I'd give all wealth that years have piled,.
The slow result of Life's decay,
To be once more a little child
For one bright summer day
~Lewis Carroll, "Solitude"
Childhood, the most cherished phase of our lives is a topic most of us find reason to fondly reminisce about from time to time.
Be it the time spent playing hopscotch with friends or the bruises we gained by climbing trees to pluck fruit, be it the way we danced in the rain until we got sick or be it the long hours we played in the scorching hot sun, there was a little bit of magic in everything we did--the magic of simple joy and true happiness, one that lit our face with a smile so broad that people saw it travel right from our hearts till it reached our eyes.
But the glory of childhood is often realised in hindsight.
As age catches up, memories from the distant past allure us into stepping into that world of lost glory.
As for me, I have often lost myself to these nostalgic moments.They seem to be the only way I can hold on tight to the times I loved...the times I would never want to let go of.
But reflecting back, how many times did we (as kids) wish we could grow up fast?
Life as a grown up sounded so very cool in those days.Going to work like all grown up's did, not having the elders boss over you, no restrictions on the things you ate and no time limits on the hours of play---how much fun it would be to grow up...or so we thought.
Little did we know that soon enough that wish would come true and set us wishing we could be kids again.
When I first read about the Kissan '100% real blogger' contest on Indiblogger, I was flooded by a sense of nostalgia which overwhelmed me to such an extent that i spent the entire day reminiscing about those days of yore.
More heart warming was the feeling, because Kissan jams and me go a long way back.
As a child, I used to almost live on Kissan jam sandwiches.Since i would often suffer from acidity, I would be extremely picky about food and complain on eating anything too spicy. So the safest bet was jam sandwiches---something I would eat without complaining before or after.
My breakfast and school tiffin would mainly consist of small triangular butter and jam sandwiches.
As i grew up, the GER (Gastro Esophageoal Reflux) like symptoms gradually lessened on its own and eventually vanished...but the love for jam stayed on.
I remember my hostel room had a stock of kissan jams which made up my lunch and dinner on many an exam nights.While my colleagues thought it was the medical exam pressure that made me choose an easy-to-fix meal, only I knew that it was actually the comfort of my childhood that I sought in the act.
Hitherto, there would be a 30 minute phone call back home from the hostel phone booth before I returned to my textbooks.
Old habits die hard, they say.Even today, whenever i feel blue, I make myself a mixed fruit jam sandwich and one bite is all it takes to transfer me into that world of unadulterated joy. Not the best cuisines in the world can match up to the simple taste of that magical wonderland...the memory of my childhood.
Back then, there was one other person who loved these jam sandwiches as much as I did---someone who my childhood memories cannot be complete without...Mrs Sumitra Kamat.
She was my neighbour back then and a close family friend.
My mom tells me that Sumi aunty had been the first to see me outside the delivery room.So overjoyed was she on seeing me-the 3.7kg bundle that she almost forgot to tell my dad who was pacing nervously down the hospital corridoe.
Apparently, Sumi aunty loved
Sumi aunty had a teenage daughter of about fourteen.Ruchi had been born after 10 years of their marriage and had been the apple of her eye.
If it wasn't for the flashes of her smiling face in faded memories and birthday pictures, I would be hardly able to recall much of her now.But i do remember her coming to play with me when she would return home from school.
The Kamath's were a close knit family and with time our friendship with them had blossomed.
The earliest stamp-ink memory I have of Sumi aunty was however when I was around 8 years old.I still remember that day clearly.
We had gone to visit her---at the hospital.Scared to see her lying on the hospital bed, with a IV needle in her forearm and a bandaged head, I asked her where Ruchi was.
The tension in the hospital room was palpable, I remember clinging tightly to my mother's saree as Sumi aunty burst into sobs.My dad quickly took me away as my mom consoled her in a tight embrace.
After that day, Sumi aunty always wore a white saree.The vermilion mark on her forehead had also disappeared and there was no sign of Ruchi and Vineet uncle anywhere.
It took me a while to understand why this cheerful lady who always laughed and doted over me no longer laughed or got out of the house anymore and how an unfortunate car accident had converted our closest family friends into an incomplete family.
As the days went by, my mom would take me over to Sumi aunty's place often.
It was the only time she would showed some sign of life---sumi aunty would braid my hair, listen to my stories, answer my silly questions and cook new recipes for me everyday.
My parents hoped that she would recover from the shock and they thought that I could perhaps help her with that.I was oblivious of their hidden agenda and often thought they no longer liked me anymore.
"Shona, Sumi aunty misses Ruchi right now and she is sad.You should talk to her, play with her, go out with her.But keep in mind not to mention Vineet uncle or Ruchi ok? At least not right now." my mom said.
I promised but i still thought they loved me less than they loved di.
As time went by, Sumi aunty started laughing again.When she saw me getting bored indoors, she started stepping out of the house with me. We would go to the park where i would sit on swings and see-saws.
She would take me to the beach where we would build sand castles together.
I remember her telling me stories.Stories of ogres and demons...stories of kings and queens...stories where the prince would save the princess and live happily ever after.Every story telling session would end with us competing for 'mixed fruit jam' sandwiches---she knew I loved those.So had Ruchi.
I missed Ruchi's presence but would never mention it to Sumi aunty.I knew she missed her too.Losing her entire world like that was the most unfortunate thing that could happen to her.
I might have been a little too young to understand the seriousness of the matter back then, but I knew enough not to utter any past memories to Sumi aunty because they made her cry.
On coming home, I would be sleepy but would enthusiastically narrate the fairy tales she had read out to me, to my parents and di.
Di would sulk that she did not get such loving treatment from Sumi aunty and that would make me feel proud of myself.
My mom and dad would hug me and praise me for being a 'good girl'.Dad would reward me with a chocolate everyday and mom would be filled with genuine concern for Sumi aunty.
I would tell them about the days events.I would feel like a winner and every time Sumi aunty would laugh, every time she would joke like before--it would be a victory.
Of course, I did enjoy my day-outs with her.I could not climb up and pluck mangoes from trees, play tag and hopscotch or attend doll marriages with her, like i could with my other friends.
But I could listen to wonderful stories, discover new places, ask her the silliest questions and get a loving hug for every one of them, sulk and get my way with things and be pampered with different variations of jam sandwiches.My favorite version was when she would apply home made butter with kissan marmalade on sliced bread and place in cottage cheese, sliced grapes, a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and slivers of seasonal fruits with just a dash of cinamon powder and some 'secret' spice before topping it with another slice of butter and marmalade applied white bread---all of which which would assemble into the yummiest sandwich in the world.
We would both enjoy the same things.Thinking back, perhaps she compromised a little for my sake.But I had begun to adore her.
My friends would awe at me when I showed them my pebble collection, the necklace of sea shells that Sumi aunty had taught me to make, the doll house of candy sticks I had constructed.When I would brag about my nature trips, they would not believe me--until I showed them the wonderful pictures that Sumi aunty clicked.I remember the class bully being exceptionally sweet to me thereafter, as bribe for taking her along on my next day-out picnic.
But friends of your age rarely know any better than you.Parents are always a little too careful.For all the fun filled adventure, I needed a best friend.
Sumi aunty had become my best friend and yet someone who knew so much more than me.She was an inspiration...a motivation.
We had a soul to soul connection and the jam sandwiches competition just reaffirmed our bond.
As days changed to months and years, school and academics started keeping me busy.My teenage years were tough on family and friends.As for me, in between all the rebellious tantrums and impatient mood swings, one thing always remained constant---I always made time for my best friend and even if I could not, she always understood.
I used to live very close to the beach back then.
Living in Goa, I grew up to be someone who has always found peace in the music of the waves.
Right from a tender age, I built castles in the sand and confided in the sea.
Sitting on the rocks and gazing at the waves always brought along a strange sort of calmness in me--the kind of calmness that is much needed after a bout of guilt or self loathe.
Overcome by one such an episode, I tried what every child has tried at least once in a lifetime---I decided to run away from home.
Of course realisation struck as soon as I crossed the lane with an inadequately packed school bag (which contained a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb and a pair of clothes and a purse which had only Rs 55/- in it) and saw the ice cream vendor selling candies for Rs 11 a piece.That meant I could get just five more candies with what I considered enough to run away from home with.
I could not go back home as the note I had left behind would have been discovered by my family and that would only mean utter embarrassment.Besides i was seething with anger for having being yelled at.So I kept walking till i reached my favorite spot.
The temper tantrum fizzled out in a while but 45 minutes of gazing at the sea had made me hungry.
As couples and tourists gave me suspicious looks as they strolled along the beach, I nervously hoped someone would find me.
I scolded myself for not having brought some food along.
And then i saw her...my best friend!!!
She had known exactly where to find me.
While my mom was crying her eyes out from panic of discovering my runaway note and my dad had worried himself searching for me in all the places a 13 year old could think of to run away from home, Sumi aunty had told them to calm down and headed straight towards the beach, but not before packing a small surprise.
As my eyes twinkled on noticing the transparent plastic tiffin in her hand, my joy knew no bounds.While the fruit sandwiches served as a catalyst to enlightenmentin the rickshaw ride back to my home, she scolded me in soft yet stern words.
"Your family is the only unit you can call your own and don't you ever forget that" then taking my hand into hers, she added "Promise me, no matter how far you go you will always come back."
All through my childhood and early teens, she was there to guide me with timely advice and words of wisdom.She was almost like family but always called herself my 'best friend'.There were times when i felt misunderstood even by family.That was when I would call Sumi aunty and talk to her for long hours telling her about what was troubling me---We would always go to our favorite spot, the beach...and she never forgot to bring her special fruit sandwiches along.
Sumi aunty will always hold a special place in my life.She thought me to fall in love with nature.She taught me to listen to the chirping of birds, the gurgling of springs, the rustling of trees.
She gifted me my first binocular set on my 14th birthday.Together we would spend hours watching for birds in their natural habitat---places which were not known to many but only by a few nature lovers like herself.
She had a passion for photography while I would scribble some words of inspiration in my diary.
Everything I wrote would first be read out to Sumi aunty and then to my family back home.While family would praise my attempt, Sumi aunty would often tell me where I lacked.
"Write down your memories" she would say.
Then looking wistfully at her camera, she would add "Pictures will capture moments..but words will capture your emotions."
That was Sumitra kamat, my best friend during my childhood and teenage years before her health started detiorating and she moved to Bangalore with her brother's family.
That is how Sumi aunty will always be, in my memories.
Sumi aunty---the lady who left behind in my life, a beautiful legacy through her thoughts and actions.Her words and heart warming advice which crafted my childhood into a spectra of beautiful shades, still echo in my mind whenever I think of her.
Today, she is hardly able to recognise us.The family that she was so fond of is now reduced to a bunch of strangers whom she stares at without any reaction.
Being affected with the cruel wrath of the dreaded Alzheimer's disease, it is indeed painful to see my best friend in a state of increasing memory impairment and unable to perform usual day to day activities with normal ease.
As a doctor, I am aware of the consequences of her condition and know the futility of the situation.
But the heart of a best friend has still not given up...for it is bound by a promise made long ago--no matter how far I will go, I will always come back.
Every time I visit her, I try to evoke any slight flicker of memories gone by---the binocular she had gifted me, her unattended camera which now lies in one corner of the room, taking her out for evening strolls and trying to evoke some sort of reaction to her love for nature, I have tried it all.
The birds still chirp their merry tunes.
The trees still rustle in whispers.
The streams still gurgle the way they always did.
Nature seems its usual best.But my best friend responds in silence.
The only hope is when I open the packet of fruit sandwiches---the one constant reminder of my marvellous childhood memories with her, she looks at me and smiles............as if she knows it all.
The above post has been written for the contest '100% Real Blogger Contest' organised by Kissan on IndiBlogger, thanks to both for opening up the floodgate of beautiful memories which will always remain with me as part of my reality.
If you liked reading this post, do vote for it here.