Once again I clambered up the window railings, this morning, stretched my feet and raising my hand high tugged the knob on the loft door open. Gingerly manouvering the way higher managed to balance myself on the cold metallic rod of the railing under my feet. The door opened easily.
There they all were-- my childhood companions in neat rows just as I had left them last a year ago. The warm comfort of looking at them, my gaze lingering over each of them, and fingers greedily reaching out to caress them, one by one as many as I could.
They smell the same--that old comforting and familiar smell; a smell of decades, years and months and special times of togetherness--that will always always remain with me through the greyness of the years ahead. They smell of lazy and indulging carefree Saturday afternoons when you returned from morning school, freed your plaited hair of those darned white ribbons and delighted in the weekend ahead. Of talkative lunches with Papa, mummy and Rinky. Of postoboda and macho bhoja. Of shrieking and shouting and yelling for mummy when Papa pinned you under the quilt with his leg. Of munching away on fresh cucumber sprinkled with salt and red chilli powder, or biting into crisp apples, succulent alphonsoes, tearing away at sugarcane strips or spitting out the seeds of gooseberries at the wall opposite. Of long afternoon naps that have swirled away in the fog of the past. Waking up to find papa and mummy having their tea, talking of this and that while shelling peas or cleaning the methi saag together for the dinner ahead.
My friends and companions, always ready with solace, joy, dreams to share, ensnaring and transporting me to another world at my bidding. At crowded get- togethers while friends squealed all over the place, and in the din of cutlery and the clink of adult banter, I needed no one and nothing. I knew what I wanted and I had what I wanted.
They have seen me through childhood mazes, and adolescent heartaches-- my books. Stacked up high in row after row. Amar Chitra Kathas and Chandamamas, Beetle Baileys and Archies, Targets and Phantoms, Nancy Drews and Malory Towers, C. Rajagoplacharis and Tolstoys, Tintins and Alfred Hitchcocks, Readers Digests, Mirror magazines and Illustrated Weekly of India from the seventies, all jampacked and jamming in harmony. A universe in itself. Each book or issue, packed with memories.
Here I see "Letters from a Father to his Daughter" that Papa got me after one Orissa trip on his return. The Wheelers stamp resplendent still. Or "The Rainbow Prince" that he took out from under his mattress once the guests had departed after dinner one night and wide eyed I whooped in joy and snatched it from his outstretched hand in a flash. Or the Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan that he and I spent one winter evening to find in the few book shops of Ahmedabad at the time (1983 I think). Papa driving the scooter and me pillion riding behind thinking of the elocution competition next morning for which I desperately needed the book.
Unfortunately, an apartment has its own space constraints and now even our modest study is chockablock with books. Books of my adulthood years. Philosophy and mythology, sociology and art, fiction and literary theory rubbing spines with one another. Books I believe I need to read for work. In short, the books of my childhood have been relegated to the lofts. And yet, they are cared for better because they are not thumbed through all the while. No dog ears on them anymore. They are precious and require care.
The first ones to come down are the Amar Chitra Kathas--most bound neatly in groups of five or six-- since Mithi has started reading them. I watch her excitedly as she flips the pages. I read them too now and then and feel the same unadulterated joy of childhood coursing through my veins. I hold these books in my hand and the years melt away. They envelope me in a cloud of happiness and nostalgia. I hope Mithi feels the same surge of emotion, and her fingers touch the imprints her mother and aunt left on them decades ago.