Thursday, 15 October, 2009

Displaced... And Dazed

I was born in Bombay. My first few nappy changes brought along a heady rush of smells, sights and sounds as my parents took connecting trains and planes, shifting across the length and breadth of India bag, baggage, two bawling kids and 42 wooden boxes in tow.

Pathankot, Chandigarh, Kanpur, Silchar (in Assam), Poona, New Delhi, Bareilly, Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi, Pune and so on. 29 houses in 31 years to be precise. And a bunch of muddled and not so muddled memories.

Of numerous housekeepers. One really nice gardener. One nutty nanny in Silchar who insisted on feeding us milk and rice with sugar on top. Moving from large bungalows with picturesque gardens to shared accommodation in Air Force transit camps. From cramped whitewashed flats to large apartments overlooking the Arabian Sea. Memories of gardens winning first prize every year to Assamese Bashas made out of bamboo and nothing else. Ones that gave up their roofs to the gale-force winds in the North Eastern monsoons. And if not the roof blowing off, springing leaks that only large plastic sheets stretched under them could aim the leakage towards strategically placed buckets and pans.

There was a time I remember, when the monthly ration the peak-capped boffins in New Delhi sent, was a planeload of tinned biscuits and that is all the whole Air Force station had to eat that week.

Our extensive Poona garden with numerous fruit trees to swing and climb, from Mango and Guava, to Banana and Sugarcane. And the shock to discover that our happy playground was home to a huge brown snake. The long cycle rides in the cantonment roads chasing each other, playing catch and cook. The chance encounter with a girl after school, while waiting for our dads to pick us up, who was the only one ever to have made me go weak in the knees, all at the rather young age of ten. And later, becoming friends with her, knowing fully well it was never meant to be. Picking 'Ber' and dipping them in little packets of salt, carried just for such encounters on our secret short cuts in the Aravali hills. Roller skating from Subroto Park to Dhaula Kuan and back, racing trucks on the national highway. Hurried Table Tennis in the lunch break. Playing cricket every day, even during exam time and paying the penalty for it. The rod, I remember, was not spared.

When two boxes full of books collected, no treasured, over the years, had no place in a small house in Bangalore and were sent for storage in HAL. And after a year when we moved to our official house, to discover all that was left of them were little bits of paper chewed up by rats in a hungry frenzy. Or sheer frustration.

Or later in college, experiencing a culture shock of civilian kids and their completely different lifestyles and upbringing. The biggest being the perceived lax morals, having grown up in the city versus being closeted in insulated cantonments far away. An example of that being when I got my driving license, the regular way, paying the 45 rupee fee, while my classmates boasted how they didn’t even have to make a trip to the RTO office. They got theirs in hand by paying a princely sum of Rs. 300 to a tout.

The irritating times trying to convince traffic cops that the reason my scooter, car and bike had alien license plates was because my father had a transferable job and CHU 4844 was a 25-year-old Chandigarh legacy my father refused to give up, even when the papers were lost. Or hiding the fact that CKA 2432 was deregistered in Bangalore and then never re-registered, ever again. And UTF 9 was an IPS officer's car and getting salutes from cops was an embarrassment to be savored in secretive glee behind its dark tinted windows.

When I joined advertising in 1996, the mad world actually helped stabilize my life. In fact, Mumbai has now been my home for the longest period of time. After moving three more times, I moved to a place right across the road from the hospital I was born in (Dr. Pai's, Matunga) almost like a fitting end to the journey so far. And a poetic way to begin at the beginning.

To put things in perspective, I have one friend from school, a handful from college, no neighbours or neighbourhood friends and a whole lot of agency friends. Or rather, friends who happen to be in advertising.

I am glad with what I have.

- This started off life as a small rejoinder to a friend's article that was published in It just became so humongous that I had to cut-paste it here and just leave a link there :)


  1. That advertising life can 'stablise' means some one up there is a sense of humour. But nice. I am sure you weren't complaining about it all.

  2. True. And this journey some fellow Air Force officers would call easy. Some of them I remember had moved more than once a year! Takes a toll to make new friends every year of your life.