At age five, I had gotten my first memorable mosquito bite. On a vacation back at India. The perpetrator had done a fine job on my wrist and the result was a big, red and ugly patch of raised skin. And in some remote part of my thoughts, I had thought it was the onset of some unmentionable skin disease. That is the day I met the average Indian’s lifelong enemy – the mosquito.
The next year, I discovered chickens and their darling furry chicks. These chicks at some point of life ended up on my plate, fried or tandoor-ed. But 6 year olds never pondered on the dark side of life. And my siblings and I spend hours playing with real-life clucking chickens in my grandmother’s backyard.
Over the years and the many vacations back to India I discovered cows, goats, ducks, paddy fields and touch-me-nots. Then there were the snakes, lizards, centipedes, rats and other stray animals. The not-so-good discoveries.
The cows obviously were the easiest to spot. I wonder why I never noticed them before. But the crafty blood-sucking mosquitoes had beaten its way to my first truly Indian ‘flora and fauna’ experience.
The cows stood patiently by the fields, by the traffic signals, and at the bus-stops, chewing away to glory. If you stayed long enough in an Indian village, you learnt the ‘Dung Dance’, where you twirled timely to avoid a trotting cow from the opposite direction at the same time performing an artsy variation of tip-toed ballet as you side-stepped a fresh heap of cow-dung.
All these childhood discoveries were aided by helpful older cousins or obliging servants who walked us through our wonder and questions. My village is still the same, but there are hardly any more aides left to help the next generation to discover India the way my sisters and I did. And sometimes I worry for my son. Will he grow up, never really knowing and understanding India the way he should know it?
God forbid, it becomes just a tiny spot on the globe and a customary word on his passport.
My son is growing up never seeing an actual chicken and probably believing that eggs come out of neatly packed cartons or worse that they come out of the egg tray in my fridge.
The cows stand a better chance because they at least appear on the milk cartons and cheese packets contentedly grazing at some peaceful postcard-perfect field.
Mosquitoes are the one experience I would rather ‘R’ never experienced. But I bet that one he is going to encounter sooner or later. Which in the long run is better than him only recognising it as the poster child for dengue awareness on TV infomercials.
For ‘R’, ducks might be just something that came out of Walt Disney’s imagination and nothing more than that. Rats might be the example in his English book for the alphabet R. Goats I suspect, might be confined to the same fate as the cows. Like the unicorns and fairies. Mythical creatures that are famed to be helpful and useful but never really seen.
The sound of crickets at night. How do you explain that to a child? A sound which is so reassuring and subtle and something which I always associate with Indian evenings. But the din of current day TV and mobiles have stolen away the charm of sitting on the porch in the evening and just listening.
Touch-me-nots might appear in his biology textbook later on with a fancy scientific name which has about 15 letters in it. And he might learn more about its characteristics, cultivation, etc than I ever knew. But it still doesn’t beat the feeling of awe as a child when you step on your first touch-me-not and watch the leaves droop magically.
The famed paddy fields of Kerala might end up as a mere statistic to him in regards to India and rice production. My India. Reduced to mere statistics and pictures. But not enough sounds, sights and smells.
‘R’ is a toddler now. He has no idea that there is more to his world than his parents. Each day is a discovery. Yesterday was the laundry basket which now doubles up as a toddler driven vehicle around the house. Today it is something else. As he grows up, I realise that now it’s up to me to help him guide him though his discoveries of India. One day at a time. One awe-filled childhood memory after another.
Author’s Note : I have a Facebook fan page which is starting to show signs of dehydration in terms of fan count. So if any of my kind readers would do me the favour of going and liking my page, ‘ppreciate it a lot!