Friday, October 26, 2012
Possessed of a fiery temper I learnt to stand up for myself at a very young age!!!The best part of my early childhood was that though Chandigarh was the much touted "Modern" Planned City the ambience and atmosphere was unabashedly rural!!For me those were the real halcyon days---for only those who have experienced the true nature of Rural India will relate to my Memories!!The beautiful "dusty" Plains of The Punjab are populated by an expansive,large hearted people----who are perhaps the most caring of all Indians.Unfortunately their attitude towards women is very flawed---and those women who are modern in their outlook and demeanor are looked upon as being forward---which is another word for "loose charactered'" and hence considered easy prey for all those macho B******s who like to revel in what they think is their masculinity!!
My Nanny, Amma was a simple Hill woman---very beautiful to look at.Many of my mother's friends would ask her how she was comfortable employing such a person--to which my mother would reply very simply that she trusted my father implicitly!!I feel proud to assert that she was one hundred percent right--for my poor,besotted father never had eyes for anyone else but my mother--a fact which earned him the name "Devidas" from his nephew Milind!!Devi happened to be Mummy's name and "Das" means Slave in most Indian languages--including Marathi and Hindi!!I was brought up mainly by my Nanny--and would accompany her to visit her relatives---even eating there if it happened to be Mealtime.Both my parents were never class conscious---and that is why we had the most beautiful childhood any child could have dreamt of!!Today what I miss the most is the unconditional warmth of those relations--for these people accepted me as myself--not Amma's ward!!While I was cocooned in this warm acceptance Amma also made me aware of the seamier side of the World---teaching me to interpret which people I should be wary of---as I grew up and also how to use my knees in self defence!!
My preferred weapon since very early childhood has been the "Chappal" as we call our Indian slippers.The earliest opportunity when I used it was on my "Masterji" or Teacher.It so happened that I was an extremely mischievous child--- constantly getting into scrapes and being "disciplined" by Mummy---for those were the days when the Proverb "Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child" held true!!!Thanks to this we did not share a very cordial relationship---and it was Amma who'd act as the mediator between us!!One day I climbed on to Daddy's Study Table and copied a few letters on his typewriter--unknowingly typing out his name---and this convinced my thrilled father that I was a Genius---a misconception he harboured for the rest of his life!!The result of this was that a Master was hired from a nearby Village to come and teach me and my coterie of Friends.Those days we had large Wooden planks that doubled as Slates.These Planks would be rubbed with a sticky Mud and left to dry in the Sun on the previous day.Once dried we'd mix Ink Powder with a little Water to form Ink and use a Cane Quill to write with--after it had been dipped in the prepared Ink.In Hindi these were called "Takhta (Plank),Kalam (Pen) and Dawaat (Ink)".This master was another one who firmly believed in corporal punishment--his favourite form of inflicting torture being pulling our ears!!I complained many times to both Amma and Mummy--who both turned around and asked me to pay attention and behave instead of blaming "Masterji" who was to be revered because he was a Teacher!!We hail from Kolhapur--a Principality in the Deccan very famous for it's Gold Jewellery,Red Chillies and Spices and also Leather Ware.My paternal Grandma Akka had sent me a pair of handcrafted "Kolhapuri Chappals" made in the old fashioned manner with very thick,layered Leather soles bound together with Leather thongs--not nails.We used to remove these and keep these next to us on the floor while sitting cross legged on the "Chataaee" or Grass Mat while studying.That day Mummy and I had already had an altercation before Masterji arrived so my mood was pretty bad to begin with.Add to that the fact that he took objection to the way I'd written my Hindi Alphabets--out shot his arm and closing his fingers around my ear he hauled me up!!
As he hauled me up I gathered one of my chappals in my right arm--after which all Hell broke loose!!I started clobbering poor Masterji around his head--shouting all the while in Hindi"Merey kaan kheenchegaa?" meaning" Will you pull my ears?"In desperation he began running around the huge Verandah we used as a Classroom--with me speeding behind him,my little chappal held aloft--landing in a few good ones at each opportunity I got!!By the time Amma and Mummy got to me I was completely incensed and he totally cowed down!!While Amma tried to calm me down,Masterji turned to Mummy and said "Bibijee aapki beti toh toofan hai--yeh kabhi bhi kuchh nahin banpaayegi" which translated means that Madam your daughter is a Hooligan who'll never amount to anything!!Mummy paid him off for the entire balance month and sent him on his way---and after he left we had a glowering match--which I'm proud to say I won--for my poor ear was red,swollen and painful!!
This encounter gave me a taste for fighting--and while I never started a fight I never let anyone walk over me either--just because I was a puny,little girl.Here a lot of credit goes to my father and Jeanneret Uncle---- both of whom included me in their Treks and Climbs in the Shivaliks--where I learnt to love and appreciate the beautiful bounty of Nature.This also turned me into a wiry and physically strong individual those days called a "Tomboy" .Daddy used to call me his "Pathan" and he helped me grow into a confident,well read and physically fit young woman.Add to that the muscles I developed because my physical activity which included grinding a variety of Masalas on our huge Grinding Stone for Mummy each Sunday morning.I can never forget the incredulous amazement on Atya's face when I ground the Coconut Curry Paste fine on the even bigger Grinding Stone in our Kitchen in Bombay--for these tasks were done in my new household by the male hired help---never the women!!