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Paper boats

By Nickunj Malik - Jul 26,2017 - Last updated at Jul 26,2017

The city of Bombay, which has now been renamed Mumbai, wears a soggy look during the rainy season. The waves of the Arabian Sea that line the metropolis, rise high above the coastline and throw the garbage that was dumped into it, back at its inhabitants. The moist humid breeze tears at your hair when you step out, and if your frame is petite, threatens to sweep you off your feet. Every crevice, crack or fissure on the road fills up quickly to become puddles through which the vehicular traffic trudges along with horns blaring in cacophonic succession.

I register all this and wonder how my perception of the monsoon has changed over the years because when I was small, I could not wait for the raindrops to fall on my head. And I also longed for the potholes to fill up with water because then they became miniature lakes into which my army of paper-boats could set sail.

Now, the thing is, we were technically not allowed to tear any page from our exercise books or textbooks. The punishment was too terrible to even contemplate because I belong to a generation where our mothers were not constrained by any restrictions while disciplining us and were enthusiastic slappers; my own mum being an absolute champion at it. So, I had to rely on sheets of newsprint or worn out magazine covers for boat designing. Having an older sibling did not help matters because under no circumstance could my boat tower over his. He would make sure of that by handing me pieces of paper that were smaller than the ones he tore for himself.

We were mostly at loggerheads, my older brother and I. But one rainy afternoon, when he was getting the beating of his life by our angry mom for being rude to her, I found myself supporting him. From a safe distance, that is. I tried to tell her that she did not need to throw him out of the house and the punishment was too harsh, but she was in no mood to listen. He stood holding the bars of the front gate from the outside and me from the inside, both excelling in theatrical melodrama, quite forgetting our ongoing rivalry in that moment of shared misery. Our father arrived soon afterwards to resolve the situation but here I digress.

On an aside, a famous five-star hotel I stayed in Dubai last week, the name of which rhymes with Samaritan, accused me of spoiling the headboard of their bed with pen marks! They threatened to charge my credit card if I did not agree to pay for the damages. Where innovative methods of duping the customer are concerned, this one takes the cake. My subsequent mails to the management got me a reluctant apology but please be wary, dear reader, and make sure you do not fall into such a trap.

Incidentally, unlike my dolls that were all called “Dolly” the boats I created out of paper had innovative titles like “Yellow Ray”, “Blue Stripe” or ‘Moonlighting’.

“One name you came up with was Sensitivity,” my brother reminisces.

“I could not have baptised a boat that,” I clarify.

“A silly name, I agree,” he counters.

“That was Serendipity,” I recall.

“I asked you to write it down I remember,” I continue.

“Maybe I could not spell it then,” he says.

“Can you spell it now?” I ask.

 

“Ahem, Sensitivity is better,” he laughs.

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Comments

A delightful read where I could feel a smile come to my lips as images from my own childhood came alive, nudged by the descriptions. Launching of small navies which a Helen would have found worth her while, into muddy streams eddying about in spaces much more abundant than now,sometmes stopped in their tracks not by the Seventh Fleet but a growing beaver like dam of twigs and leaves accumulating behind a pebble or so. Watching tadpoles flit about in puddles of water clear all the way down where the mud could settle, the days spent curled up with a book, peering through dim daylight reaching down through clouds, as power was the first casualty of the monsoons. It was as if tired after straining to keep us well lit and cooled over protracted summers, the electricity department were eager to take a break.

Relation of the days gone by to the crueler and insensitive today literally took out the wind from the sails though.

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