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Ashamary Thomas |
March 25, 2004 18:08 IST
Back in those days when a four year old's life was limited to home, school and the babysitter's frontyard, I still learnt a lot about sharing, tolerance and teamwork. No, I am not talking about a New Age preschool playgroup but about a good old babysitting aunty. To me, she always was and always will be my dear Kaku.
Kaku was… well, Kaku. A quintessential homemaker, she took in kids like me whose mothers had to work and couldn't be home to look after us. Kaku and I were together for all of four years, till my sister was born. Then we shifted residence. I was deemed too old to have a babysitter and became one of those innumerable latchkey kids with working parents (but that's another story...).
When I first entered Kaku's fold, she made sure the other children accepted me (it wasn't her fault if I slunk off to the corner, intimidated by the huge bully who pulled my braids and called me 'black'). She stood every morning at her front door, waiting to receive me and my school bag and my lunch from my mother. At the unearthly hour of 7 am (to a preschooler, even 9 am is unearthly), I would sleepily drag myself to Kaku's home, plonk myself on her bed and start snoring away again till it was time to go to Lilliput (my nursery school).
Kaku had her own brood to look after as well. There was Kaka (her grey-and-henna-haired husband), Vanita didi (her I'm-the-height-of-fashion college-going daughter) and another couple of goons... oops, boys... her sons whom I don't remember now (I did not pay much attention to their existence even then).
There is a reason why Kaka and Vanita didi get special mention here. Kaka unfailingly brought home goodies (khau) every evening and Vanita didi blasted the latest hits on the radio (those were the days of Jackie Shroff's Hero) and used her tongue to give Cadbury's Éclairs new shapes (as a kid who hardly had any Éclairs, it was definitely an accomplishment).
At Kaku's, I did not have the choice of withdrawing into my comfortable shell every time the ugly hulk called me 'black' or pulled my braids. So I learnt to stand up for myself -- I would either stomp on his foot and run for my life or, if I was feeling lazy, I'd yell out to Kaku and she would come on her white charger to rescue this damsel in distress. Without realising it, I also learnt about using tactics to win.
I wasn't the only one the bully liked to pick on, so I learnt teamwork. Despite his size, he didn't seem too smart so it was pretty easy to get everyone to gang up on him. We'd get together and start a team game. The bully would be left out (Guess who the new gang leader was?!). This bothered him no end. Gradually, he gave up his bad ways and seemed quite anxious to join the fun and frolic. I forgave and forgot and that's how I learnt tolerance. Though, to be fair, the bully did turn out to be a good guy underneath all the bluster.
Finally, food. While my mother packed me delicious lunches, I always found everyone else's lunch much tastier. I learnt to share and, as a result, got my hands on really mouth-watering fare.
My best hours with Kaku were spent on the floor on those wooden seating boards in her kitchen. A pucca Maharashtrian, she regularly made Varan Bhaath or Amti Bhaath and lots of Polis. Sometimes, she made Sabudanyachi Khichdi, Puran Poli or even Kesar Sheera.
I loved all of Kaku's food and would do anything to have some of it; I'd even forsake my mother's painstakingly packed lunch. Kaku being Kaku knew I loved her Amti the best of all. Whenever she made some, she would smuggle me into the kitchen and secretly let me have a bowl. Maybe I was her favourite…
Come evening, if my mother hadn't already picked me up, I would be in for a treat. Kaka would return home every day with some khau (snacks). All the kids would make a beeline for him and hold out their palms; it was fun to get something as a surprise. Sometimes, it would be candy, sometimes biscuits. If I was too shy to crowd around with the others, Kaka would come over and give me my share with a wink and smile.
Halcyon days never last for long. My days with Kaku ended when we shifted home.
However much we try to hang on to memories, they fade with time and are archived as part of our happy past. Time and the distance pushed Kaku to the back of my mind.
A while ago, one of my friends who knew her told me Kaku had been diagnosed with cancer in the terminal stage. Though she must have had to face some pain, she refused to give up looking after her balas (children). She remained surrounded with her beloved little wards until it was time for her to move to the next world.
Illustration: Lynette Menezes