Seriously, sometimes I can't believe I have a six-year-old on my hands. She seems so -- for lack of a better term -- 'grown-up' sometimes. Was I like this at six?
And then I got down to thinking -- what was I like around that age?
I only remember snatches of my life back then. Some of it is hazy and some of it crystal clear. But boy, was it a big contrast from Xena's life as a six-year-old.
My dad had just gotten posted to Patna. An alien city in an alien state with an alien language. I had joined Std I in a school which was about 150 metres from my house. (Distance was the most important -- and probably the only -- consideration when it came to choosing schools in those days.) The nearest big and important road to my place was called West (or was it East?) Boring Canal Road, or just Boring Road as most people preferred to call it. Only now do I see the humour in it.
I used to walk to school every morning. There was one particular point in the lane in front of our house, where I would pause and look up at the living room windows of my home. Mom would always be there, waving. I remember one day I was mad at her for something and I didn't look up and just kept walking. (I had no idea how hurtful it must have been for her. If Xena did this to me, I would be heartbroken. Sorry, Mama!)
My best friend in school was the class teacher's daughter who used to be top of the class before I joined. Then I took over, but somehow we still remained 'best friends' in spite of the competition. She was Muslim, and I remember thinking that that made her qualified to answer my inane questions such as, "So tell me, what's the difference between ikhtiyar, ibtida, intehaa, imtihaan, istakbal and inteqal?" I still remember the horrified (and sometimes terrified) looks she used to give me. You see, Hindi was very new to me, and so was Urdu, and I was just trying really really hard to pick up the languages, using whatever means I had. I used to listen to a crazy amount of Hindi film music and would spend a lot of time dissecting the lyrics and trying to really understand them.
In the evenings, I used to attempt to play badminton with the bhaiyas and didis of the colony. I also insisted on playing cricket, and because "girls were not allowed to play cricket", the boys would say "iska doodh-bhaat hai" which pretty much translated to "she's totally inconsequential, but we can use her to fetch the ball and stuff". I did that for quite some time and then I got really good at fielding and then they just had to let me bat. (I had paid my dues after all.) Woohoo! Highlight of my year, I tell you.
Soon, they let me in, and tried to teach me how to fly kites and play marbles and spin a top (I got surprisingly good at it. Haven't spun a top in decades though.)
Every evening, I would go downstairs to play and come back only when it started getting dark. All the kids did that and none of the parents worried. In spite of the fact that no one, including ourselves, knew where we would be heading each day.
Our landlord lived in the same building as us, and he had this huge dog called Jimmy. And because it was always leashed, we would dance in front of it, singing, "Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy! Aaja aaja aaja!" (Remember the song?)
We didn't have a phone. In fact, there were only two phones in our building, and we were really fortunate because one of them was in the apartment just opposite ours. But we had strict orders from our parents never to give out the number to anyone because we had an understanding with the neighbours that we could use their phone for "making and receiving very urgent calls only".
There was an aunty in the neighbourhood who had a mehendi tree in her courtyard. She would pluck the leaves, make the paste and invite us to go nuts over it. She had a tenant who was newly married and used to put the mehendi on her lips. I kid you not. She looked scary, sporting the mehendi-orange lips.
Some evenings, the dosa wala would come by. He would use his steel spatula to make loud clanging noises on his griddle, and all the grown-ups would rush down and surround him. Buying authentic dosas from a Tamilian in a small colony in Patna. It was the real deal. It was a big deal.
It got really cold during winters (I think the lowest was about 6 degrees), and sometimes some uncles would collect newspapers from everyone and make a bonfire in a side alley! I think it was just for the heck of it. I mean, no one needed a bonfire. But it was such an event. We would huddle around it, all excited, warming our hands.
Maybe it's time to share with Xena what her mommy was as a six-year-old. I can already imagine her baffled look when I recount all this.