My first idea of a husband was inspired by a caricature which showed a hunk with all muscles and abs, vest rolled up to his chest and flexing his biceps and a midget of a dainty bride with batting eyelids and love-light absolutely shining from her eyes; a “varmala” in her hands, standing next to the towering giant. Well, truth be known that it was drawn by my eldest cousin who was staying with us at that time, and the hunk was supposed to be him while the bride was none other than me. I must have been five. He was twenty. One should be wise enough to predict the grim progression of affairs to follow when one’s dream of a husband is inspired by a caricature of one’s cousin.
Don’t blame me. I was besotted by him…his amazingly fresh and crisp smell which seemed to linger hours after he left a room (except when he opened his shoes in that room…and then it would be best to stay away for a long, very long time actually)…and the way he could make me do anything, starting from letting him clean my measles scars and give me a shampoo to letting him record me crying on tape so there could be some evidence that I could actually cry (never used to cry as a kid….really!). He was the one to introduce me to the hilarious world of Archie comics (I know everything there is to know about the Archies like I know my ABC’s…maybe because I learnt both at the same time) and to the immortality of Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd. At the age of five I was humming “Wonderful Tonight” and “Another Brick in the Wall” along with him while he spent hours grooming himself for yet another date with his high school girl friend. What happened in those dates my sister would better know….she was always the chosen one to accompany him. Maybe that’s cause she was old enough to be bribed with chips and cola not to tattle on him in front of Mom and Dad. I don’t wonder why I’d wanted to marry my cousin though. He was the first guy I knew other than my Dad, and I sincerely believe that him being devilishly handsome was the only reason I had set quite high standards for the guys in my life years hence….
The point I’m trying to drive at, however, is that my earliest memory of a family was one which included my mom, dad, my sister, my grandmother, my cousin fifteen years senior to me and an Uncle young enough not to be called an Uncle (So we always called him “dada”). And that was how I always knew it to be. Until my cousin left after his graduation to get himself a job. Which was the idea in the first place. Our house was this launch pad for all our cousins, the “Gurukul” where they came to prepare themselves for their first tough exam, the high school boards, and after staying for the couple of months they got for their study leave, went back to face the world. And the trend started with the eldest in the family (except that he came to our place for his graduation instead of his high school boards).
And so, as I grew up, I was always amidst older wiser cousins serious enough about their studies to actually leave their own houses (I’m sure at times it was more like being pushed out by their parents) and come stay with us for a couple of months. My mom would take care of their studies, being a Science teacher herself, as well as of their health, making sure they have all the veggies put on the table which they normally gave a pass at their own houses. All she had to do was roll her eyes and anybody in their right mind would know what’s best for them. Meanwhile Dad would be their friend philosopher guide and yoga teacher all rolled into one. He was the one to make sure they were totally disciplined, and doing that included monitoring everything, starting from their sleeping hours to the amount of water they’d had during the day, and most importantly their state of mind at all times. It was military rule all right, but the strange thing was, it always worked…! I never knew a cousin of mine to be homesick, and I know that the imprint of what my parents tried whole-heartedly to make on their yet unmolded minds would never leave them.
I somehow remember my childhood in episodes….and I guess what I am today is very much an assortment of everything I’d learnt from all of my cousins. Like the cousin to come next to our place, my Jethai’s daughter, who inspired me to learn to cook and sew, and who introduced me to the wonderful things one could do with discarded lipsticks and eye-liners. She was the quintessence of everything feminine I could think of, and for years I’d wanted to be exactly like her. The next to come to our place was her younger brother, who considered himself pretty lucky that he was the same age as our neighbor’s daughter and Mom decided to coach both of them together, and enjoyed himself to the hilt, shamelessly flirting with her all the time. I was old enough by then to appreciate the situation and maybe that was the time I first got to know that boys were teased with girls, and the girls actually liked it but were not supposed to show it so they never did.
Looking back on those days now, I can actually recall periods in time when my sister took second place to one of my cousins, who was the one to enlighten me about the until then mysterious ways of a girl’s life (I’ll forever remember the exact moment I first had the ominous feeling that being a girl was a bad, bad bargain) And when I say that my sister has always been the apple of my eyes, my one idol, and that I have positively worshipped her I guess you’d have an idea of how significant those years were to me, when I somehow don’t remember how it was between me and her at that time. Maybe that’s because I didn’t really get her to myself during those years. And even though I might be mentioning this the zillionth time, being younger sucked. I always felt they had much more fun all the time….I mean, they got to share grown-up secrets while I was the one to be hushed up if I fell off a slope and got my hands and feet all blistered on an outing with them (Yeah, that actually happened, and I had to be bribed with candies so I didn’t go “waah” the moment I saw Mom). They were the ones to play silly cricket while I was the one sent away to steal goodies from the kitchen from in front of Mom’s ever watchful eyes.
I didn’t think much about it then. It was a way of life, and one didn’t stop to really think about stuff like that. Its just now that I realise that these sort of things just don’t happen anymore. The last cousin to go out from this Gurukul was a cousin much younger than me and that was almost six years ago, and by that time I was old enough to appreciate the amount of effort it takes for somebody to accommodate a whole another person’s habits and at times their quirkiness into one’s lifestyle. And it was a two way effort….I mean imagine being uprooted from your comfort zone to be sent away to a whole new place with a whole new set of rules and principles just so you could get your “foundation” right. I actually wonder how many people even think of such things these days.
Maybe that’s why I have these bouts of overflowing emotions at times….the feeling that I am nothing but sheer lucky to have been born in that very Gurukul. That I could witness the efforts of two extremely committed teachers with a heart of gold, into making sure that nobody left this place without learning a thing or two about being happy and being healthy. And for that reason, if not anything else, I want to believe that I have been blessed. And at the risk of being overtly “filmy and senti”: Thank you Mamma-Ta!