From my memory bank
This is a collaborative piece.
Art : Saakshi Vyas
Text : Madhulika Agarwal
1966, Kolkata - I am four. I am standing next to my fourteen year old cousin in the balcony of our second floor home. She is looking at the busy street, while I am looking at her. I am too short to look out myself. She turns to catch my gaze. She picks me up and there it is! The busy Ballygunge tram-raasta in all its glory. The saree-clad Bengali women and the dhoti-clad men. The tram with its familiar jingle as it is about to stop at the station, the conductor shouting, “Gariahat, Lake Road - Aashun! Aashun! Aashun!” (come aboard). I did not know back then that we would soon move to Delhi, but this memory is there to stay with me, as is the curiosity about Kolkata, with all its momentum.
1969, Delhi - I am seven, my brother is nine, and my sister is five. Our parents have gone to watch a late night movie show. The three of us are sprawled on gaddas spread out on our balcony. We are settled for the night. The lights have been turned off. We have helped Madhav bhaiya wind up the kitchen. His hookah is ready by our gadda-side. I look at the sky overhead. It is not a full moon night, but the tides in our hearts are seeking new heights, and not without reason. Madhav bhaiya begins his story - “In a small village in the hilly Himachal terrain, there lived a man with his wife, four kids and two goats ...” As the story proceeds and sleep tries to sneak in, we struggle to keep our eyes open lest we miss the story intercepted by the bubbling of the hookah. The story never ended. It always began, night after night, from where sleep had taken over the previous night. We did not know then that the story that Madhav bhaiya was narrating was his own.
1976, Delhi - I am fourteen; a big girl now in class eight. Mrs. Parashar, our English teacher, tells us to write an essay on the topic ‘If I were a Boy!’ I get an ‘EXCELLENT’ for my essay. Until then, I had not realized how envious I was of the freedom that my brother got to live with, just by virtue of his gender.
1984, Delhi - I am twenty two. I am now married, tied to another family. Seeking independence, I take driving lessons. “Driving is not for you”, my husband points out. “You are too confused to concentrate.” Just a month into it, I take our brand new Maruti 800 out on my own. I come back shaky and flustered, and say to my husband, “A mini bus backed up and brushed against our car!” He doesn’t look up from what he is doing, and casually says, “These mini-bus drivers are rogues.” I am relieved. I did not realize it back then, but these words helped me move on in a big way.
1995, Delhi - I am thirty three. Now, I have a nine-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter. My ma-in-law loves her grandchildren, but does not want to take responsibility for them lest I fly around free while she is tied down. My parents decide to take me and the children for a ten-day vacation to Europe. My daughter is too young to go. She has to stay back with her father and grandmother. I am apprehensive. My heart pines for her as I land at the London Airport. At the first opportunity, I call home. My ma-in-law picks up the phone. Just as I begin to exchange pleasantries, she says, “Hope you are enjoying yourself there. Do not worry about R. She is fine.” This is a little conversation that I would go on to keep in my ma-memory bank.
As I take out coins from my memory bank to share them with others, I reflect on how greatly they have contributed to making me who I am.
Madhulika Agarwal is a home maker. She takes to pen to catch dimensions of herself and to make sense of the world.
Saakshi Vyas is an illustrator. When she's not in the middle of something, she usually likes to draw, bake cakes, purchase sun glasses and sometimes sit in a corner and do absolutely nothing.