Blast from the past
Sometimes just an image, a sound, or a smell, can take you right back to your childhood
It is the strangest things that remind you of your childhood at times, evoking memories that lay long buried in your brain. It could be anything really: an image; a touch; a smell; or even a sound. And before you know it, you have been transported back in time to relive those childhood moments that you had thought lost forever.
Last week I had one such moment of déjà vu. Aimlessly channel-surfing, I stopped at FTV because the clothes on the ramp looked mildly interesting, when my eyes were caught by the shoes of one of the models. The square toes; the little strap across the ankle fastened with a buckle; the shiny patent leather; it all looked so familiar. If you ignored the high heel – as I did – the shoes were a dead ringer for the Mary Janes that I had worn to school all through my childhood.
That one image took me back instantly to the Bata store on Chowringhee, Calcutta’s busiest thoroughfare, where I would make an annual pilgrimage at the start of every year to buy the school-mandated black shoes that made up my uniform. There was no agonising over styles, dithering over alternatives, or pondering on colours. There was only one option that I could choose (if choose is the right word) but that didn’t detract from the shopping experience one bit. The thrill of buying a new pair of shoes; the joy of seeing that my feet were finally growing to adult size; and the knowledge that I was going into a new class with all the possibilities it represented; all of this combined to make this trip to the shoe shop one of the highlights of my year.
That same feeling of déjà vu struck me on a recent visit to the local Marks and Spencer store. One entire rail was devoted to leggings with stirrups, a style that I had last worn when I was 10 years old. Now of course, I would not be caught dead in them, so I quickly moved on to the next rail. But quite without volition, an image jumped up and took possession of my brain: the pair of olive-green leggings with sturdy stirrups that I had refused to get out of for an entire year (and which are immortalised in several family photographs taken over the period). And with that image came the memories: of visits to the zoo; of raucous birthday parties where everyone ate far too much cake (and which, suffice to say, not everyone managed to keep down); of picnics with friends; of family weddings where I was the only one not in the regulation ghagra-choli.
Of course, it’s not just clothes or fashion that reminds me of my childhood. Coming across a re-run of Yes Minister on BBC Entertainment has much the same effect. In the days before satellite television arrived in India and we were all at the mercy of Doordarshan programmers, this was the one show that I would hurry home to watch. The opening credits of Chitrahar, which was pretty much appointment viewing in those days; the notes of Abide with me, which we sang every morning Assembly; the sound of a tolling bell, which punctuated my day at school; all these sounds double up as aide-memoires.
And then, there’s food. There are some things that always take me back to the nostalgia-tinted meals of my childhood. Cupcakes with old-style frosting and sprinkles (rather than the new-fangled dollops of cream) remind me of the pastries that I bought every lunch-time from the school cake-wallah. I would carefully consider his two layers of cakes (I could buy only one every day, given my meagre pocket-money), each in a different style and colour, before buying the vanilla cupcake yet again. Clearly, even at that young age, I felt a certain comfort in the familiar.
Of all things, home-style finger chips – rather than the new-fangled French fries we all scoff down these days – conjure up memories of my childhood almost instantly. Cut in chunky bits and deep-fried to a lovely golden, crisp on the outside and moistly crumbly inside, these were served up every Sunday lunch-time, right after Mahabharat, with a side of blood-red ketchup. The aromas wafting from a cup of steaming black tea take me back to holidays spent exploring the grounds of my aunt’s tea estate in Assam, the gardens redolent with what I only later discovered to be the smell of drying tea leaves. The taste of an orange bar, the ice-lolly on a stick that was a staple of my growing years, reminds me of evenings spent hanging over the balcony waiting for the ice-creamwallah – with his colourful van teeming with goodies – to hove into view.
And then, there are the images. The sight of scraggly rows of roses always takes me back to the lawns of the old-style dak bungalows; the good old Ambassador – a rare sight on the road these days – reminds me of road trips taken as a child; and a bouffant hairdo reminds me of the styles my older sister sported in her youth, and which I longed to replicate when I grew up. Of course, by the time I grew out of pigtails, the bouffant was long gone, having been replaced by the gamine crop – but that, as they say, is quite another story.