She is six. She swings with one foot on the freshly-repainted metal gate. She loves that smell - the smell of new paint. She has on a light cotton frock with polka dots, and holds an ice lolly in one hand. These are a rare allowance, these ice lollies bought from street vendors. They aren't considered hygienic by her parents, but sometimes, on summer afternoons like these, she uses their presence in her grandparent's home to her favour. The world out here is different from the one she lives in. Life is slower here. People seem to always want to meet and talk to each other. There is a girl in the neighbourhood her age who does not go to school. 'That is not such a bad thing though', she thinks. The thoughts of school and holiday homework make her uneasy. She climbs down the gate and goes upstairs. It's three storeys, but it has never seemed like much to her. Nanaji is in the pooja room. Nani and Mummy are pickling mangoes. Mummy spots her and asks her to come and have some mangoes. Everything seems to be in such action! As if bathing and getting ready and worshipping and cooking and eating and pickling and telling kids what to do are the most important jobs in the world!
There is a noise and a lightness and a yellow-tinged distant happiness about that memory that make her smile. She goes to the living room and switches on the flat screen LED TV that has silently replaced the black and white TV with double doors somewhere through the years. She flips through the channels and settles on Doordarshan - something completely vague and uninteresting. But it allows perfectly for nostalgia to flood in again.
She is sitting on the sofa with all other kids, sibling, cousins, neighbours. They have learnt how to make Rasna, and they are each holding a glass of it proudly in their hands. 'Chhutti Chhutti' starts on Doordarshan, and there is cheering. There is a cartoon with a girl and a boy and a rat and a bird, all two-dimensional hand-drawn cartoons, with a compulsory moral in them. She loves everything about them - the voices, the background score, the simplistic animations. She needs nothing else in that moment. They play hide and seek after the show is over. They laugh and shout and run around the house, with occasional reminders from elders to not be too noisy and disturb naps. In the evenings, Mummy puts on a crisp cotton saree and wraps herself in that familiar sweet smell of talc as she takes out a set of pyjamas for her and asks her to take a shower too. She washes off the sweat and dust of the day to spend the night lying under the stars with the entire family on the roof. Summer nights are all about stories.
Just that, she didn't know then, that they become stories too.