An indelible legacy from childhood

The year was 1955 and I was around three and a half years. Too young to remember much. Yet, as I sat near the hearth of the landlord’s family, on the dingy first floor on a January morning in order to warm myself, sandwiched between their two daughters the left leg of my pyjamas caught fire and I screamed. There were no elders around. The older girl used both her hands to smother the fire and did it successfully, though in the process she received burns. My skin on the outer side of the thigh was seared and to this day, I carry the scar. I owe my life to her. Her name was Kesri. After my father received transfer orders I could not see her. 

When I was nearly six, my mother stitched striped pyjamas for me which I hastened to put on before going to play. At my neighbours’ place, we had to go down a bamboo staircase before landing in their courtyard. Just one tug by a protruding nail on the staircase and my pyjama tore with an unforgettable sound. From the knee to the bottom, my bottoms were split into two. How could I face my mother? Shall I or can I still play? Such was the nature of the ominous dilemmas that haunted me then. Nothing could or would console me. I requested my younger sibling not to reveal anything about the mishap. Then I tore a couple of slender but steely thorns from a shrub to staple the two slices of the leg at four or five places in order to give the impression of an undamaged piece of clothing. I went home, changed the dress and hid the pyjamas under a heap of other clothes till it was discovered on the third day. You can guess what my mother did to me later.

Once the small glass container of the pain-balm was found empty. I was questioned. I had no clue. The whole house bore testimony that the balm had been smeared here, there and everywhere. Who else could do it? I received my share of punishment before our neighbour came that evening to report that her daughter had come home thoroughly smeared with pain-balm. But, what was done, was done for me.

When I was four, Jogu, the halwai next door, had been told to give me milk whenever I demanded. This was a royal privilege. I demanded laddu or sewian on occasions and Jogu smilingly obliged me each time. I never doubted that it would reflect in the bill. At the end of the month, when my indiscretions came to light, my privilege was suddenly withdrawn. I became a sad boy for such a small breach! Such are the indelible legacies from my childhood which shall perhaps always remain fresh in my memory.

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