Unfading boyhood memories

Somehow memories of my happy boyhood never fade, returning again and again like a rejuvenating whiff from the distant past to revitalise me in my old age.

As teenagers in the 1950s rambling through Munnar’s wooded hills and lush tea gardens, my brothers and I loved nothing better than to play 'football' with the mounds of wild elephant dung we literally stumbled upon. Often we would kick these fibrous 'balls' all the way home, the tricky part being not to let them disintegrate — never mind if our white sneakers took on a greenish hue that made Mum see red when she cleaned them!

Sometimes we would even find fresh and 'steaming' elephant droppings, unmistakably indicating that the contributors of this organic 'bounty' weren’t far away — something that sent our Adrenalin and excitement soaring.

Once, hearing the whooping of Nilgiri langurs rise to a scary crescendo, we tried to mimic them as realistically as we could. Apparently, the simians were impressed for they fell silent and peered curiously at us through the foliage, perhaps wondering whether they had 'kin' out there who weren’t strictly arboreal in their lifestyles!

Stealing round bends with a soft, feline tread, we sometimes surprised a covey of jittery jungle fowl or an unwary jackal or barking deer and would gleefully watch them flee. We would search for porcupine quills with which we tipped our arrows while playing 'Cowboys vs Red Indians'. I still vividly recall how the 'Cowboys' used to flee ignominiously when the 'Red Indians' sneaked up from behind with their bows drawn, dreading the prospect of being shot in the fundament (where it hurt most!) with arrows spiked with needle-sharp porcupine quills.

The snacks we carried to sustain us on our hyperactive rambles would be polished off in no time and, when famished, we would search for wild passion fruit, only to find that the ripe, purple-tinged delicacy hung tantalisingly out of reach. A hail of shots from our catapults would fell a few fruits which we would crisply crack open between our palms, gulping down the golden-hued ambrosia inside. Sometimes Mum made a delectable preserve with the fruit which, however, was seldom 'preserved' for long, thanks to our voracity!

Those carefree days are unforgettable and remain deeply etched in my mind — days when we often came into direct and enlightening contact with nature in its many manifestations. Indeed, fond childhood memories never desert us, which probably prompted Oscar Wilde to observe, “Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.”

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