Once upon a time in a land far away, there lived a king and a queen. They lived in a beautiful castle. The king was very kind and humble. He was a healer. He liked to heal people from their pains and sufferings. His friends and relatives loved him because of that. He was well known for his brilliant mind and kind heart.
The queen prided in being a mentor of the children of her kingdom. She used to get immense joy in partaking education to these young minds. She told her friends that these young people are the reflections of future and hence it is very important to impart proper education to them. She was also very compassionate. She could bear nobody’s pain and would always come to their aid. They had every material happiness but the king and the queen were not truly happy.
The queen had a beautiful garden. She took care of the plants herself. She would take long strolls in her garden during evening time. But she was never quite happy.
One day a wise man came to visit their palace.
“Welcome o wise man !! Welcome to our humble abode !!” said the king and welcomed him. He offered his hospitality to the wise man who gladly accepted it.
The wise man stayed in their kingdom for a few days. Before leaving he went to meet the king and the queen.
“I express my heartfelt gratitude for your kindness o noble king and queen ! Your kingdom is beautiful. I can see it flourishing under the shadow of such great people. Thank you for letting me stay in your land.” addressed the wise man to the king and the queen. He gave the queen a seed.
“This is the seed of a lily. Sow this seed in your garden. As it grows and blossoms happiness will be restored in your life.” were the parting words of the wise man. The queen did as she was told. A year passed. The white lily bloomed. Watching it bloom the queen smiled for the first time which in return made the king smile too and they lived happily ever after.
My name is Prapti . I pride myself and my parents for selecting such a unique name for me. Naming a baby is considered to be sacred and therefore is an important Indian tradition. It involves the immediate families and also close relatives and friends. My parents were never quite superstitious people and hence did not believe in naming me after any auspicious alphabet. But they had their own reasons to name me “Prapti”.
Ma used to tell me when I was very young that earlier I was a star in the sky. She would always pray to God to bless her with that star but God would never be merciful. After lots of prayer and hardships God finally gave me to her. This is how I was born on 13th of August 1988. As my parents received me after so much hardship they named me “Prapti” as in bengali “Prapti” means to receive something valuable after lots of adversity. I used to love this story and would always request ma to repeat it. When I grew up and grew past my naive stage I knew that what Ma had told me was not true but I still liked to believe myself as some dazzling celestial body illuminating the night sky and giving light to lonesome travellers ,similar to the rhyme that we all would learn in our childhood days –
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.”
Initially we used to live in a small rent house in a small town Dhakuria. It was in Raipara close to the railway station. Our landlady was a very strict and disciplined woman. She was very particular about keeping the rooms clean, not make too much noise, giving the rent in time – in short leading a disciplined life and behaving like a model lessee. But even Dida ,as I used to call her, loved me very much.
She would tell Ma and Pisi “ What nice child she is !! Never makes noise like all the other kids. Such a happy child ! “
Although my memories of Dhakuria are quite fuzzy still I remember that our house was adjacent to the main road. As the station was nearby we could hear the horns of local trains. A moderate verandah faced the road. I remember the verandah very well as it was my favourite spot for playing with my dolls. Towards north of the verandah were our bed rooms. The small kitchen was right beside it. Walking out of the gate to the right of the balcony we could reach the portion where Dida lived along with his son and grandchildren. Though I do not remember the grandson’s name but I recall that he used to take part in playing with my dolls. There was a well in the porch in the front of Dida’s house. I would often harass her to take me in her lap so that I could see the mysterious abyss that was the well. She would always be patient and entertained my requests. The well was always a source of mystery. Its depth and darkness would always pique my curiosity and even scare me little.
Ma is a school teacher. She teaches in a primary school near Sealdah. She would wake up very early in the morning and leave for her school as the school is scheduled in morning shifts. Pisi would cook in the kitchen and I would play in the room near the kitchen. She would not allow me to play in my favourite place so that she could keep an eye on me. I would often crawl near the kitchen and exclaim “ Kto kata ….ki kore jabo?”
Amongst all the dolls in my possession one was especially close to my heart. It was a beautiful Barbie doll dressed in a white princess gown. I loved it so much that I never allowed anybody to touch it ,not even my cousin sisters.
There was a park close to our house. I loved to visit the park in the evenings. Usually ma or pisi would accompany me. Riding the swing would fill my heart with great joy. When they would push it I would close my eyes. There would always be a fluttering feeling in my stomach. When I would reach the top I would open my eyes and look down upon the ground with bewildered joy. It is impossible to express those feelings through plain ink. I would feel as if I am flying in the outstretched vast expanse of blue. It is funny how this swing can symbolize man’s journey of life. Life is like riding a swing, you hold to it tight and start moving, you go high and low, when you’re up you know you will get low and when you’re at your low you push harder to get up, and sometimes you need a push from someone to take you up.
Next on my list of favourite activities was riding a seesaw. It can be viewed as a recreation in which two children alternately ride up and down while seated at opposite ends of a plank balanced at the middle. But some kids would simply sit and refuse to move up despite their parent’s encouragement. This would also spoil my fun if I am sitting on the opposite side. Slide was the only thing that would frighten me. After climbing up I would simply refuse to slide down as I had this great fear that I would hurt myself by falling on the ground. I would refuse to budge an inch even when my parents would try to push me downwards. After sometime when a crowd of enthusiastic children would flock around the slide and their guardians would protest that I was not letting their children have a go on the slide then ma would accept defeat and come and rescue me from that huge yellow giant. The swing was however the favourite among all my peers. There would always be a struggle amongst all kids to reach the swing first and to occupy it. Once during such struggle a boy pushed me so hard that I fell on the ground and scraped my knees. I sat there holding my wounded legs and tears pooled my eyes. I was never someone who would cry very loudly and this attribute has been manifested since when I was very young. Hence it took some time for my parents to discover me and the cause of my sadness. My father picked me up and twirled me in the air causing me to stop crying. He murmured “Stop crying my brave l’il princess. I will make the pain go away in the blink of an eye.” He kissed my knees and blew air on the wound making me giggle. He was right. His comforting words made the pain go away indeed. It might be irrational but the feeling of safety that filled my heart then made all my problems seem so inconsequential and negligible.
Feeding me meals was an Herculean effort that would require my mother’s entire attention and energy. Sometimes even pisi would join the battleground. They would run after me with the plate full of food. Sometimes when I would be exhausted after so much activities I would simply sit down and let them have their way. But it would take close to two hours to complete my meals.
I had an illogical fear for cows during my childhood days. A cow is the epitome of purity in Hindu religion. By the early centuries AD, the cow was designated as the appropriate gift to the brahmans (high-caste priests) and it was soon said that to kill a cow is equal to killing a brahman. However to me the cow represented a thief, someone who would snatch away my mother. It cause me great amusement now to think about all the silly tantrums I created whenever I would hear the sound of a cow. But you must understand that my actions, though irrational and silly, had reasons behind them. Once while feeding me ma got exhausted with my antics and scolded me by saying “ You are such a naughty child. You trouble me so much. If you do not complete eating your meal soon I would leave you and go to the cow. Can you hear he is calling me. He would always listen to me. I should stay with him “. And truthfully I could hear the cow outside yelling “Hamba…Hamba”. The sound was so close to the word ma that I was convinced that the cow was indeed calling for my mother and that she would leave me. Alarmed by this realisation I came out of my hiding spot and like a good girl started eating my food. I could not lose my mother to this stupid cow now , could I ? Let him go and find his own mother. I would not share my mother with him. I event went to the balcony and shouted at the cow telling him to stop calling my ma and go search for his own. But the cow was not at all obedient as ma had claimed. It continued to yell. With panic building inside, I went back to my room and clutched my mother tightly, never letting her go. This was the beginning of my fear for the cow.
Another amusing incident that I can recall is when baba tried to pierce my ears. He started telling me some story and when I was not paying attention, pierced my right ear. The pain that I felt then made me break into a totally uncharacteristic earth scattering scream and run away. Baba started pursuing me with the frightening needle in his hand. We continued this for some time. Everytime he tried to catch me I would slip away until ma and pisi decided to betray me by intervening. I was of course no match against three of them. Ma and pisi held me while baba pierced my left ear. My head decided not to cooperate and started thrashing sideways. The result was that although my left ear was pierced but the positions of the holes in both the ears did not match.
Whenever I recall these incidents a smile seems to make its way on my face. Those treasured moments – how can I forget ?
About the story:
This short piece is an excerpt from my recollections of the golden phase of my life. When I was young I used to frantically wish that I may grow up quickly. But now I realize what wonderful moments I have left behind, moments that will never return… moments that will be forever embedded in my memory.
Ma : Refers to mother, mom or mummy in bengali language
Pisi : Refers to aunt, specifically father’s sister
Dida : Refers to grandmother
Kto kata, ki kre jabo : Toddler spoken words. Actual sentence would be “kto kada , ki kre jabo” which translates to “so much mud, how to cross”