Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lessons learnt early, and suchlike

When you think of your younger self from an adult perspective, things seem so different. Unless you were an absolute angel as a child, you inevitably end up thinking that you could have been a lot nicer. Yeah, on reflection – and not much of it – I could have been a lot nicer. In fact, I was probably the sort of kid whom I'd have loathed had my adult self only met the younger me then. Ah, you know what I mean.


When I look back on the years spent in Dar es Salaam, a few friends from then come to mind. I didn't have many friends, thinking about it – yeah yeah, probably because I was a little creep but also because I preferred books to people. One of the things I remember was playing hopscotch outside our house for hours.

Two of my playmates were Pammi (Paramjit) and Madhuri. Pammi was a skinny Punjabi girl with long, hip-length braids and a permanent giggle. No matter what you said to her, whether you were being nasty or rude or whatever, she'd giggle. I don't remember where she lived but she must have been fairly close by because we played together a lot. (Maybe she came for tuition from my mother - but I honestly dont remember.) I have to say I don't remember meeting her parents ever. Madhuri was the daughter of my veena teacher, a pretty, solemn girl with large, dark, soulful eyes. She was not very good at games (worse than me, which was saying something) but always tried to join in.

I'm ashamed to say that both girls irritated me enormously – one because of the giggle with which she countered my worst remarks, and the other because she'd hang around me, ignoring all instructions to go away because we didn't want to play with her. I don't know why those two continued to play with me, because I was rude to them an awful lot. Only once do I remember Madhuri going off crying because we refused to let her into the game – and although I was relieved, I also felt rather guilty. So when my parents insisted that I go to her house, apologise and bring her back, I was quite happy to do so. I was nice to her for a while thereafter because of residual guilt, but the irritation cycle started up again in time…


There were a few next-door neighbours whom I visited, but the girls were far older than me. I found them intriguing because although their mother was of Tamil descent and the girls had South Indian names, they were totally African in behaviour and spoke Swahili like it was their mother tongue. Well, it was their mother tongue because they were Tanzanian… it's just that I couldn't get my head around the fact that their mother spoke to me in Tamil while they didn't know the language at all. I couldn't imagine how that situation could come about.

Their house was stuffed with furniture and possessions, and I never really figured out just how many daughters the old lady had. The dimly lit house, smelling of strange cooking, seemed to be always filled with people - different ones every time, or so it seemed to me.


The school I went to was run in the afternoon from 1pm at a local secondary school premises. It wasn't very far away so at first I used to walk to school, taking the longer way around. Then I discovered a short cut, a small path that went past some houses inhabited by the locals. For a few days I found it a pleasant, shady route where the odd hen or two would cluck along beside me for a bit, then go away in a flap if I said "shoo". On one of those occasions, however, a gang of teenage Africans surrounded me, demanding money. They were kids from the same school I went to, except that they attended the morning session which was Swahili-medium. They were quite menacing and I was petrified. I didn't have any money so I kept repeating "Amuna hela", which means "No money", while they grabbed my school bag and rummaged through it. On finding that I wasn't lying, they upended my school books on the path and made off with my pencil box, with the warning that I'd better have some money for them the next time I came that way, or they'd beat me up. Naturally enough, I avoided the shortcut like the plague from then!

Not that walking on the main road was always trouble-free. Some teenage boys had other ways of harassing us girls, especially if we were walking alone and there was nobody else around. They would come up behind us and flick our skirt up to expose our underwear, or even try to pull our skirts down, laughing like loons when they were successful. Once, three boys chased me all down the road, turning tail only when some parents, who were dropping of their children at school, appeared on the scene. After that I kept a wary eye out for any local boys, crossing the road to the other side well in advance if I saw any of them, and walking very, very quickly if there was nobody else on the road…

Those early lessons of caution were learnt quickly, and learnt well.

1 comment:

umm oviya said...

so identify with that bit about pammi and madhuri. there are some kids i grew up with, i want to apologise to, and i am trying to trace them on facebook and orkut. half-heartedly. then there are few others i would like to hunt down and maim! maybe the giggler has similar thoughts now!