Sunday, November 27, 2005

NDSE2 Days

Tuning into: Pandora

This post, originally meant for musings around the idea of the gift, has been engulfed by memories from around fifteen years ago...

One of the many ways I might describe my childhood is of growing up and growing aware in the heydays and dusk of the Great Indian Socialist Experiment. My parents would often take me to (the ironicaly named) People's Publishing House. A by-product of the Rupee-Rouble machinations, this bookshop, always dank and badly illuminated - by candles during power cuts - was my main link to an outside, immense world.
Great titles were available for prices as low as five to thirty rupees. Fiction, Fantasy, Science, and often combinations of these three. Most of all, I remember People's Propaganda, whose most memorable example was a book titled "The Three Fat Men." Its villains lived off (and were ultimately deposed by) the lowly paid, hard working, heavily muscled, and ruggedly good looking workers, peasants, clockmakers and acrobats of the world.

Another recurring character/theme in these books was Baba Yaga, the evil witch who lived deep inside the forest, feasting on the hearts of lost travellers (?) Her hut stood atop two giant chicken legs, spinning round and round. You had to be real nice when you asked it to stop - those that got the old hag irritated were transformed into a tasty dinner. The clues she gave were cryptic, and were favours that needed reciprocation.

Some stories had an aged king sending his three sons to perform impossible deeds e.g. bring back the golden peacock or something. The eldest brother was always honest/noble etc while the middle guy was the wheeler dealer. They would zoom off together, leaving the youngest to his wits. But, being the most handsome, he would eventually win the heart of the fair, golden cheeked babushka, all while dodging death, and befriending many strange, magical animals (wolves, pike, geese, bears) during his adventures. But not without Baba Yaga's help.

(Resuming the thread of being linked or disconnected from the rest of the world...)

Of feeling strangely glorious in saying 'cosmonaut'; in consciously choosing to shun 'astronaut'. Of believing in the glorious achievements of science in the Soviet Union. In Yuri Gagarin, who became the first human in space on a day that was, by some strange coincidence, exactly twenty years before my being born.

Of sometimes, looking at a map of this part of the world, and thinking, "if it weren't for the extreme northern part of Afghanistan, that thin strip at the junction of Pakistan and China's tips, we would be touching and be connected to the USSR."

Haan, who did those cheeky no-good sonsabitches in Afghanistan think they were? And what were they doing, in denying a little boy his wish of seeing his country's orange colour next to the superpower's endless expance of green? When all this little boy wanted, was for both these colours to be with each other, lying on either side of the thick(er), black dotted line that denoted national boundaries.

Aah, the deconstructive possibilities of all this...

Not realizing (to think of it now) that only Western publications had nosy government officials leafing through them, leaving behind ugly, blurry blue stamps that read "This map does not accurately reflect the external boundaries of the Republic of India."

It was a strange existence. I think part of this (what might now be dubbed "hey superpower, show a little brother some love") was because of how isolated I was. No telephone (we got our connection seven years after applying for it) meant no contact, after school hours, with one bunch of friends. Strangely, the other bunch, the colony gang (which assumed I was ten, when I was actually six) was only composed of boys. Maybe girls didn't even exist in the vicinity of K block...

We were those kids you see almost everywhere, who are ALWAYS playing cricket (or running around, or cycling, or hiding and seeking) whether it's raining or freezing, whether it's morning or evening. Climbing onto roofs and crawling deep inside gutters (maybe that's why the girls were so distant) to retrieve all important and extremely precious tennis balls...

Later, amazed by CNN's nightscopes broadcasting hazy, green images of ack-ack above Baghdad during the Gulf War, we walked single file on walls, through five feet deep ditches (probably dug for telecom cables). The logic: the group's leader told us it was commando training (but, then, it was in his house that we gaped at CNN - my first encounter with cable tv.)

More on the stroll in Aurobindo Place, in the next post.


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