In a couple of days I will be seventy. Reaching the biblical allowance of three score ten, without major health and other problems is indeed a blessing of sorts.
On this occasion what are my thoughts?
The earliest recollection of my life is just before India became independent. I was six years old then. I participated in a procession carrying national flag [these were called Prabhat Pheris] shouting little understood pro freedom slogans. I also remember the procession abruptly ending with some Khaki clad men asking us to go home. Why do I remember this one occasion? I don’t know. It is possible that the desire for freedom had percolated to the level of young children of my age. Another reason may be is that my father was freedom fighter and congressman belonging to the old school of Gandhians. The other incident I remember is of our neighbor breathlessly announcing Gandhi’s death. The whole house hold went into deep mourning and fasted. That is the kind of reverence the people had towards this one man.
The small semi rural town I grew up is nestled in hills with thick forests around. It rained almost nonstop when it did which was frequent. I remember only two seasons. Rains and Sun. The rain brought in its wake, myriad of illnesses and the one I remember and suffered most, is attacks of disabling asthma.
Sun brought in some relief not only to us children but to all sorts of life which included, dogs, cats, snakes and other small life to go out to have fun. Snakes were aplenty and lived in cozy relationship with us. Often they were found in the rafters looking for rats. I lost my fear of snakes very early in life thanks this exposure. Go five to ten kilometers in to the country we could still sight wild life like leopards and occasionally tigers. Elephant sightings were uncommon. On a visit ten years ago I found no trace of the once verdant forest! The land was full of lantana and parthenium weed!
School memories are mixed. The best feature of schooling was that it existed at all! It was a kind of free for all place. Primary and secondary education was not serious and you passed any way. High school was better with some teachers being really good and took trouble to teach. Best of all was that the education was virtually free, being run by the town municipality! Because no one really forced you to study, one did because of few exceptional teachers who kindled the search for knowledge.
In that humid rainy season illnesses were common place. I remember suffering from Whooping cough, Diphtheria, Malaria and Typhoid to name a few. I seem to have had fever as a constant companion. Most of these went only when I left home at 15 to do my college.
The overall impression of child hood is not one of pleasure, but one of illness, uncongenial home and social life. But then unpleasant experiences have a way of staying in one’s memory more than the pleasant ones. And I am no exception. Let me stop at this and reminisce further after my birthday!