I was brought up with the help of a series of babysitters and maids. My parents used to work all day and I was almost always left with women of great patience! I was not a particularly ill-tempered brat, but I wasn’t a saint either. Like a cold-blooded murderer I used to go about my pranks with the finesse of a calm psychopath. I used to draw cartoons on the mirror using my mother’s lipsticks. I loved washing clothes as a kid, so once I remember emptying an entire pack of Surf into the tub. I later freaked out because I could not get out of the foamy bathroom. These babysitters were instructed to keep me presentable by the time my parents returned. So they used to clean my nails of muck and mud with a safety pin before my mom came back.
I grew up into a considerably (?) decent (?) person however flawed my upbringing might have been, but I lose all the faith in upbringings when I see the kind of kids they are bringing up today.
I thank my parents for giving me a childhood that was completely free of an infestation called the Television. I still cannot bring myself to watch TV. All I can watch (without flipping through the channels at 60 per minute) is National Geographic, BBC/CNN and Friends.
The lack of TV, cable TV to be precise introduced me to books very early in my life. My interest in books was not one of those cosmetic interests that people develop in order to be taken seriously. It was a means of growing up for me. I read everything from Fairy tales to Russian folk literature. I read poetry and my grandmother taught me to appreciate poetry when I was barely four. Books are like your own LCD TV and what is more interesting about them is that they are totally personalized. :)
What you see is the only telecast and there are no repeats.
Sometimes when I am responsible for entertaining kids, I am shocked at how easily manageable they are. You just need to give them a bag of chips and the TV remote and they are okay.
I remember there was this mythological series called Vikram and Vetal on the national television when I was five. Vikram was a cool and amazingly patient dude. He had the responsibility of carrying a phantom on his back and going someplace I fail to recall now. The phantom was called Vetal. Vikram was supposed to be mute all the while and if he spoke up for any reason, the phantom would fly away. Vetal entertained him with stories on these trips and Vikram got so engrossed that in the end he always broke his vow of keeping mum. The phantom was such a hideous looking character that I was petrified of the TV for almost two years after that. He had long golden hair and wore bright red lipstick, which was one of the most severely etched fears in my five-year-old heart. Even if I over heard the title song of the series on the street I used to sob helplessly and make everyone think that I had some kind of a psychological disorder. If someone insisted on watching it in my presence, I used to crawl under the bed and stay there till it got over all the while covering my ears to avoid any of it entering my head. :)
I guess my unfortunate encounter with the TV made our bonding impossible later as I became very busy trying to be a versatile student!
My next-door neighbor was a sixty-year-old man infamous for being excessively fussy about cleanliness. I somehow managed to help him overcome his paranoia by making him my best pal. He used to help me build tents and dress up as a runaway cat. Sometimes I became his hairdresser (he was almost bald then but I used hair bands and birthday hats!). He took me to the zoo sometimes, which was quite near to our place. I loved the zoo (exclusive of the fact that it made me “belong”!).
Going to the zoo was never pre-planned. It was never a “family picnic”. I hardly remember going anywhere with both parents as a kid. I went to the parks and zoos on impulse with my babysitter or neighbor. They all say that I was exceptionally quite back then (maybe my current temperament comes as a shock to everyone).I guess I was too busy observing people and things then. I remember a lot of things and places very vividly. My father used to have Saturdays off. I loved all the weekends spent with him. He was like a kid himself at that time. The Zoo with dad was a great treat!
Even now sometimes when I get random dreams in my deep sleep, my sixty-year-old best friend forms a part of them every now and then!
My parents were often subjected to raised eyebrows for leaving me alone at home. There were people who laughed at their decision of having an only child and that too a daughter!
But I got a wonderful childhood. Free of any kind of extreme.
Discipline, Freedom, Love and Appreciation were given in just the right amounts which made me independent yet attached to the people I truly care about.
I learnt to guard my space at a very early age and also to let go.
The most important lesson I learnt was to be there for myself all the time.
Which also taught me to be there for others. I am never lonely when I am alone and sometimes I can be completely oblivious of a crowd. It is an amazing feeling. Reminds me of something I read in a Ruskin Bond story,
If I am not for myself,
Who will be for me?
And if I am not for others,
What am I?
And if not now, when?