A sniff into the past…

Daily prompt : Transporter

What does an image of childhood memories look like?

Mine looks like an 8×10 ” canvas with a collage of sepia pictures with yellowed edges – a lone Barbie with two sets of dresses – a typewriter that my grandfather used to write letters to all of us. There are brown-covered books of my father – a relic of a trunk/suitcase (under lock and key supervision of my mother) that stored our belongings and many such items. A scent of familiarity and preservation persists uniformly across all of them. Something like mothballs – clean and pearly – fading with every season – creeping into our clothes like an invisible barrier. When ever you’d reach out to pull a sweater or hold a rajai(quilt) over your frame for the first time in the season, you’d know the exact odor you were going to wear for days – a bit chemical and rustic, a bit characteristic of every household and a mark of love – of mothers and grandmothers.

Those days, on lazy afternoons of weekends – I used to sit next to my mother and fondly watch her bundle up the winter clothing – to layer in the suitcases. She’d open a fresh plastic bag of naphthalene balls  every year and place them between the folds of cardigans, ponchos and woolen dresses. The trivial process of circulating clothes in and out of boxes was a sacred detour for me  from the world of homework and limited play time. I spent hours to get a peep of some of my mother’s delicate sarees – Chiffon,Georgette,Silk – embroidered with sequins and silk threads – immaculately wrapped in white muslin. Those gave me goosebumps, making me believe that someday I’d get out of odd fitting clothes and slip into an hourglass attire. And so, mothballs were my best friends – safeguarding my treasure which of course, I gave up on long before it gave up on me.

Wearing the same scent, on a winter eve – I wrote my first four lines of a poem in Hindi. A few days later, I read my first novel – the pages of which I still recall as turning mustard – its antique font looked like a diminished mothball – preserving the thoughts of the author with every whiff. It was around the same time, I started receiving  letters from my grandfather. The prevailing cataract in his eyes messed the straight lines of each sentence to a diagonal one with several typos but the intent was genuinely flawless and in spite of  almost the wrong address – smudged  by the ink of his old typewriter – the letters always arrived on our doorstep. Upon their arrival, I’d identify my name embossed on a creamish-yellow, half glued envelope with zigzag row of stamps. His characteristic typewriter’s font was unmistakably bold, holding his love and wisdom in the bellies of the fat alphabets punched late at night; slowly but surely. 

While I was in the thick of writing poems in my father’s barely used diaries and arranging household items in old trunks once a while, I would also pluck a book or two from my father’s library. He brought sheets of brown paper form a local stationery store and changed the covers of all his books during the Diwali break. Every book was marked and cataloged, and for a 12-year old like me, they were pure fascination – arranged in numeric order – tall and short – old and new – side by side. Finding keys to my father’s cabinets was easier than locating the smell of the key to my mother’s trunk – something very distinguishing of the way my parents viewed life and their possessions. The mothballs were here too, along the smell of a repellent spray guarding the intelligent paper. I’d stand for sometime and go through any book – there were no underlines, no marked pages – just fresh text, liberated with diagrams, ready to be absorbed by the grey matter of a classroom.

It is a new and changed world now. The past was boisterously rich with noisy closets, big dial-padded telephones and shuffling of pages and the present is silent and sophisticated with vibrating touch screens and e-books. There are digital locks and virtual learning – even virtual socializing. Somewhere along the way, we have separated us from ourselves and built a beautiful barrier to block every touch,smell and sound.

As I inhale the last remains of the characteristic smell of a mothball on a sweater, it asks me – what will the memories of a future childhood look like?

“Something alien and hopefully intelligent – something  beyond the comprehension of our five senses,” I reply and sniff again.

Images : Courtesy Google



6 thoughts on “A sniff into the past…

  1. The imagery here is just incredible. I almost felt like I was there, while you opened those letters and perused the titles of the books. I do hope that my own children will have such vivid memories of their childhoods.

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