Giani Gurdit Singh


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My Childhood

The following is a translation of the chapter Mera Bachpan, the third chapter of Mera Pind:

My Childhood
by Giani Gurdit Singh

The memories of my childhood are wrapped up with those of my village, as closely woven together as warp is with woof. The high ridges and low wells, heaps of stony rubbish and piles of dry dung cakes, peepul trees—young and old, rows upon rows of bers and keekars among which I scampered and pranced around, and layer upon layer of the soil that brought my life to fruition as I rolled and kicked, beat down or danced on it; all of this and much more comes alive now almost in a single flash as I look over my shoulders.

My childhood had none of those flourishes which often give a tinted glow to the life-story of those writers who are already great or are close to becoming so. No golden period that could make the story seem as if it had always been the same, no promise of an early flowering of the genius either. And mind you, no signs whatsoever of any hidden potentiality which, as it may happen with other writers, was simply ‘waiting for the right mix of ‘time and circumstance to blossom for him in all its splendour.

This rather small-time writer was born in a small village of an equally small state, in a family that was, by all counts, of a minority population, on one of the longest and perhaps ‘the coldest nights of January—that winter month when the days are rather short and nights unbearably long. Your truly’s birth was greeted with unusual fervour or so they claim. The first born son in the family is, after all, no small gift of God. As for my simple-minded mother and other family members, it was but natural to be happy, but the happiest of them all were my father, my taya and chacha—all of whom had waited god alone knows how long to see my visage, holding their breath with almost a lover’s expectancy. So I gave everyone a good taste of what it means to wait endlessly before I tumbled into this world.

When I grew up I remember my father, who treated me more as a friend than a son, telling me how he had had to pack up and leave his village in the very prime of his youth as the lands there had stopped producing anything of substance. It was the desire to “pay off the debts of the forefathers” that made him go as far as Dulha region, one that fell between the two rivers of Beas and Ravi, where in the lands of Ranjha he spent nearly 12 years, no, not grazing the cattle but working as a contractor, building bridges across the river in the Jhang branch and laying rail tracks. That is how he made his money, paid his debts and saved enough to construct a new house on his return to the village, get himself married and set up a home. “Call it my good luck, Kaka, he would often tell me ...that I got to see your face.” Handing in the thread of his lineage in the hands of his only son, that’s me, he would say, “Now Kaka, it’s for you to make sure that I get peace of mind. All my life I have striven only for an untarnished reputation. May Sahab give you the strength you need to do good. Don’t ever put my fair name to the mud.”

As soon as I was born, I’m told, our house had been flooded with good cheer and heart-warming festivities. Upon the threshold outside the main door of the house oil was sprinkled and the pillars decked up with auspicious streamers crafted out of the branches of shrinh. Two sacks full of grain were thrown open so that ‘whosoever came could return fully gratified’ and several lumps of molasses were crushed to be distributed freely among all those who went past the house that day. A spinning-wheel along with a set of clothes each was given away to Shedan, the mid-wife, and Bishno, the barber’s wife. Punna, the mirasi, who always felt troubled by the cold, was given a half-used coat, something he showed me when I grew up, saying, “This is what I had managed to wangle on your birth, you see.” This is how the happiness was shared among all and sundry, whether of the same courtyard, street and mohalla or that of any other. And it was for spreading such a wave of joy and happiness that I had screamed my lungs out for the first time.

As time rolled by, well, I began to suck my thumb and make all kinds of gurgling sounds. They say, “A chid can be known while still in diapers,” but what I can say with some conviction about myself is that till now no one has really been able to figure me out, and if God permits me to get through the journey of life unhindered, I would certainly like to leave this world, undeciphered.

Suckling milk and listening to the lilting tunes of lullabies as I grew up a little, the ceremony of chatti was performed with all its attendant trappings. And what all didn’t my kinsmen, paternal as well as maternal, do to squeeze every pint of happiness that they could? Right from giving me special food, a ritualistic bath and dressing me up in the finery, a good deal of attention was lavished upon the ‘affairs’ of my body. My kinsmen, I’m told, indulged ‘themselves the most while decking me up. Believe it or not, I actually got several pieces of jewellery the way the brides do--- One of my aunts, my mother’s sister, gave me an amulet which had three small gold leaves tied to a black string. My maternal grand-parents gifted me a gold-plated crown. Another aunt, my father’s sister, gave anklets for my feet and yet another one, bracelets for my tiny wrists. And almost everyone made an offering of a silver coin to yours truly. This is the time when I still didn’t have hair long enough to be plaited nor was I old enough to play on my own. That’s why perhaps; it was easier for the others to treat me as a plaything, especially those who were bent upon indulging their own sportiveness now that the rituals surrounding the birth of the only ‘kaka’ in the family were on to a ceremonial start. On the occasion of my chatti, I’m told, nearly hundred double silver coins bearing ‘the imprint of the Emperor had been squandered away—money which would have easily sufficed then to fund a low-key wedding.

As no priest, pundit or an astrologer was available anywhere in the vicinity of our village, one of the great losses I have had to suffer all my life was that I could never boast of having either a preliminary birth-chart or a full-fledged horoscope in my possession. Only if my dear departed father had bothered to save up one tenth of what he had spent towards my chatti and given it to some priest or pundit, I, too, would have joined the ranks of those great ones who are ‘the proud possessors of their own horoscopes. If nothing else, it would have at. least ensured that yours truly, too, could enter ‘the charmed circle of those who live in the perennial hope that they have a future, so to speak --- no matter what the future, good or bad, it would have at least inspired in me a great deal of self-confidence, even helped others, especially my family members to greater faith in me, making their expectations soar the way it often happens with those who have their horoscopes intact.

Now in its ‘absence’, I do sometimes think all to myself, especially when the burden of the ‘dark’ future presses itself against me, that if only I had a horoscope drawn up, I, too, could have startled others with some such readings as the following:

“This creature has been born under a bizarre planetary conjunction which is fit neither for the birth of a prophet nor a vagabond. No man, rich, poor or even a fakir has ever been born under a similar conjunction which could only mean that this creature is either all of these’ or none of these. He will have a sharp intelligence and as for his looks, he would be rather rugged, dull and sloppy. The presence of Sun and Mercury in the same house at the time of birth is indicative of this creature’s noble disposition as all the kind-hearted and good-natured persons are born under this very conjunction .And because Saturn just is about to change its course, such persons often succeed in securing a prominent position in the echelons of power. If they somehow fail to wangle such a position, their chances of being honoured by the government one time or another are fairly high. As for his Raj Yoga, it will always remain in a spin; moving, stationary, sitting and walking all at the same time. Call it the bad luck of this creature that at the time of his birth though Rahu-Ketu were looking away from his birth-chart, yet he will not be able to avoid the trap of their pernicious hold. Being self-willed or God-inspired as he is not likely to seek any remedy against their malefic influence so these two planets shall keep revolving around him, glowering at him from all angles, acute or obtuse and all possible distances, long or short. This creature will, no doubt, try his hand at several trades, yet he will end up doing only a few. Debris of all sorts of desires shall always lie scattered all around him. The line indicating that this creature is good at certain crafts is as deep as his life-line which only means that all along his life, he will try his hands at every known craft—writing and reading included. And in whatever he does, he will make profits as well as losses. But he will not be able to switch occupations as quickly as he would want to. Indications are that in most of the occupations he will suffer losses and rake in profits only in a few—a situation which may be attenuated somewhat if he were, to appease Saturn, something he is highly unlikely to do. As a result, the planetary position indicating frequent changes in all his crafts (except those connected with the pen) shall: remain unaltered. Pen-pushing is something he will never be able to give up. Nor will this occupation ever give up on him.

Whatever this creature decides to dabble in will bring him fame, even name .There are strong indications that this creature will hobnob with bigwigs, bureaucrats and politics developing intimate relations with only a few of them. Of course, such an intimacy would wear out sooner than he expects it to. Even if the relationship endures, it will not get him the rewards his heart is after. This creature will also show a tendency to warm up to those in exalted positions and very often such persons will find in him a great votary of their interests and convictions. His proximity to these prominent persons will make him fall foul of their hangers-on which is as much to say that several wicked men hovering around bigwigs would swear themselves to be his natural rivals—all because of the influence of Rahu-Ketu upon him.

There is a strong likelihood that this creature will make bundles of money but he will not go a bundle on it as his fate-lines show very clearly that the flaps of his coffers will always remain wide-open. As a result, his pockets will always remain empty though he will somehow manage to scrape through. Nothing that he wants to do shall remain unfinished for the want of money which shall neither accumulate nor ever fall short. After the sufferings of the first quarter of his life there is a strong possibility of a sudden upswing in his fortunes especially when the Lord of Fortune Jupiter is poised to enter the house of Moon. As both have a strong aspect, this creature will peak new heights and even enjoy the thrill of all kinds of rides—the rail, aeroplane, handcart, camel and donkey. He will roam around and have whale of a time.

This creature will become a member of the Sabha or some Rajya and on completing his term he shall be removed from the membership as well. There are inauspicious signs that all the undertakings of this creature will get off to a shaky fitful start because Saturn is ensconced in the inimical house. But at the same time, it’s the favourable aspect of Mercury that will help this creature cut through the mesh of problems and surge ahead. Occasionally this creature will also reveal a strong predisposition towards harming his own interest, say, by living beyond his means. As Jupiter is watching over the house, of worldly happiness rather benignly, so sometimes his ill-conceived acts, too, shall too conspire in his favour.

Temperamentally, this creature will be cool-headed though his hands would always be itching for some fiery action. In a manner of speaking, he will have a strong passion for working with his two hands and earning his livelihood. This creature is condemned not to sit idle ever and work is the stuff that his dreams will be made of. Forbearance and even-tempered nature will be his constant companions. When this creature gets to his middle age, there are indications of his launching and then folding up a thousand projects. The conjunction of the stars is such that he will be forced to abandon most of these projects half way through. This creature will set up a printing press which will always keep him hard-pressed for peace of mind. One of the keenest quirks of his would be to bring out a newspaper in his mother-tongue—a quirk which will neither be satiated nor ever fade out completely. And this will cost him a good deal in terms of pain and suffering, keep him on the tenterhooks, even in the doldrums all through his life, thus proving to be quite a drag on his other occupations. As Saturn is, once again, hostile in this regard, glaring rather ferociously, with the deep furrows on its forehead screwed up tight (all the efforts of this creature in this particular undertaking shall get a good drubbing, without affecting his strong resolve in the least. As Saturn casts its 12-year-long, gloomy shadow over the fortunes of this creature, the only way he can be saved from its malefic influences if on every Saturday he were to make an offering of a few grains of sesame-seed, rice and whole urad at the anthills, in addition to giving away copper coins to the poor and the needy. Since such a remedy is beyond the ken of this creature, there is little or no possibility of his situation taking a turn for the better. He will make all kinds of trips, big or small, long or short, and wherever he goes, his reputation shall precede him. Biting into loaves of happiness, he will taste potions of sorrow. And there are indications that he will go across the seven seas as well. Since he will go places, he will gallivant around to his heart’s content, meeting people, sight-seeing, also earning oodles of respect in the bargain.

Formal education is something that this creature is not destined to have, though his undying passion for knowledge and learning will remain unabated all through his life, and even survive to his dying moment. He will read more but write less. All the same, the conjunction of his stars suggests that there is a very strong likelihood of his being recognised as a scholar on several occasions and from different angles. Though he will never step inside the portals of a university, this creature will somehow come to acquire if not an intimate knowledge at least a nodding acquaintance with something like fourteen academic disciplines known in the Indian system. On the strength of his writings and scholarship, he will receive all kinds of awards and rewards from the government, the state and the university. He will gain popularity among the masses as well. If he fails to propitiate Saturn, it is the service he renders through his pen in honour of the deity he regards as the sovereign one that is the Adi Granth that will help him tide over all crises, big or small. His devotion to the Adi Granth will also make him selfless and charitable.

So much of zeal will he show in helping others out of a crisis that, very often, he will land his own family members into one. His selfless deeds will, from time to time, boomerang on him as the people he helps are the ones who will conspire diligently against him, even become his sworn enemies. Because the influence of Saturn in this regard is benefice so even the most vicious among the ungrateful ones will find it hard to tip his apple cart off. Undeterred by all opposition, this creature will go right ahead winning his goals with a rare sense of diligence and calm determination.

This creature is a mangalik, one who is believed to exercise not a very salutary influence upon his companion. But the house of his wife clearly shows that she will live to a ripe old age. In the first half of his life, he is not destined to enjoy the fruits of companionship, but in the later half there are sure signs that as householder, this creature will show definite signs of detachment, though his detachment will sometimes smack of worldliness. There are indications that at some later stage, he may even renounce the duties of a householder and immerse himself in the service of religion. His chance of abdicating the worldly duties are more if as a householder he is not allowed to do the call by the religion. This creature will also get one or two really big houses constructed though he may not be able to live in any of them for long. As there are wheels upon wheels under his feet, he will forever be on the move. The stars of his companion show that she would prefer to stay at home .The advantage of her stars might even make him house-bound occasionally. Eventually this creature will land up in some ashram that too he will make with his own hands. It is also possible that he may decide to convert his own house into an ashram.

AS a result of his past karma, this creature will enjoy a close rapport with learned scholars and renowned politicians. And this rapport will be the cause of his pain as well as joy. As he gains in stature, his opponents will multiply, thus keeping his balance-sheet on an even keel. But his enemies will riot be able to harm him either physically or materially as the Lord of Good Fortune has its benevolent eye towards his house of personal happiness, Sometimes, his opponents shall have a change of heart and become his friends as well. Though on the face of it, this creature would give the impression of being a devotee and disciple of saints and seers, yet inwardly he will remain stubbornly critical and a hater of all pretentiousness. Of course, he will almost worship those who either spread the word of God or are his selfless servants. This creature will not hanker for glory nor will he bother about insults. Through his writings and learning, he will serve his religion, his deity, the Granth, his land; his people and his village more than his faculties permit him to. So much so that when the need arises, he may even pen down his own horoscope and along with it a veiled autobiography as well.

To cut the matter short, this creature will be the only one of his kind and he will view everything he experiences from all possible angles, analyse them and put them under a microscope as well. So all the men and women who come into contact with him should stay on their guards especially while relating to him intimately. Though this creature will easily forget the good others do unto him, as everyone else also does, he will never ever forget the wrongs done to him. All the same, he will not show a very keen interest in seeking revenge. On the other hand, he might be instrumental in several person securing means of livelihood.

A good number of individuals will move up the social ladder, using him as a peg. Having done so they will forget that they owe any gratitude to him and rather think that their well-deserved merit got them what they did. Some would even think that in the process of social mobility, the convenience has to be made of someone or the other. As for the rest, well, whatever God wills shall definitely come to pass. Whatever this creature has earned through his karmas, he will have to live it through. It is all in the hands of destiny, after all. Astrology is only an academic discipline, as for the truth or falsehood, well, God alone knows.

This creature and along with him others who benefit by climbing on his back, excluding his wife of course, shall be denied total happiness. Rather a whole lot of them will wallow in misery. There is a Guruvak which says: “Pandits and astrologers make announcements, leaving Beda to ponder over them.”

So much for the horoscope.


Only if my father had the foresight then to get a horoscope made through a pandit or someone, it would have at least spared me the effort of carving one out of the memory. Occasionally, it even makes me a little angry towards my father, especially when my friends approach an astrologer flaunting their horoscopes and sizzling with curiosity, “Now tell us, when shall the balmy days start for us?” or bandy around a thousand such questions. If I, too, had a horoscope, espying a nail being hammered into my fate lines, I could have rushed to an astrologer to ask: “Tell me, will my situation ever change for the better or am I one of those who are condemned to go through the grind in the manner of Buddha’s disciples, listening to the sheep-like bleating of the woebegone ‘stars’?” Or now it appears just right to believe that the days left; behind were the worst: I was to have and all the glorious ones lie in the folds of future. As they say: “Nothing that comes to pass is ever bad, it is all good there is no defeat as all is victory.

Why should a man drag himself through the deserts of worry, pricking his soul with thorns and thimbles? That’s why making use of my brahama vidya which, apparently descended from above and without whom I couldn’t have penned. down my horoscope, I feel encouraged to give everyone this little piece of advice: All of you must wait patiently for the happy moments to arrive as such moments shall come much sooner than you expect, and the days of sorrow shall pass off on their own as they often do. Make this your guiding principle if you can. And if you can help it, watch out against the designs of those padhas who sometimes make a living out of the miseries of their fellow sufferers. Otherwise, you might find yourself being sucked into an endless whirl of puja-path. Believe me, there is no running away from it. Each time it appears that happy days are too distant and well beyond your grasp, strive and strive harder for that’s the only way you can bring them closer. Only the ones who have the strength to show this spirit will ever get to know what the true happiness is.

In my past birth, all I did was sin and sin more.

When Fate willed that I be a fakir, I bowed without a demur.

As for now Nand Lala, you’d better know that the past which is gone shall remain forever without a cure.

Just look at the way I’m sermonizing now assuming the airs of a ‘giani’, forgetting that when I was still a cry baby, howling my lungs out, those around me must have had visions of a better future for me.

It’s another matter that my not having a horoscope, that too, because no qualified pandha could be found in the village, has, indeed, rattled me a great deal. Those were not the days of qualified pandhas but if ‘stick-happy’ brahmins who would always belabour those they taught. It stands to reason that even if a single pandit had been available anywhere within the range of five to six miles of my village, my elders would have definitely hoisted him up on their shoulders and happily ferried him across all the way to our village just to get a horoscope made. You might wonder, why all this fuss about the horoscope? What is so great about it? You are absolutely right. After all, my horoscope by itself couldn’t have possibly made me a king or a prophet out of me. As for the prophets, they believe, that all the real ones, barring the ‘untainted one’ of course, have already come and gone. I’m not one of those who would readily agree to become even a minor or a junior prophet.

And as for the kings, well, the days of their return have long since been over. In a way I’m happy that I didn’t have to carry that extra baggage of Rahu-Ketu or Pisces-Aries etcetera upon my mind. How else, you think, I could have become the sole author of my horoscope with exclusive rights to lengthen or shorten it the way I have depending upon my whim or that of time and circumstances.

One of my abiding regrets has been that not even a single photograph of my childhood has survived. Had even a fraction of what was spent on my chatti been advanced to a photographer, the least it could have done now was to indulge my flair for research. Scanning those ancient pictures or a picture, could have figured out as to what the dimensions of my body were then and whether or not this so-called nose of mine has always had this snubbed look that Mongoloids alone can boast to have. All those I turn to now have the same story to tell that nannies and mid-wives were the ones who had to pinch it constantly so that it could grow in size.

Seeing the striking resemblance of my ears to those of Buddha’s sculpted in different metals, I’m struck by all kinds of fancy ideas. For instance, it certainly occurs to me that if these ears of mine were as gigantic then as they are now, even a mild shake of my head must have been enough to set off air waves of mild velocity, the kind only a fairly good-sized fan can possibly do.

The dimples in my cheeks which now lie masked under a thick over-growth must have been the delight of one and all, helping them recognise the omens, good or bad, of being a loved or an unloved one. And these arms that dangle loosely along my two sides must have made almost each and every kin of mine wonder several times over how the apple of their eyes was something of an incarnation made flesh. They tell me how my mother was averse to the idea of getting me vaccinated against small pox as she was convinced that the Britishers had started doing so only to find out whether or not a child had milk in his veins. It seems they had been forewarned by some astrologer that the messiah who would ultimately give them the boot would have milk and not blood flowing through his veins. She would often say, “I know why these god-damned people inject all small children. As for my child, they would never be able to find out what it is!”

With these words, my mother would stow me away with such zeal as if the whole burden of giving Britishers a run for their money was upon me. That’s a fact as well. Only when I came into this world did the Britishers feel compelled to pack up and leave. And I wonder if they would have ever left, had it not been for the miracle of my birth.

Now, how should I tell you about that sudden change which the ceremony of chatti wrought in me. The archaeological evidence unearthed so far reveals, well, how should I put it, that my ‘new look’ had really created a sensation all around. While suckling milk, I could be heard gurgling with raptures over my milk-white, spotless complexion. Such a darling did I appear, they tell me, that anyone who saw me would be possessed with a desire to hug me and shower me with kisses. When I got a little older, they started braiding my hair so that they could deck up the top-knot of the braided hair with a top-crown made in gold, and my forehead with a three-leaved gold amulet. Sporting anklets on my feet and bracelets upon my wrists as I would strut about the courtyard or the street, no one could say whether I was a girl or a boy. As for the ornaments, well, I had enough to put even a girl to blush. Believe me, not many people thought of making even girls wear such fine ornaments then. What really beats me is this rather unusual insistence upon decking up a boy with all the finery and jewellery which should, in any case, belong rightfully to a girl. Anyway, this is hardly a matter over which one should waste so much of breath now that the days of childhood are already behind. Whatever is gone is certainly beyond recall.

Braiding of my soft, silken hair into a top-knot or with a prandi would tug at the skin of my head so hard that I would burst into tears, and I still remember how I would keep crying for days on end. They tell me, once Bishno, the barber’s wife, applied so much of her might in braiding my hair and she did it in so heartless a manner that I just wouldn’t stop screaming. I felt as if my hair would be pulled out of their roots. So fond were my parents of dolling me up with top crown and other such ornaments that they would simply dismiss my howling rage by saying: “Doesn’t matter. The first time when the hair is braided, it always hurts. So he’ll get used to it.” They probably though that my life was not to progress beyond this stage of hair-braiding.

Each time I was packed off to the village, forest or the country of my maternal grandparents, maternal or paternal aunts, Bishno would take special care to braid my hair so tightly as to though to say: “This knot should not loosen up even though the child may die in pain.” And then turning to my mother, who was much younger to her, she would say: “So here we go, Amma, this one time I have braided the hair of my younger, brother-in-law so well that even if he goes around visiting all his relatives, his top-knot would stay just the way it is. The skin of the head may be torn apart but not as ingle hair would move out of place. Like other kids his age, at least, his hair would not fall into his mouth.” As and when she tugged at my hair to tie them into a top-knot, which was the only way the ‘bhabi” or rather the ‘mahabhabhi’ could show her overflowing love for her much-too-young ‘devar’ my head would start drumming up all kinds of sounds as can only be heard on a tight-leashed drum. The rise and fall of the beat would set the notes astir and I would feel as if someone was singing Raag Bhairavi inside the caverns of my mind. What others always took to be an off-key melody, would invariably be a loud lament of helplessness.

More the pain shot through my braided hair, more would. I howl. Sometimes the pain would be so intense that even in the deepest of my sleeps (which they say one can enjoy upon the guillotine too) my swooning head and sagging spirits would be rehearsing this ‘alaap’ almost involuntarily.

On such occasions when I would be dolled up in anticipation of my visit to my maternal grandparents or other relatives, it was the spectre of the evil eye that would start haunting the family members almost obsessively. So great was the charm of my beauty (enough to put an artificial doll to shame) that even a connoisseur, had one been around, totally mesmerised, would have asked of my folks, “Well, he’s neither a rag nor a rubber doll and you’ve made sure that he doesn’t look like a kaka either. Why have you ruined his looks so thoroughly?” Had such a question been raised, my folks would have had something like this to say: “What we have tried to ensure in the best: manner possible is that he should stand head and shoulders above the crowd. Now we couldn’t care less about what people have to say.

Before I would step out of the threshold, all out efforts would be made to mar my beauty with blemishes. As soon as I would dress up, a black mark made of soot from the backside of a tawa, and no bigger than a mole on a beauty’s face, would hurriedly be plastered either on my chin or the forehead. The more attractive I appeared to my folks, bigger was the mark and more the soot—all this to make sure that their child never became a target of an outsider’s evil eye. Once it so happened that my chacha Nidhan Singh stepped out of the house without having bothered to take the customary precautions against the effect of the evil eye. He had me in his lap and was playing with me, lost to the world. That’s when Bhola Sangh, the old fogy, came along and as soon as his eyes fell upon the ‘captivating looks’ of yours truly, he was transfixed Seeing me make wild gestures he remarked, “Nidhan Singh, this boy is, I tell you, rather sharp-featured Just look at the eyes, as beautiful as a doe’s And look at the way he’s rolling them around May God bless him with a long life.”

I don t know what it was, a blessing or a curse, but the very same night I developed such a terrible eye-flu that I felt it would never be cured My eyes swelled to the size of a balloon and cobwebs kept clogging my eyes time and again. My relatives did all they could to wipe out the malefic influence of the evil eye; all kinds of charms and voodoo were tried out by any faith-healer that they could lay their hands on, holy water was procured from somewhere and sprinkled over me rather freely and what not. But no, destined as I was to suffer, the flu raged unabated, with no let up in its fury till my eyes were heavily laden with a thick crust, blinding my vision. If at the instance of a wise one, they washed my eyes with a zinc lotion, at night, they would give my eyes a dressing of a goat’s milk. At the same time, dust was furtively shaken off the soles of Bhola’s shoes and the same was consigned to the flames in a chulha. Red chillies were also cast into a burning chulah so as to counter the rage of the evil eye. And if yours truly was able to see the light of this world again, thanks to all the time-tested cures and remedies. Had these cures failed, who knows I may have landed at the blind saint’s dera at Dhodhar, and sung raags, which I could have easily picked up from a ragi there, to keep my body and soul together right through my life. Or at the most I could have hoped to become a small-time preacher in some dera, mandir or Gurdwara.

After this particular incident whenever my folks would think of airing me out, they never did without taking a hundred different precautions And the moment anyone of them set eyes upon the old foggy Bhola Singh anywhere around, I would immediately be hustled out of sight almost as if he was a member of some gang notorious for kidnapping children. Foolproof methods for guarding me against the onslaught of the evil eye were scrupulously effected. A bottle full of charmed water was kept on the main cornice outside the house so that it could be sprinkled on me each time I stepped in. This was done in the belief that the eagles of ill-intent or some such creatures might be trailing me from the outside, hounding me out rather furtively and so should be prevented from going into the house along with me. A few drops of water were enough to work the miracle that all the might of the humans could not. To find a permanent cure, they even got a faith-healer residing in the village to prepare a charmed talisman, complete with a notation from the holy book inscribed on it. A locket was made out of it and hung around my neck, tied with a black string Now there was no; question of having any fear--something which happens when a naked child frolics along a pack of thieves. Though not the one to strip myself, I was certainly made bolder by the presence of this talisman. Seeing my rather unusual fearlessness, the family members began to allow me to venture into the: neighbourhood, unescorted. Confident that it had these words inscribed upon it, “Let not the warm winds harm him ever,” they knew that the talisman would go wherever I do and ward off all evil, known and unknown.

After a great deal of struggle, and a lot of bruised knee and broken ankles when I had learnt to walk on my two feet, I became quite a nuisance for my family. They would often say that it’s only because this boy chose an inauspicious hour to step out of the house the first time, now he doesn’t feel like coming back any more. As I go around the house, dragging my hurried feet, my ankles would start jingling and so would the talisman and the artificial nails carved in silver. And when the toe-rings or bracelets or ghungroos tied to the anklets would tune into this melody, it was enough to put the harmony of a jal-tarang to a complete rout. All I would like to say is that sweet jingles were heard wherever I went.

I am talking about the times when I was neither an editor nor a writer. No member of any sabha or society, I was no more than a mere toy, with whom everyone, big or small or whoever came along would laugh and play to his heart’s content before he went his own way.

And my age at that time, you already know, was rather delicate. A cry baby of four or five who could break into a babble alright but could in no way be persuaded to utter ‘baba’ with his fair mouth Yes, believe me, that’s exactly the way it was. It’s another matter that our house being at a certain altitude in ‘the village gave us a definite advantage so much so that even the old, debilitated daughters-in-law of the village ‘took a real delight in addressing me as ‘baba’. This is just to tell you that I have been a ‘baba’ ever since I was born. And as for being a chacha, I had become one much before I was born even, because of a strange convention we observed in the village. Mantu, the barber, who was almost my father’s age, always insisted upon calling me ‘taya’, making me feel older than his father even. By virtue of our house being located at a prominent place in the village, I had automatically been elevated as a father-in-law and this is what I was treated as by a good number of young nymphets or the daughters-in-law of the village Some elderly bhabhis saying: ”Oh, he’s so sweet that you feel like eating him up alive, ”would even start pecking into my flesh, and pinching it hard, virtually devouring me with their unbridled affection and love Turning red with embarrassment, so many of my daughters-in-law, almost the age of my mother, would intervene, saying, “Now Amma, don’t you tease this little baba (mind you, not a baby) of ours to distraction. He’ll break into tears.” It’s only when they would jump to my rescue that I would ever feel secure all over again Sometimes men as old as my father would call me baba or chacha, almost as if I was the father-in-law or an elder brother-in-law of their mothers my previous birth, a strong sense of rage would start simmering inside But what avail was this rage, after all? There is an old saying which says, “When a wooden pan starts boiling, what it’ll burn, first and foremost, are its own edges.” My angry visage always” drew unprovoked laughter and amusement from everyone around.

Though I admit having almost sleepwalked through this childhood of mine, it wasn’t a bad deal at all. A mixed bag of memories sweet and sour, all of which have left lingering taste in the mouth. And now when I think back, my heart starts overflowing with these delicious moments, that are there and yet not there.

Translated from the original in Punjabi into English by—Prof. RANA NAYAR