Thinking of childhood is loads of fun. That is especially true because my childhood was really a lot of fun. I did not go to school until I was 7 years old. Lucky me! I was schooled at home until then. My mother taught me to read.
I remember having a surgery when I was 3 or 4 years old. It was a hip release or something like that. I was in a huge plaster of paris cast and was in bed for a long time. I am unable to tell, if it was a month or two or just a few weeks. I remember my mother telling me stories to keep me entertained as I lay in bed. My mother was not the academic sort. However, I remember her reading every day, just to fill me up on the stories, for I had quite an appetite for them. I would listen and ask for more. And she never disappointed me. I really enjoyed that very much. Looking back it feels so good.
We moved to Coimbatore, as my father was posted as the Additional Collector/District Magistrate of that city. We were given a huge British Bungalow to live in. It was such a stately home – a vestige of the Raj. It had a huge banyan tree and acres of land around. My mother tended a well maintained garden with all kinds of flowering plants there. I ate my food perched on a low branch of the Banyan tree. I was still recovering from the surgery and I was thoroughly pampered! My mother would gather the children of the office staff– the office attendants, the drivers, the dhobi- who also lived on the campus, and she would tell all of us stories. She would make us sit on the floor of the corridor that ran along the bungalow. She would give us rooh–afsa to drink and kal-kals and dhol-dhols that she made to eat. We sat in a round formation, and she would tell us a story a day. The next day, one of us had to retell the story back to the group, to the accompaniment of much laughter and impatient prodding. For Christmas that year, she made all of us do handmade ornaments for our indigenous Christmas tree. It was the most rustic Christmas tree ever. They were mostly made of various kinds of paper, string, glue and clay and color. Then she organised games for us, and gave all of us small gifts, which she wrapped like a giant toffee.
Every day she would go into the garden and bring back flowers which she strung for me. Violets of different hues and violets with stripes. Kanakambarams. Jasmines. Roses of every size and color. I was among the most pretty girls in school, because she would dress me up like a button. She would take time every day in the morning and evening to do so.
From the garden, she would bring back the wounded mynahs and kingfishers, into the bungalow and nurse them. She would set them free.
She made the prettiest smocking frocks for me. For my 5th birthday, she made a violet smocking frock for me. It had the most intricate colorful pattern. She hid the frock from me for all of those months that she was secretly making it. On my birthday, she sat me on a chair on the front porch, closed my eyes, draped me in it, and then made me open my eyes to see it. I remember being thoroughly thrilled. She also made panties for me with a lot of frills. They were the sweetest things a little girl could wear. I look for those frocks and panties in shop windows whenever I go shopping, and I have never seen anything quite like them!
That was among the last time that I saw her like that. Her personality slowly started changing immediately after we moved back to Chennai, upon the completion of my father’s assignment in Coimbatore. I never saw her quite so happy again. I didn’t realize then that she might be sick, and for many years I was antagonistic to her. She was severely depressed. Subsequently she went on her religious trip, and this once amiable parent morphed into someone who was totally unlike herself. She was always frowning and filled with fear. After my father died her condition worsened.
Only after that, did I take her to see a Professional. Shame on me. Many times during the years that were difficult, I began to fear, if I ever imagined the good childhood days with my mother. Did it really happen just like I thought it did?! After several patient years on medication, she is completely clean today. It is nothing short of a miracle. She has been free of any medication for the past 4 years, and she is back to her former tip top self. The same twinkle in her eyes. My young cousins tell me with incredulous disbelief that they never knew, that Pedamma was so much fun!! I never imagined that such a recovery were ever possible, and it has once again reposed my faith in God. It is now stories at the dinner table all over again, whenever I come home for her gongura mamsam or pachi royyala iguru. I love you Ma!