, her guilt made her leave her job. I wonder if it would have been any different if she had always been a stay-at-home mom. I ask her often, why did you not spend more time with me when we were in Calcutta? Her answer never changes, “We wanted the best for you. Our jobs afforded a good life for you”. But why did you decide to change after my sister was born? She doesn’t answer that one. Instead, she deflects it by saying, “I am here now, naa?” I suppose I can understand that at some level. Yet, there are moments when I feel that I could have been happier with Ma by my side as a child. To have her croon me to sleep, as a baby.

Because isn’t that what parents are supposed to do? Especially mothers? Strangely, I never craved for my father’s time as much as I did hers, even though he was always busy or away as well. But my mother made up for than enough with her presence post age nine. I cannot remember not having my Ma around after moving to Dubai. Even now, she makes it a point to call me every day. I have to gently remind her that I am not a child anymore. But she prefers calling me to my sister. Or, so I would like to believe.

I don’t know if having had a nanny for the formative years of my life changed me for better or for worse. But I do know that if we had not left India when we did, I might have held a grudge all my life.

Photographs: Copyright Sanchari Sur

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Once upon a time…

 

 … in a congested city far, far away, there lived a little girl. She was brought up on a healthy dose of stories. Ghost stories, tales about groups of friends (Dil Chahta Hai style), childhood stories, narratives of adventure, mystery and magic. And of course, Disney manufactured fairytales. The stories came from very different sources, as different as the storytellers.

She heard them from her grandfather, her mother, her grand-aunt, her building’s watchman, and even the maid who came to clean the house twice a day. Elaborate plots with princes and princesses, about evil step mothers and flying horses, about crows that could talk, and dragons with kind hearts.

As she grew up, she realised that she could make up stories too. She could fly away to fantastic lands, get the man of her dreams, have incredible adventures— all through her imagination.

Then came a time when she started writing these stories down. From single lined notebooks in between classes, she graduated to word documents on her laptop. What started as timid meanderings gradually became a strong, confident voice.

These days she writes when she isn’t studying, or marking essays, or working on papers of her own.

Will she make it? She nods confidently. Failure is not an option. Never was, she says.

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The Great G(u)tsby

Cover painting by F. Cugat (1925)

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.

I believe that Fitzgerald’s quote refers to the resilience of the human spirit to fight against a past that threatens to define our future.  Whether we admit it or not, there is always a danger of becoming our parents. Sure, we rave and rant about our independent spirit, but throw us into an ocean of unknown faces, and we will find ourselves mimicking the very people we swore not to become.

In an alternate universe, Freud and Fitzgerald would have had a great conversation over tea (or scotch) discussing how we cannot escape our past. Freud would say, “primal” incidents from our childhood shape our egos, and subsequently, the people we become eventually. While Fitzgerald would nod saying, no matter where we run off to, there is no way to avoid our “destiny”, which in many ways have been shaped by our past.

And, their pronouncements would be akin to death for any writer aspiring to be a great one. Like me.

The art of writing is carefully interlinked with the art of controversy. A truly great writer is one who has absolutely no inhibitions, is completely shameless and is unafraid to take risks. Shall I cite Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses that almost had him killed, or Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja that had her banned from her own country? Both writers dared to write about issues that were off-limits. The most recent example would be of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of South Park) who faced death threats from Revolutionmuslim.com (now offline) for depicting Prophet Mohammad in a bear suit in their 200th anniversary episode.

These are writers who knowingly (or, unknowingly) used shock value to sell their products. In my belief, real writers will take risks, death threats or not. They refuse to be pulled back into the vortex of their past, or to be held down by inhibitions and fear. Of course, the question of whether these writers are “real” or not is quite another different matter altogether. It is also possible to rely on good prose, instead of titillation to sell books (take note, Shobhaa De). A really good example would be Jeffrey Archer.  However, it remains true that the ability to break boundaries will end up opening avenues for an aspiring writer (sadly, even for De).

The question is: Do I stand a chance? Do I have the “guts”? I will know when I break the current instead of get taken for a ride.

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