By: Amrita Valan
I was a rather shy reserved kid, a little contrary, little droll, piping up to voice rather eccentric
observations. Quiet, but opinionated. And demonstrations of this facet of me were available on various occasions.
Like the time we were busy doing up our colony club with Christmas decorations and discovered we had many pairs of scissors but no razor blade. I volunteered to run back home and get some. Everyone thanked me profusely and off I went. When I returned I was greeted with an enthusiastic chorus of :
“Thank Goodness! Finally! Blade has come!”
Everyone it seemed was waiting for the blade, minus me.
I curtly replied,
“Blade hasn’t come. Amrita has come with the blade!”
So I was MS. Smarty-pants on occasion, foot firmly in the mouth, curled cosily against a sharp tongue in the cheek. My signature tune, or soul imprint has always been, quaint but strange. Audacious and somewhat bodacious.
Another time, another place. The same old brutal truth telling app inside me self-activated. It was in class five. I was a new student and an object of curiosity. My bench partner was a sweet looking diminutive girl who, for some reason, couldn’t take her eyes off me. Those were the days when becoming the fan of a smart trendy schoolgirl from the higher classes, hanging around her, collecting her autograph was a common phenomenon. I too was briefly the fan of a girl. Unfortunately, she was in the same grade as I was, sixth. In my mind she looked like how I imagined a Greek goddess would. To my horror, I acquired a fan too, that same year, and from my own classmates. Thankfully this blushing Bimbette was fickle and soon moved on to better prospects for fandom.
To come back to this pretty little lady, who was my bench mate in class 5, when the world of fandom was still unknown to me, (I am pretty sure to her as well.) all she did was elicit my fury for making what I thought of as cow eyes at me, dimpling ever so slightly, ready I now realise to smile if I made myself more friendly.
I did not, I was a little beast!
I felt an acute discomfort, is the only excuse I can offer for my rudeness:
“Why are you staring at me like a buffalo?”
Blushing now at the memory.
This sweet classmate was a friendly girl, ever helpful to all her batchmates, (I later discovered.) Her face turned red and my teacher, into whose good books I had been so far, with my penchant for answering her questions correctly in class, now swiftly rebuked me.
“Amrita, maybe she just wants to be friends with you. You should be more open to making friends, okay?”
I was lucky in school and college. Friends were plenty though I was still shy and not too outgoing. I was deemed approachable enough, and today I really appreciate it. In adult years
friends are not easy to make, not the charmed circle of steadfast fellow spirits that you gather in school and college days.
I may have been a tad reserved, but there was no end to my busy monkey mind dreaming up shenanigans in those early days. I was naughty, a kid who kidded other kids.
Aah! What a satisfying sentence that was!
But now I’m getting self-indulgent. In a mood for word play as always. So let me carry on.
A bored kid is a dangerous one. By the end of the fifth grade, I got dangerously bored! I was in between besties, as my fifth grade bestie had abandoned me for speaking/chirruping up, against her, taking up on behalf of another hapless damsel in distress!
I was heartbroken, as said ex-bestie had a plethora of good qualities, including loyalty, (quid pro quo being her only insistent demand), but I was too proud to capitulate to her bullying. I did do a sidewards shuffle! I politely refused offers to sit with other girls, and would still hunker down determinedly next to her and our previous little quartet of friends at lunch time. The other two members of the group felt sorry for me and were inclusive enough, but my bestie, blessed with a hot temper, was still indignant over my perceived betrayal, and lost no opportunity to cut me down to size. One day at lunch break, we were on the hot topic of, let’s see, who is the most beautiful among us all! Chuckling now at the memory of pre-adolescent vanity. She casually declared that I lacked eyebrows, a pre requisite for beauty. Her own perfectly arched raven brows raised, she made a dismissive moue at me. Sadly, I had to give up on hopes of renewing this particular bond/bondage of amity!
So I was hungry for new stimuli. Fresh prey? Amidst a medley of girls who looked upon me trustingly I suddenly declared I knew Latin. And proceeded to back up my fib by adding a cunning suffix “ium” to every English word under the sun!
So academy became Academium, felicitations became Felicitiums and may God forgive me, I obtained their credulous trust_ium_!
The icing on the cake was a sincere bus mate cornering me in the school bus back seat, (where the naughty ones sat) and requesting me to teach her Latin.
I am sorry to say it didn’t stir my conscience so much as my wickedness.
A storm of words ending with “ium” floated in the air, till a couple of class 6 and 7 girls started catching on and looked at me, initially suspiciously, and then hiding their faces, which were breaking up with suppressed laughter.
I played such pranks on cousins and neighbours as well when the er.. .ted-ium of long summer breaks caused ennui.
I told some friends and cousins that our colony’s Transit bungalow caretaker was actually an expired soul/ghoul who couldn’t bear to leave his earthly duties.
This poor old guy drank and took long afternoon siestas emerging outside at sunset with blood shot eyes!
The effect was spectacular!
A friend speeded, in fact skidded away on his bicycle, and my nine and seven year old cousins visiting us, ran back to my home as fast as their tiny legs would carry them.
I had also spent part of their formative years brainwashing them into believing I’m God, in a fit of idle devilment. I managed to convince them of this by the simple expediency of telling them, that if they closed their eyes, a toffee or lozenge would miraculously drop into their outstretched palms. I guess it was from the sheer boredom of babysitting two trusting toddlers. I plead acute ennui-itis.
Of course toffees showered on their pudgy little palms, courtesy me. Taking the trouble to hide them in my sleeves and showing them my bare palms before they closed their guiless eyes, I performed my chicanery with zeal and determination. You could say I was a poster child for perseverance and dedication. Also I was aspiring to high ideals. The highest calling in fact.
Though the lozenges dropped, the penny did not. The poor wee innocents remained clueless as blind mice.
It was an ill-conceived plan to make them obey me, hastily abandoned when both tiny tots toddled to the drawing room announcing in great excitement,
“Ma!, Aapi!, Buria didi Bhagoban!”.
(Mom! Dad! Buria Didi is God!)
My aunty eyeballed me for a long uncomfortable moment till I whined,
“I was just kidding!”
But the worst prank I played was on my poor unsuspecting Dida on the morning of her youngest daughter’s engagement ceremony, held on our premises.
The night before she had bemoaned her rapidly thinning grey hair wondering what hairdo would suit the occasion.
I had cheekily offered to dye her hair with dad’s Godrej hair dye which he had secretly started applying, and which I had joyfully discovered on an inaccessible top shelf in the bathroom. My heart yearned to experiment with it, purely in the interests of science!
Dida sternly forbade me,
“It doesn’t suit an old lady, that too, about to become mother in law to an young man!”
My twelve year old heart longed to make her beautiful. I wanted to give her ebony tresses
that would gleam, and imagined the compliments she, and I would gather. In my mind I pictured my Dida transformed into a mature affectionate Snow White!
So early and bright the next morning I innocently asked her, would she like me to shampoo her hair? I lured her with hints of an expensive foreign shampoo that would make her hair lustrous, manageable yet add volume.
Dida benignly agreed, and in the wee lonely hours I committed my crime.
Prior to dyeing, shampooing was a pre requisite so I did it anyway, warning her to keep her eyes closed tight.
And then without a single intervening rational thought to save my soul, I massaged a ton of the jet black Godrej hair dye gently into her hair, as she moaned and smiled her pleasure.
I was super wily now that the deed was done, and kept her distracted, and away from all mirrors.
“Let it dry Dida, I will comb it out for you so nicely, then you can see!”
I was getting increasingly worried as she still looked herself, every wrinkle and line intact and as adorable as ever, but framed with incongruous wavy jet black wings! I had never visualised Snow White quite like this. She looked oddly youthful, the emphasis on odd.
After half an hour, she nearly roared with fury!
The deed was done, she had taken a sly peek into the wardrobe mirror, though probably not to ask:
“Mirror! Mirror! Who is the most fair?”
But naturally to check herself out one last time, in her elegant ivory silk with its stiff zari border! The sight of unnaturally lush ebony tresses framing her somewhat wizened ascetic face must have given her extreme shock!
Dida wailed in despair, speculating in hushed broken whispers what her soon to be son in law would make of this dramatic transformation!
‘He saw me just last night with pepper and salt grey hair! Mostly salt.”
She literally shook with furious dismay as I began to get an inkling of the true seriousness of my misdemeanour.
Ma stopped talking to me, baba blushed as the secret of his own black hair was revealed to all and sundry, and even my mild mannered Chhotomashi, the gentle demure bride to be looked stilettoes at me.
What? I tried to pull off an innocent face full of savoir faire and nonchalance.
I was only doing social service, it tried to say. But it lacked conviction.
My attempt to give poor Dida a glamorous fairy tale makeover had backfired badly.
Putting an end to my impetuous ways for quite some time. A very long time indeed!
But I did relish watching Dida hold centre stage at the club, (the venue for the buffet lunch that followed), singing classical songs with flawless poise, as everyone listened spellbound.
My Dida was a true diva, I discovered. Like cream and champagne bubbles she effortlessly rose to the occasion.
She deserved every single strand and lock of her raven black coiffure!
But, erring on the side of prudence, I decided to apply brakes to my reckless do-gooder impulses after that, for quite a long time.
Snatching a great uncle’s glossy bushy wig, off his head had happened in another lifetime, after all, when I was barely seven. Though even then I had shown my peculiar brand of relentless resolve jumping from chair handle to chair handle to reach the elegant armchair on which he sat, enthroned in his fearsome dignity! Till I snatched off his headpiece from above and denuded his shining bald pate to the entire assembly of guests.
Maybe that was Amrita from another timeline, corrupting mine.
I plead the fifth on that one.