Hopscotch Through Time

I was recently locked out of an account that I had not used for over nine years. I had to answer the security questions to reset the password. Which was the first beach you visited? I knew the answer. What was the name of your first pet? Easy. What is your dream job? I had no idea. Everything I entered was wrong. What was I thinking then? How was I so sure that the answer wouldn’t change over time?

I wanted to watch Titanic with my older cousins. I cried in front of the theatre. My mother dragged me away. A few days later, my uncle decided to take me. I sat behind him on his Vespa scooter. It rained on the way. We stopped at a roadside shop and put on our raincoats. That shop still stands.

During Deepavali, I had to make tough decisions. If I keep an oil lamp near the gate then I wouldn’t be able to keep one near the staircase. There were never enough lamps. The neighbour’s house was lit like a palace. The distance between the lamps on their terrace was so small. I had to place my lamps far apart so that they cover the whole terrace. We have enough lamps now, but I light one and call it a day.

I was talking to my mum over the phone. A famous saxophone player in my hometown had died. But she was hesitant to say the word ‘saxophone’ because it sounded like ‘sex’. She said, “You know that instrument?” I said, “Which instrument?” She lowered her voice and said, “Sax…saxophone.”

The shopkeeper used the word ‘embossed’ while describing a painting. It was not exactly a painting. Plastic was shaped to look like a framed canvas. The ‘painting’ was a picture of horses running over a dreamy landscape. They came out of the surface a little bit. Embossed. It was the first time I heard the word.

I sat on the bed watching my mother play with my 3-year-old niece. They were playing catch with a colourful inflatable ball. My mum tells me something that a cousin of mine had told her. The cousin had observed that my niece sometimes looked like my mother. The way she smiles, the way she carries herself while playing. There was so much resemblance. I looked at my niece to see if that was true. And for a brief moment, I imagined my mother as a 3-year-old, running around the house, asking people to play with her. Eyes lighting up when I throw the ball high up in the sky. Her crying for ice cream. I had a sudden urge to hug my 3-year-old mother, hold her close and tell her that everything is going to be okay.

I remember only the living rooms of houses. As I sip the tea offered by the hosts, I look through the curtains that separate the living room from the rest of the house. What lies beyond? Do they also use an old shirt to clean the kitchen counter? Do they have a Prestige mixer grinder? I wonder if they have a mosquito net over their bed.

India was playing an ODI cricket match in Sri Lanka. We needed a wicket. I went to my terrace and chanted a mantra. Took a second to figure out which was south and blew my prayer away in that direction. I believed that the winds will carry my wishes.

I did not know a clicking ballpoint pen had so many small parts inside until I was disassembling my father’s pen in anger. I threw the parts into the bushes beside the paddy field. He had promised that he would stop smoking but he did not follow through. Does he still remember that incident? When I left my previous job, a colleague gave me a blue and silver ball pen as a farewell gift. He always saw that pen in his teacher’s pocket. I lent it to students once. It never came back.

My younger self was scared of dying without doing all the things on my bucket list. I would have considered it a great tragedy if I died without cycling Iceland. Or without learning to play a musical instrument. But now I am okay not doing things. If I had only a day to live, I would sit in my room with a cup of tea and get on a call with people who I like. I would order ice cream from my favourite place. I will be okay even if the ice cream does not arrive on time.


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