By any standard I don’t think I will be termed as old and I don’t feel so either. Neither can I be called young any more. A bit of rigidity has set into my joints, though I can proudly say that I am physically very active. But the remarks of my son, while we were discussing birthdays, made me feel my age. He said, “Dad, but where will you place all those candles even if you celebrated your birthday?” I was telling him about my lack of interest in celebrating my own birthday.
Hovering in the wrong side of thirties, memories of younger days come flooding by; herding cows, climbing fruit bearing trees, collecting firewood, listening to fairy tales… I try to narrate the life I had as a child and my children seem least interested. They say, “You were born at the wrong time, dad.” Wrong time! I don’t know. I tell them that we used to drink from the open stream that ran by the village, without fear of any pathogens passing on some disease that you can’t even pronounce (the case these days). The fruits we ate were directly plucked from the trees with our own little hands. The vegetables on the dinner table came from our own backyards.
The other day my daughter was complaining of how they were made to cut grass in the school. Snatching the opportunity I started off my tirade of how our lives were when we were her age. We had to collect our own firewood for the school mess. They would be weighed and if it did not meet the required weight, we had to go back to the jungles for the remaining amount. The ration, provided by the WFP, had to be carried on our bare backs for days. There were no motor able roads then. We had to miss school to fetch ration.
The demands for stationeries by my school going children do not seem to cease. By the thickness of their note books, a few days after the purchase, it is obvious that more than few pages go into making aero planes and projectiles. Back then stationeries were free. Note books, rulers, geometry boxes, pencils, ink tablets. The note books when exhausted had to be shown to the teacher in charge of stationeries. He would check them and then stamp the school seal randomly on few pages and issue a new one. Back in the classroom, the pages with the seal marks would go directly into the bins and we would be back for another new one. This would go on till it becomes obviously thin that any further attempt at it would render it empty, bereft of any pages.
On a Sunday morning I was taking my children for a ride in the outskirts of the little town we live in. Sudden cries of “Pig! Pig! Pig!” from my children in the back made me almost jump and I nearly banged the car on a nearby culvert. They were excited to see a pig, which was tied midway round its trunk at one end of a nylon rope while the other end was tied to a betel nut tree. It was their first time to see a real pig. Their knowledge of a pig was limited to the textbooks in the schools and the programs on television. We lived among pigs and other farm animals in our childhood days.
Pigs used to be fed human faeces! A Y-branched tree trunk laid over the pigsty, supported on either side by its walls, would do for a toilet. Placing the two feet on either hands of the Y-branch and squatting over it in the act of performing a very elementary and basic task, we would let off our dung. The grateful occupants of the sty would get to eat a warm meal, directly from the source of manufacture! “Yuck!” they shouted in unison. “It’s disgusting!” I did agree with them on this account. I smiled to myself, remembering those days of my stunts on those Y-shaped branches, not missing the memories, the only memory I am not fond of.
“We have to boil the milk before we drink it”, my daughter was saying, seeing our domestic hand fetching the milk from the milkman who delivers it to our doorstep daily. Nobody told us to do so then. We drank them raw. In fact we used to drink directly from the cows’ teats. We had a particular cow named “Marzom” who was a very friendly creature. It would allow us to drink its milk directly from its teats. My daughter thinks we were barbarians.
My son wanted a football and dress set to play the game. We did not need any ball to play the game. Pages hurriedly torn from our books, crumpled and stuffed in discarded socks became our football. We called them “baktang ball” meaning rag ball or ball made of rags. The skin covering our feet were our boots, though broken and often bleeding toe nails came with the game. We called them occupational hazards.
The school is just about two minutes drive from home. But my children insist that they be driven to and from school daily. We had to walk to school for hours. It did not matter whether it rained or shined. (From Denchi to Pema Gatshel school today is 13km by road and a bit shorter if taken the alternate route, the short cut. We used to walk this distance to and from school daily!) I try to tell them that it is healthy to walk. “But our friends are dropped to school. Don’t they require exercises too?” It is futile even to attempt an argument with them. Tuesday being declared a Pedestrian Day, I now have an excuse on this day. They hate Tuesdays.
Perhaps I am wrong and unfair in trying to compare our lives; things have changed, and changed many folds. But being from a different “era”, I can’t help but notice the glaring differences. This serves as a constant reminder of my days already spent outside my mother’s womb.
From then to now, I have travelled quite long on this road of so called life. The journey along was full of memories, both good and bad. Looking back I realize it wasn’t that bad after all. Life then was pure and “organic”, as people today may call. It lacked the pace and “basic amenities” of today, but nevertheless it was a life of dignity and simplicity. It is neither their fault being born “today” and nor mine for being born “then”. May be a slight adjustment will balance the equation in favour of both the parties concerned.