Parsley and Thyme

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The Crow and The Pitcher

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I was 8. The second language at school, Hindi, had begun its journey away from my cerebrum, down towards my Achilles heel. I remember going home after struggling through a particularly stressful Hindi exam with my tormentor – the question paper – safely clipped to the exam pad. I also remember explaining, very nonchalantly, to my mother that I had answered only one question from the entire question paper. And then we parted ways – she to the kitchen, and I to my room. In silence. I may have heard a sigh of relief emanating from the kitchen a little later, but I don’t recall clearly. Even if I did, a little information on my preparations for the said Hindi exam is essential before you can conclude on the (seemingly) high coolness quotient of my mother.

I had spent the greater part of the night before the exam, in stentorian memorization of a single question-and-answer pair which I had carefully dissected from the entire syllabus. The pair was from an Aesop fable called ‘The Crow and The Pitcher’. I found the story inexplicably intriguing, and only one answer from the question-and-answer assignment on this story, worth mastering. The exact reason behind this choice remains a mystery to me to this day. It was probably the negligible level of difficulty involved in learning that one answer by rote, or probably the rhythmic sounds I made as I chanted it over and over again in the wee hours of the night. Reasoning swept aside, I firmly ignored all the other question-and-answer pairs which ominously stared at me from my ‘Class Work’ book and decided to stick to just the one which had caught my fancy. By the next morning, my entire family (of 5) was privy to my focus point for the exam :

Q : Kauva kya chahtha tha ? (What did the crow want ?)

A : Kauva paani peena chahtha tha. (The crow wanted to drink water.)

I left for school that morning, pushed out of the house by unseen pairs of hands, some of which had expectantly left their place on the owners’ ears, and the others which had plastered pillows on their owners’ heads to get them through the night. I was a picture of confidence in the exam hall. Until I was handed the question paper. It was panic time. 6 out of 11, and I thought I could get away with 1? Suddenly, all my physiological functions seemed fully autonomous – I was drenched in sweat, tears, whatnot. Gathering the last bit of strength that I had not imagined to find, I scoured the paper. I found my hero nestled somewhere in the middle of the eleven villains and I nervously serenaded him.

‘Kauva paani peena chahtha tha’

The only predictable aspect of the whole episode, of course, was the result of the exam. And for the torture I had inflicted on my khandaan, I spent many years suffering musical renditions of ’Kauva kya chahtha tha?’ in various ragaas. Uggh.

Written by Kanchana

November 15, 2011 at 2:15 am

Living Lives, Seducing Memories

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I have often wondered why certain sensory perceptions from my past have been indelibly (perhaps) inked into this fascinating fertile ground called ‘memory’. And why memories, seemingly involuntarily but ever-accurately, stir-up the exact original feelings that prevailed when the event occurred, irrespective of its time-stamp.

I must explain. Seeing a picture, video or word that says ‘Alps’ or any other remotely connected mountain range brings a deep sense of loneliness in me, even when am I with superlatively interesting company (a.k.a husband). This is where the theory that I put forth in the first paragraph comes into effect. The background behind the making of this particular memory hereby follows.

Jungfraujoch at 11,332ft, the highest point accessible by railway in Europe, is a strip of the Alps mountain range that belongs to Switzerland. On a sincere summer morning, fluid-smooth, pristine white glaciers flow endlessly among the mountains while grand Alpine peaks rise up like freshly sharpened pencils pointing at the blue skies, making the entire surroundings a visual spectacle. I know, I was there. And it was on one such summer morning, almost a decade ago. I rummage through my memory now and recall admiring the vista which seemed to me then, newly exposed as I was to original European art, like one giant Medieval painting. I was on the trip with two colleagues from office, one of whom I barely got along with, and the other, recently married, returned the same feeling with ease as his whole world started and ended at the daintily-colored chubby feet of his lady love. I was single, and the only people who persisted in communicating with me (a.k.a parents) were several thousand miles away. Yes, such sadness can be precipitated in a world that was yet ignorant of mobile telephony.

So while fellow tourists ooh-ed and aah-ed at the ethereal view the summit presented, my eyes kept wandering to a small stone slab embedded within the snow. The slab had the word ‘Delhi’ inscribed on it, along with the distance to Delhi from where we stood on the joch. That there were names and distances to a few other major cities in the world on the same slab, is a point of low significance to this incident and apparently to my memory as well, as the only name I recall from the slab in focus, is ‘Delhi’. My mood ? I was literally on top of the world, but felt utterly lonely.

And interestingly, neither my parents nor anyone I knew at that time, lived in Delhi. Hmmm.

Written by Kanchana

November 3, 2011 at 3:14 am

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