When I was in class four or five, my father was posted in Trivandrum. And unusually, (because usually my mother stayed in Delhi where her work was and I stayed with her) we went with him. We had a gorgeous house there--three layers of gardens, two floors with a separate guest suite, a rock garden in the middle of the house and wildlife everywhere. In fact, it became common for us to see snakes in our dining room, pressed up against the glass door, sunning themselves. And once as I sat on the back stairs near the garden I saw a beautifully striped rope which moved when I bent to pick it up. A rat snake.
And we had a dog--a floppy eared Alsation who was my walk companion and a parrot and an aquarium full of fish where all the fish floated belly-up in the first two weeks except for one black guppy called Shy who lorded it over the empty space. And I brought caterpillars into the rock garden and made them walk on moss and pretended they were prehistoric creatures. And once in a sentimental fit we bought a baby squirrel which died rapidly too.
And crawling through the laundry room, the roof was low enough for us to sit on and marvel at how high up we were and admire the sunsets. Home was my kingdom and I ruled there.
I was briefly in a convent school while I lived there--this terrible place called Holy Angels and I still remember the classrooms with their strong smell of jam sandwiches caught in hot tiffin boxes. I'm sure Holy Angels was a nice school and all that, it's just that for the brief time I was there, there was this one other girl in my class who bullied me terribly. Little girls can be so cruel. And I was at my most unattractive then (Till of course, I hit puberty and new levels of ugliness) too-skinny legs, too-big teeth and a funny accent, half-Mallu and half-Delhi. I don't remember what she did to me, this girl, but I remember crying almost every day, my head buried in my arms, face down on the desk.
This was also my Catholic phase. I was most impressed by the catechism classes that some girls attended thereby escaping the deathly boring moral science. And this one girl asked me brusquely, "What religion are you?" I was a little nonplussed, religion not being something we discussed at home and stammered, "Um.. Hindu, I guess." "Don't say that here," she hissed, "Here you should only be Catholic." I began writing poetry with a vengeance all about "Sleep Baby Jesus" and wondered many times why we didn't go to church.
Thankfully, or not, depending on your viewpoint, this saving of my soul was stopped. My parents, perhaps alarmed by my religious conversion or by the fact that I hated school for the first time in my life, put me in the more secular Kendriya Vidyalaya. KVs then weren't as run down as they are now--and for most government officer's kids were the best place to go because they understood about sudden transfers and leaving mid-term.
I truly enjoyed my time there. The poetry came back, but this time it was Hindi poetry that I wrote, much to the amazement of my classmates and I showed off about the fact that I was from Delhi where everyone spoke Hindi. And I joined the Girl Guides, except being too young to be a full-fledged Guide, I was a Bulbul and very proud of the special uniform I had to wear--blue with a little scarf thing.
At this point, I wore a fringe, and my eyes were very, very slanted (it runs in my family--I'm inclined to believe a Mongol invader moved really, really far south and married an Andhra maiden). And people asked as people do, "Are you Japanese?" and of course, I played along, going, "Yes yes, of course I am Japanese" and letting off a string of garbled words which my audience lapped up. Or not. But we had a good time.
My best friend was a girl called Asha Latha. Well, I say best friend because I felt everyone needed a best friend and she agreed with me then but I think later quite regretted her descision. Because I read so much, I was constantly saying, "Oh we should have a secret spot with a password and all." and she didn't read very much and I think didn't follow much of my vocabulary, being very happy with speaking in Malayalam. Still she was my best friend and I was most upset when she got two other girls to sit in "our spot". When I questioned her about it, one of the two girls let off a stream of Malayalam, of which I understood nothing. "What?" I asked miserably and "Pawam (loosely transalated 'poor thing')" said Asha Latha, scornfully. Oh, the betrayal.
Ooh and there were boys then too! One boy called Kannan who, when another boy pushed me, pushed him back and said, "Stop that!" I was mortified and snapped at Kannan, "Hey, it's not his fault, okay?" Another very sweet fat boy called Bala who, when he heard I collected stamps gave me one for this place called--Okay, don't remember, but it started with a K and was very unusual. And another boy called Shekhar who came to Trivandrum because of the war in Kuwait and who always spoke to me with dignity and respect.
And there was this one girl called Preeti Malpuri--a little girl with a huge face and even bigger pigtails which her mother fastened to her head with big blue ribbons. She brought the best potatoes ever--fried and golden and fantastic. Every day I went home and asked my mother for Preeti-Malpuri-potatoes and they never turned out the same.
And in the auto I shared with three other girls to go home, there was this one girl who lent me a textbook-abridged version of Jane Eyre. Which I borrowed thrice till my mother got me the real thing.
And then we returned to Delhi.