Monday, 16 November 2009

A Memory

I was 14 years old and the taxi was pelting out of the rioting city towards the airport. My brothers and I were about to leave India, 'for good'. For our good. We stopped at the traffic lights, which, if you have visited Bombay, you know to be the fulcrum of great activity. The street sellers deliver the speech of their lives, some reducing you to tears, some to shame and some to giggles. I have no memory of any part of this journey, except one.

At the traffic lights, there was a girl, younger than me, but on the street, ages are hard to define. She was a flower seller. She was selling moghra flowers, sweet scented jasmine flowers. Was it morning, evening? Cannot remember. She smiled at me, and I smiled at her. And I knew in that moment, I would never forget her. She was my last real, true memory of the Bombay I had loved with every fibre of my being. She was staying, and I was leaving. I wanted to stay, maybe she wanted to leave? But her smile was pure joy, pure innocence - she was me, and I was her. It was a simple exchange. For her, brief, fleeting. It is not possible she has remembered me. But I, have remembered her, and will remember her, all my life.

Yesterday my mother and I watched Slumdog Millionaire. You have all watched it, no doubt, and could critique it far better than I. For it did not move me as I feared it would. The colours seemed bleached into a new Mumbai totally unfamiliar to eyes that have been faithful to the old haunts for long echoing years. Who or what was I looking for that I did not find in the film? Myself, perhaps.

Has my flower seller grown up? Has she survived the streets? Left the streets? Was she in Slumdog Millionaire? I will never know. All I know is I left a piece of my aching heart behind, with a stranger who has never felt like a stranger, in a city which was once my home, and now can never be.

Photos: Rubina Ali (young Latika); Freida Pinto (Latika) from Slumdog Millionaire

22 comments:

Aristarkhos said...

That's an interesting perspective. Never knew you to be that introspective and philosophical. Probably because I did not know you that well when at school.
Come to think of it, I never thought that way when I was in school... :oP

What I remember of you in Bombay is our constant rehearsals in your house, for the Blue House play. :)
Even now and then when I pass the ice cream parlour (Snowman's is a Gelato-cum-doughnut shop now) I remember spending evenings at your place...trying to perfect the two lines I was given. :D

Jeanne-ming said...

I have often wondered what you thought of SLumdog. My mother, who is from India, hated it...of course she is blind, but for her, she says nothing moves her about India if "there is no smelling".
I was 14 when our family moved from Wu Fung Road and I went into boarding school while the family moved to Taipei. I always found and still find ways to go back, but it is never the same as it was, thus the reason I paint.
I am moved by this post of yours today, because your write beautifully of a subject I know well.

caramelcaramelo said...

very beautifully written, or expressed i should say.
i have lived in many places and some have moved me, some have not. of course "the mover" is the person, a person i have met, seen at a crossroad like you, or just had a small yet heartwarming conversation. i am in delhi now maybe i built too much expectations, but it does not move me. and it makes me feel sad. so many people yet no humanity, just the harsh law of the asphalt jungle. but at times there is a smile or something just because. and you hang on to it. thank you again for your lovely post. kenza.

willow said...

I loved this beautiful bit of you, Shaista.

Ruth said...

Before coming here I had read Braja's post (http://lostandfoundinindia.blogspot.com/) about encounters with beggars in India. I appreciated her honest reaction to a rude beggar.

Then reading your heartfelt connection with the flower seller, and caramel's comment - these are all gifts of sight into other minds and hearts responding to the world. I hope I can visit India one day, I have a dear friend there I've never met face to face, but he feels like a brother. I hope I can meet him and feel - and smell - India. But I confess I am afraid of it too, that I will not love it as I do from here. I see the textures, filigrees, eat Indian food at a restaurant or try to recreate it at home, and I am creating my own India. Will I love the real thing? What if I don't?

Rhetorical questions that show me it is all in our mind, our perspective.

Shaista said...

Ashutosh, I'm glad you are reading me! Do you remember the play? Do you remember your two lines?!

Jeanne, your mother is right... there was no smelling. Your paintings move me equally, but you know this :)

Kenza, I have never been to Delhi myself, I can imagine it is just as you describe. I hope someone smiles sweetly at you today!

Thankyou, Willow.

And Ruth, the India you have to come to, is my own home, despite the fact that it is now in Little Shelford :)

Renee said...

Beautiful darling.

A love for someone's homeland, can't be taken away, no matter what happens in it then or later.

Regarding the drink of oblivion Shaista, I would love to drink it just to be oblivious to the physical pain sometimes.

And no I have not read that book but am going to look into it.

love Renee xoxo

Bee said...

How very interesting to know that India was part of your childhood. I think that we all have places that are similarly "fixed" in memory.

I do wonder why single images will stick . . . when so much else is forgotten.

staceyjwarner said...

Moments like this are so magical...thanks for sharing yours.

much love

A Cuban In London said...

No, not all of us have seen it. :-)

But forget about the movie for a second. What really moved me was your memory of that little girl. You have a powerful way to describe the most minute and, in other contexts, insignificant events in life. That's probably why you're such a good poet(ess). I still like using poetess, I know the linguistics fashion police will apprehend me one day and force me to change my lingo to 'actor' and 'poet' for both sexes. My defense? I speak Spanish and we still say 'poetisa'.

Marvellous post. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Perveen said...

I cried. There I've said it. On reading the post I could not stop the pain gripping my heart after all these years... The day that you three were sent away 'for your good'... I can see clearly through your eyes, picture it all and wish life could have been different. But... see what you have achieved. My daughter, the poet! (or quite rightly, a poetess!)

Kitty Moore said...

Very well written. I understand how you as that little girl must have felt. I too had to leave my homeland at a young age. But I have made London my home now.

Renee said...

Thank you dear one, I would love to go to a Sangha with you (now I have to go see what that means).

Youa re beautiful.

Love Renee xoxo

Isabel said...

You remember your country with the heart of a child moving away from home. That in itself colors your homeland differently, even from what it probably was at the time you left. Time did the rest...

The love for it remaind the same :)

I left Portugal I was 21 and I fellt like you at 14

Loved your prose :)

Jeanne-ming said...

oh darling---to read your Mama's comment. I cried too...for all of you and for hard choices parents make and then wonder a life time if they made the right one. Of course they did....

and what a poet you are. indeed.

Rizwan said...

I actually have no memory of this journey at all, but I remember being pretty broken up at being told we had to leave. Just for one night. Then it all blurs into vague memories of a mass of transition, bland newness, and learning that change is rarely what you imagine it will be. Long gone now. Impressed that you remember details.

in company with sparkles said...

This is beautiful. Though I have been to India (and fell in love with the country and people) I did enjoy the film, though I know even its depth glosses over things. What a precious thing memory is.

مى said...

My dream is to visit india. Even before I saw the movie. I love the ending of your post :)

Yin said...

Never mind - some day when you go back, you can rediscover it all again with new eyes and there's fun in that too, being able to appraise more objectively and with a mix of the (dare I say it) tourist's delight in the remembered-exotic. I only say that because I now find myself not always able to tell what race someone is at first glance. And I guess that's a good thing. Except then I find myself unable to guess which language to use. And then sometimes I forget the right word in the language I finally land on. Words like 'onion'. And I was fluent. Tsk.

Was reading Kipling's biography the other day and he left India at six and returned at 16 and found himself suddenly spouting phrases in the vernacular that his ayah had taught him, without knowing their meaning.

The Wanderers' Daughter said...

What a beautiful post. And that first photo of the little girl - oh, that smile! Makes my heart ache and soar with joy both at once. I also want to know what became of your little flower seller. And it makes me want to paint her.

(hope my package arrives safe? I hear there's a postal issue in the UK at present...)

London Accountants Person said...

This seems like such a poignant moment, beautifully expressed.

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