I had done my Geography project and stashed it away somewhere. It wasn’t in any of the usual places—I had kept it somewhere special to protect it and in the process I had lost it!
I looked for it everywhere where it was supposed to be, and not finding it anywhere, I began searching for it in all the places where it was not supposed to be. There were two shelves in our storeroom where I had kept a collection of discarded books, and I wondered if by some chance I might have slipped in my project file there.
As I rummaged through the collection, my hands fell on an old family photo album. I turned the cover. My eyes fell on a picture of myself as an infant in the arms of a domestic help called Sushma. She was a thick-set woman with large eyes, and I believe I was so attached to her that I took her to be my own mother. When I grew up a little more, I called her Ma and referred to my real mother as ‘Brother’s Ma’.
So I had been told again and again. Now I could not recall a single thing about Sushma. It made me think about the transitoriness of most human relationships—how intimacies that seem eternal when they last, can peter out into indifference and oblivion later.
As I riffled through the pages, I stopped at a picture of my elder brother with his arm around me. It must have been six or seven years ago. We have not been the best of friends since, often quarelling over nothing in particular—the sort of thing which happens when two people just can’t stick each other.
There was something so protective about my brother in that photograph, something so caring in his eyes, that there was a lump in my throat. Was this the same brother who could be so rude and ferocious? I wondered how he would feel if he saw this photograph now. Would he turn away? Would he want to tear it to pieces? Or would it, perhaps, help us to make up with each other?
There were pictures of our family, all five of us—Ma, Papa, my sister, my brother, and myself—in a boat before our hired houseboat at the Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir; on the beaches of Waltair and Puri; at the Mall, all in woollens, in Darjeeling. We were small, we were happy, we were full of fun; and our parents, I thought, were happy not only for themselves, but because we, their children, were happy.
What happens, I wondered, when we grow up? Why do complications come in? Why does life become less beautiful?
Perhaps, I thought, it has something to do with the loss of simplicity and innocence. As we keep getting older, something goes out of our lives: a glow, a bit of Paradise that we came to the earth with.
I could not come to terms with the view that it had to be that way, that there was no alternative. Quietly, I told myself, 1 would search for that alternative, where a greater knowledge of the world and its ways did not wipe out the joy of being that made childhood so magical.
‘Have you fallen asleep in that storeroom or what?’ a voice rang out from outside.
It was my friend Sohan. I came back to the present with a crash.