It didn't matter very much though, to me then. I was still only ten, too young to think about snob values or how much they mattered. There were other kids in the complex we moved into--which was a lot more than could be said about our relatively bigger, but sadly isolated bungalow in Trivandrum.
But the kids were, well, not very much like me, no matter how much I tried to mould myself to their personalities. I think this was about the time I learned, really learned about typical Indian middle class families and their values.
There were two sets of sisters who served as the ring leaders for our small gang. One set was called Abhilasha and Akansha and the other set was called Neha and Puja. Neha and Puja had a younger baby sister as well, called Gudiya, but they had just about moved in, that family, and Abhilasha--who was a plump chubby girl--still ruled the roost.
One day Abhilasha and Akansha told us gravely, during a game of Mother May I that their mother had just had a baby. "And everyone was very upset," said Akansha, who even though she was the younger, was very much the more wordly of the two. "Why?" I asked, amazed. "I don't know," said Akansha, "I just know everyone was crying a lot, even my mother."
Abhilasha interrupted this, to ask whether I wanted to see the baby and led me inside to a room full of relatives and her mother lay on the bed, with such a very tiny, red baby next to her. "Ohhh, she's so small!" I said, and the grown ups laughed, grown-uppishly, before talking over our heads.
Later, rumour, or I think it was Neha, murmured to us that the family had been in uproar because they had another girl. I didn't see, then, why having a girl should be such an issue, and I asked my mother why everyone was crying. "Welll, some people don't like girls," she said, and I think she tried to go into Indian history and tradition and dowries and so on, but having a shortish attention span, I ran off somewhere, feeling pretty glad that my family didn't have an issue with my gender. Quite the opposite actually, because I was fairly spoilt.
Many years later, when I was about 17, I think, a new family moved in beneath us, with three daughters--two older ones and one baby, who the mother carried around everywhere. And again, I heard, through the general apartment grapevine, that the baby girl was actually the granddaughter. The oldest daughter had "killed herself", in her in-laws kitchen, with kerosene and fire and left the caretaking of her baby to her mother. No one talked about it though.
Besides conventional games like Statue or Kabbaddi, we did quite a few other things for recreation also. Once a year, the bigger girls would organise a little programme for the adults, where we did stuff like dance to a Hindi song and do a skit and stuff like that. One year, I remember, they made me the announcer (because I can't dance to save my life, and a skit in Hindi would be beyond my linguistic capabilities at the time), and also I remember, one of the dances that year was to Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You. We called all our parents, proudly, sat them on the terrace, captive for two hours and made them watch things. Then we passed around a little bag of toffees, for them to award prizes. I didn't get one, sadly, being the announcer, but I was much applauded.
Occassionally, I would have birthday parties, ala Enid Blyton for my dolls, where I invited a few girls, served Roohafza and biscuits and they brought one of their dolls as well. One time, at the birthday party of Baby Michael (what? don't laugh), one of the girls brought me a little baby cradle she made herself, out of a shoebox and pretty curtain remnants.
Another girl was a kleptomaniac. She'd come over and after she left, I'd find a whole lot of stuff missing. I only managed to put two and two together after I found a figurine of a white seal that I loved and called Kotik, in her room three months later. I stopped letting her come into my room after that.
Again, inspired by Enid Blyton one time, I decided to make some extra money by doing odd jobs around the colony. I could be quite persuasive at the time, being the fortunate possessor of an active imagination and a very glib tongue, so I rounded up a gang of three other kids and took them from door to door. Most people laughed at us, and sent us away, but one house let us rinse their plates, mop the floor and water their plants and gave us two rupees. Once we got out, gleefully with the money, the other girls started to have pangs of what-have-we-done, so we translated the cash into orange bars at the ice cream cart and went merrily on our ways.
Word got out, though, as it tends to do, and naturally, the other girls planted all the blame squarely on me. Their mothers landed up at our house, in a furious Greek chorus, going, "Do you know what your daughter has done?" "Yes and I think she's quite cool actually," said my mother, exhaling a long plume of cigarette smoke.
But the worst part was going to school, because a nasty little boy in my colony came on the same bus and he yelled, every time I passed, "Jhaadu-poncha waali!" (Which translates into broom-mop-person, which doesn't sound so bad, but in Hindi it was a taunt). I had my revenge, by growing up hot though, and now he stares after me and I put a little extra sashay into my walk going ahahahahaha, who's a jhaadu-poncha-waali now, eh?