At age 9, big trucks formed my greatest fear. The typical ones with ‘Horn OK Please’ written on the back side. Remember those? I suffered a reaction. Each time we stood by the roadside to cross, I would panic at the sight of a monster truck, go completely awry and propel in you know which direction. If only the scientists could put one big truck up on Mars, they’d be able to send a (wo)manned mission to Mars.
But that’s not the end of the story. I have another wildly attractive friend – water. Not the glassful you avert (in favor of a sweetened drink) when you are dying of thirst. I love the salted flavor – the waves to be precise. As far back as I can remember, the waves have always lured me to jump in. I love the tickle on my feet and the splash of cool play all over my body. And you certainly couldn’t blame a fourth grader for giving into temptation. The year was 1987(shh.. now stop calculating my age). I know I sound like some ancient relic. So be it. I am not losing my calm over this number crunching business again.
Those days, I was this happy go lucky little thing with zero television time but plenty of running in meadows and cycling. The only electronic gadgets that surrounded my universe were Usha fans, Godrej refrigerators and Sumeet Mixer Grinder. Boredom was a given. Friends made guest appearances at designated playtimes on the playgrounds or in corridors. What I label as playgrounds were more like open grounds strewn with untamed grass delicately mixed with wild sprouts(the kind we crave on manicured trails these days) and a complete absence of any playground equipment commonplace today. Playdates were unheard of. And outings if any, were the sole prerogative of family and cousins, heralding with home-made tiffin.
Every once in a while, a visit to Maasi’s (Mom’s sister) place would leave me excited. We lived in Mumbai and I always loved the upmarket (attas-class) suburb she resided in – Bandra!(to those foreign to Mumbai, this is the suburb where King Khan lives). Visiting her meant a trip down to the beach which was just a hop, skip and jump away from her home. I still have vivid memories of that evening. Dad hadn’t accompanied us. It was just Mom, her siblings, my younger brother and me. As was the custom, we headed to the beach early evening to enjoy the landscape followed by sunset and chaat. Since there were no cousins that day, Mom was forced to entertain her creations (I so know that feeling now).
There we were; sitting so far away from the ocean, I couldn’t take it. I wanted to get into the water; desperately. But Bandstand (the name of the beach) has a rocky shore. It doesn’t have soft sand you can run onto. Mom refused. But the devil within wouldn’t budge. I had to dive in. Trickery seemed like my only choice. I put on my puppy face and kept coaxing her to move just one step further. Mom kept giving in until finally, we were about two rocks away from the lashing waves. She put her foot down.
“The moss is slippery and you cannot go any further”, she declared in a firm voice.
But at 9 years, you begin challenging that very authority that keeps you safe (now that I am in my Mom’s shoes, I can safely sign a petition confirming that). I slyly inched forward. And, hey presto! I slid right across the final pieces of rocks and landed straight into the water without any warnings. Period. I must have been on cloud 9?
Mom panicked(obviously). And the cherry on the cake – I didn’t know swimming. Nobody went swimming so early on in life. The current was strong. It pulled me deep inside. My brother may have been screaming – I’d like to assume so. Mom jumped in without any second thoughts. She tried swimming towards me but failed. By then, I was out of breath and trying my best to scream – what a genius!
Mom tried again but failed. Her third attempt seemed God-sent though. She managed to catch hold of my arm. By now we were a good 5 feet or so away from land. And the water ran deep. She managed me on her back and dragged me out. We were both drenched, head to toe and panting. She put me on the rock and before she could climb out, the moss got the better of her. The unforgiving waves swooned her in, once again. I could see her getting farther away from me. Crying profusely, I stood there with my brother, then, only six.
The beach was full of people. Quizzically though, nobody offered help. Maybe, they thought this lady was enjoying a swim? Mama(uncle) and Maasi were sitting way behind on a stone wall that fenced the far end of the beach. That’s the only time in history mobile phones would have come in handy. Or that lifeguard from Baywatch. I mean, what were we going to do? Unlike kids today, I was quite dumb – I confess.
I watched my mother struggle to get to shore. After a few failed attempts, she finally made it. It felt like all the salt water from the sea formed a waterfall through my eyes. We hugged and went to unite with our family. Mom was in her senses an declared we were not going to speak to Dad about this adventure over the phone. I felt guilty and scared and braced myself for a spanking from every grownup. To my surprise, I went scotfree. But the shock of the incident scarred my memory forever.
Time and again, this memory stops by to say hello. I do not know why. But I have realized my Mom has always been my pillar of strength. She has shown tremendous patience and positivity, come what may. I feel proud and grateful for my lineage. A strong mother raised me. Because a strong mother raised her.
My grandmother was the Headmistress of a school in Thane. She would go door to door convincing families to send girls to school. She sent my mother for swimming lessons in an era when learning life skills was not so much a woman’s job. I can’t help but think, what if Mom never knew how to swim?