The first few years of my life were spent in an under-developed city with lots of filth, poor administration and a serious lack of technology. It was quite an experience, though. My day would start really early, when I had to go downstairs to get the milk. The milkman would actually come to our house, with his cow, and milk it right infront of his customers’ eyes. I had to go and stand next to the cow while he was doing that to make sure that he doesn’t mix water in the milk. I remember he used to sing cheap bollywood songs while milking the cow. When my cousins from Delhi told me that they can just slot some coins in a machine and get milk I would get fascinated and ask my father when that machine would come to our city. My father always replied with a ‘many years later my child’ and I would get sad.
Then my brother and I would get ready, have the yummy oily breakfast that my mother cooked, hop on the Rickshaw and go to school. I used to go to a convent school where all the teachers spoke English. I remember I wanted all women in my family to convert to Christianity because I thought you can speak English if you are Christian. During recess, my friends and I used to go to the school back gate, slip our hands outside and get snacks from roadside-food-vendors. Our teachers asked us not to get food from them because it was supposed to cause diseases. However, none of us got the disease, so we continued to enjoy the dirty pav-bhaaji served in containers made of tree leaves.
In the evening we used to play on the unclaimed land next to my house. We used to constantly pray that it doesn’t rain because everytime it rained the field turned into a puddle with frogs croaking through the night, making it impossible for us to play or sleep. We generally used to play games that involved running around, if not hide and seek. Once in a while, someone would buy a plastic ball and we could play catch with it. Of course, the person who the ball belonged to would secretly consider himelf the leader of the group. After a few days, the ball would definitely fall into one of the open drains, and we would ahve huge fights because nobody would want to put his hands in the drain full of shit to get it.
My Grandparents used to visit us every now and then and my grandmother would bring freshly made Jams, Jellies and Pickles that were made from fruits that grew in their garden. They used to live in a smaller town where there is a huge temple and it is filled with pilgrims throughout the year, but espeially during Monsoons, the rainy season. When we visited them, my mother would always take us to the temple, which is really crowded all the time. I used to get scared of being smashed under someone’s feet in the chaos. Often I would come out crying but would become okay later since we ate spicy food from a place where my father used to eat since he was a kid.
Once in a year the whole family used to meet at my Grandparents place. The women of the house would gather together in the evening and cook dinner outside on an angeethi, which is lit up using coal and it takes hours for anything to cook on it. That was for the weekdays. On weekends we often used to cook meat which was cooked on another kerosene stove. They still have different utensils and cooking areas for vegetarian and non vegetarian food. I would invariably touch the ‘Vegetarian’ bowls with my ‘Non vegetarian’ hands and then plead to my mother to not tell anyone else. She never did.
Once in a year, a circus troop used to come to our city, and we always went to watch it. After the circus period was over, they used to put up an amusement park with small rides like the merry go round and ferris wheel, but never a roller coaster. The amusement park was called ‘Disney Land’ and I used to think it’s the same one that they have in the amazing “Foreign countries”. Every year they had a different theme but I remember only two of them. The first was Jurassic Park, which was very disappointing because the only Jurassic thing they had was a loser dinosaur head with red eyes at the entrance. Another time was ‘Monster’. That had a huge make-believe monster in place of the entrance, and it’s crotch was turned into the entrance. My father found it very funny. I remember I used to dress myself up for the amusement park, in my pink, frilly, frock, my black school shoes and socks pulled up to the knees. I always used to wear the sunglasses with the blue plastic frame that I bought from a paan-vendor just outside my house, so that in case I ran into a foreigner there, they would know that I could speak English and come and talk to me. Somehow wearing those cheap blue plastic glasses made me feel superior to the others. I would often quarrel with my brother when he would want my blue in exchange for his red.
We moved to a bigger city afterwards, and now I am definitely a city girl. But I cannot say that I don’t cherish those memories. It was a less-than-perfect childhood, but those memories are sure darn fun!