When you are two, the world is a big fat rainbow circling your cot.
A warm bottle of milk is the nectar of the gods; and a wet diaper or two is the limit of serious troubles.
But when you are four – that is when the magic truly happens. Your frail shoulders sprout invisible wings; and your horizon extends beyond the close family. You discover a whole new series of worlds waiting for you. Each of these worlds, reciprocates your eagerness to touch, smell and feel everything. Everything that is new and mysterious.
Each day, you take a new step and come across new adventures and novel quests. Each night, you see a new dream and that dream paves the way for endless possibilities.
When you are young you make new friends and truly love them. You are totally oblivious to their social status or intellectual prowess. If he can throw a ball and play hide and seek, he is your man. That is when, the only lines you know, exist on the pages and not on your face.
Your love is free of sensual and materialistic selfishness and your heart is miles away from conceit. When you are young, guilt is still a stranger. It hides within the folds of sin and follows the towering adults around you.
When you are young, sadness is just a minute long tearful episode, but happiness is an ever happening party. The fears of business losses and job insecurity, reside far away in future.
But there are still fears. You are afraid of nightmares, thunderstorms, darkness and ghosts.
I used to have a nightmare repeatedly when I was about six. It was full of eerie sepia landscapes, dead bodies and ghoulish distorted faces. I still remember waking up trembling. My mother hugged me and soothed my paralyzing fear.
My mother’s warm lap seemed to be the safest place on earth and a simple solution to all my problems. She had the power to cure a bloody nose and a nasty bump on my head, all with a loving kiss. She knew the art of treating fevers, sprained ankles and headaches, with love and attention. Home-works, exams and difficult teachers, she had a ready solution for all. She was a soothsayer, enchantress, supercomputer and counselor, all packaged into one.
In those golden days, I had a lot of friends, both in the neighborhood and the school. But my best friend lived within my head and accompanied me everywhere. For me, she was the genie of the lamp, granting my every wish.
She made me Tarzan of the Apes when I wanted to explore dark forests, hanging down fat vines.
She made me Superman when I wanted to feel the texture of clouds and roam the skies.
She made me Blackbeard when I went hunting treasure and exploring deep oceans.
My best friend was in love with movies and books. She derived her power from their scenes and pages.
She taught me how to sail ships within the stormy environs of a bathtub and how to hunt lions in my grandfather’s lawn.
When I wanted to race cars at that tender age, she just smiled understandingly and put a dinky in my hand.
When I wanted to fly an airplane and be a captain of my own boat, she instructed me in the delights of origami.
She even introduced me to an old mottled turtle in the backyard that could talk and tell stories of days gone by. I swear it could.
She brought me exotic friends to gossip with while I was sitting on my potty and helped me define shapes in the dark clouds.
She is still the best friend of little boys and girls and goes by the sweet name of ‘Imagination’.
When I was young, pleasure had no name. It was just a mix of small joys, excitements and adventures. I never had to wait or look for my pleasures. They all came my way, one by one and sometimes in hoards.
They came with the monsoon, drenched with promises of prancing in the rain and playing in makeshift ponds of murky water.
They came riding the shoulders of dust storms, blowing ghostly whistles and shrieking like banshees.
They visited me in the long summer afternoons, when the adult world was asleep and took me tunneling for earth worms.
When pleasure met imagination, the end product was creativity.
A mound of sand in front of an under construction house, developed serious architectural possibilities.
A couple of colored paper sheets and a bottle of gum, were enough to build an impressive glider.
A discarded nylon thread, few inches of dirty elastic, fallen branches of trees, broken laundry clips and ball pen casings. They all were treasured collectables. I could make a crossbow out of this junk and sometimes even a helicopter.
A bottle of cola and a packet of ‘ginger nut biscuits’ were a feast, yet unmatched by kingly banquets.
When I was four, I was innocent. I had no idea of sin or morality – absolute or otherwise. I was unaware of guilt because there were no serious consequences of my small sins. But there were definitely a few cardinal sins – all well defined by my mother:
Don’t hit your brother.
Respect the elders.
At the age of four, there was simply no guilt. There was no conflict, which a simple ‘sorry’ could not resolve.
I occasionally fought with my friends and class fellows. They were quite serious fights. At least, I considered them violent epic battles and majestic showdowns. There were soundtracks of screeching violins and crashing cymbals. But there were absolutely no consequences. At the most we stopped talking and that too, for a day or two.
Remembering a slight was something not known in those parts. Revenge was still an unfamiliar entity. We were like true and honorable knights of an ancient kingdom – noble and without malice in our innocent hearts.
When I grew up, sin arrived on the scene and along came guilt.
I still remember my first seriously hurting pang of guilt. I deliberately shot a wild pigeon with my air gun. But then I held its trembling body and fluttering wings against my sweaty palms. I felt it growing cold with a sinking heart. It was my first serious sin and the first pang of guilt.
Gradually, I lost both the sweaty palms and the sinking heart.
With the passage of time, guilt became a permanent boarder in my heart. I learnt to tolerate its poisonous presence for the sake of sin. My sins were all charmingly disguised and whispered sweet promises of pleasure.
Guilt introduced me to fear over drinks one day. From then onward, my heart became a secret club, with an ever growing list of dark members.
When I was young, I collected stamps and coins in beautiful leather and velvet bound albums. But now, I just collect fears in a gigantic and tightly locked box of guilt.
I fear for the loss of possessions.
I fear for the future of my kids.
I fear loneliness and I fear hurt and pain.
And sometimes I fear the fear, itself.
Fear has aged me prematurely and plays games with my mind. But no matter how much I dislike it, I cannot get rid of its poisonous existence. It corrupts my soul and seeps into my tired bones. But we cannot part anymore.
Unfortunately, when I grew up, I also lost touch with imagination.
We now lack the romantic intimacy and the mysterious magic of early days. Knowledge has brought along many wonderful things in its wake, but has replaced mystery with logic and science.
Turtles are now just turtles, even when rarely seen.
Lions do not lurk anymore behind the rose bushes.
I would still love to find a treasure buried in the back yard but I never try to find it. I know there are no treasures there.
When I grew up, my pleasure also transformed. Now, my pleasures are better defined but harder to get and not so frequent. Some of them even border on sins. They do not come cheap and sometimes they lose their charm.
My pleasures are like colorful butterflies. I try to catch them. Sometimes I fail. But when I do manage to grab them, they die, leaving colored smudges of guilt on my fingers.
My pleasures always come with a foreboding of doom and guilt poisons their flavor. Guilt makes my pleasures fragile and knots my stomach in dreadful anticipation of consequences.
When I grew up, a bottle of coke became just another soft drink. And ‘ginger nuts’? I wonder where they have gone. I am now painfully aware of the dust of time, slowly settling over my imagination and carrying away my pleasures, riding the tiny glittering specks.
I have grown older now and my troubles are far more complex than a nightmare or a twisted ankle.
My fears have taken a gigantic leap from an incomplete home work to an uncertain future.
There are fewer solutions to my problems and I have to find them myself.
But unfortunately, at this time of need, I have lost touch with both hope and imagination.
My mother is no more an enchantress or a shaman. The cruelty of the grown up world has negated her magical abilities. I wish I could hide my head in her lap and forget the matter of fact attitude of the world around me, but I am hindered by my own realities.
The grownup world around me makes me wish of a never ending childhood and everlasting songs of innocence.