Now when we talk of war people first connect it to the most notorious US-Iraq war. A little back home many connect it to the Kargil war in 1999…now if this is way long back by any standards then think again. Coz I’m now talking of the ill-famed Pakistan war in Bombay!
Yes, I know many will ask how would I remember? What is the connection? Was I even born? Well, to give myself some credit, not only was a I born, I was over 4 years old! Yeah sharp enough to understand a lot of things as I always was…as to why speak of it now…I remember many instances of that period. A lot of other stuff in my life is blank….for instance, I can’t remember many names faces & have even deliberately blanked out old memories.
Now coming to the war…I distinctly remember the Kolhatkars living in the DARK! I’m sure scores of other Indians lived in similar conditions & functioned in their deliberately darkened homes or in dim candle light inside dark windows. So why should I be saying only the ‘Kolhatkars?’ That is only because I can’t remember the outside world in Bombay of those times. I have a recollection of only few memories & that too inside Jagjivan Mansion, 2nd floor at the end of Awantikabai Gokhale Cross Lane, or the renowned auto-spare parts lane!
The memories now sound entertaining, but then were bizarre, jarring & frightening to say the least. Sounds of zooming planes which deafened our ears, living in dark and more so having family dinners in dim candle light. This truly was NOT romantic. We were lucky my father was a photographer so we had these photo papers which were silver in colour on the inside and dark charcoal black on the outside. We did not have to invest more in dark papers, they soon were pasted (my aaji made wheat glue) on all our windows, wc are easily over a dozen. Then on top of that, we had to sit in pitch darkness at our table (yes somehow we were privileged and possessed a huge dinning table!) and would try to eat ( no wonder I still spill food on my clothes) when suddenly the youth of our lane would scream hoarse “Kolhatkars divey band kara.” “Kolhatkars switch off ur lights!”
Gosh! It was frightening…chilling u know. I’d begin howling –well according to my family I never needed a reason to break into tears-so may be just that’s why I’ve finished my quota of crying & I’m dried of any water in my eyes!
The whole experience is most haunting. Imagine any child’s nightmare… Firstly manoeuvre around a 15 ft passage with NO lights; then go to the rear end of the house where the kitchen was it seemed like we would take the whole night for this simple process, wc now takes few seconds in complete darkness.
I remember my mother & aaji tottering around the kitchen silently…outside world we don’t know of, how the sounds & colours of blackness are i can’t recollect. Our hushed sounds & cries were mixed wt the regular fights we two sisters would have.. Then suddenly it was a like a Ekta Kapoor serial as each would compete with the other in shouting & coaxing me to ‘shut up!’ Coz according to most i would only cry…hope everyone thinks this is exaggeration…i never thot so but my entire family thinks its verbatim.
It was too chaotic and confusing to say the least. I have NO memories of how the mornings would pass, i do recollect having played a lot. One uncle was nice, he was ailing all the while, but was concerned and caring. I have NO memories of running in the middle of the compound to take cover as part of the drills…some kakus around the wadi distinctly remember.
I remember the threatening shouts from below the building as the men took patrolling duty “Silence Kolhatkars, cut out the sound.” I mean how insensitive people are I always thought. Why were they constantly shouting at us only? The bloody war makers-I mean children don’t know anything about these wars-they only know to cry at four. Plus how could they expect us to live in dark?? Then the so called incompetent governments that allowed these wars to take place & then on top of that the bloody rascals who patrolled!
Imagine its like putting those plastic gags in the faces of the children. As if this is not enough, I had a Hitler incarnation called Baba, my dearest father. He insisted that one should perform a particular task in a particular way (as he dictated) & at a specific time. It was far too much for a scatter-brained, dyslexic child like me, who also was under weight & weak!
I distinctly remember standing at the entrance of our living room on the doorway & in the pitch darkness I dreaded to get across the huge hall at the other end, which seemed like a dark ocean in which I’d drown. Now, I’m NOT exaggerating a word of this. Because it seemed I’d take few years to cross it & especially as every time I attempted to cross a fighter plane would zoom at my eye’s length creating a thundering sound that would make me slump & burst into cries. I can’t remember getting across, but i’m sure i did. Coz that Hitler wouldn’t have given, i would’ve surely given up then…now i live on challenges
Fear, cries do NOT exist in my dictionary now. At that time they were my middle names. As if this pressure was not enough, the Hitler sat in opposite end of the hall with my aaji (paternal grandmother) who was my teddy bear! She tried to coax him to letting me come with help & that Hitler would burst into vigorous hand movements (which I’d see flying in the air) & a stern voice that would make me pee in my panties.
This really was my tight situation. The impact was however far worse. At that time of my life I peed in my pants, pyjamas, panties the most. I would simply pee, got pulled up for it (since I 4 years old) & was told I had no toilet discipline. No one simply realised I was living in mortal fear. I also kept crying. I developed vision problem three years later, but many of my fears & psychological problems were sowed in the war tremors.
I had NO clue there was a war. We would murmur in hush tones, stern voices would read out news blaring through our old aerial radio box, but the seriousness of the word ‘war’ was not known till I was educated.
The first impact was everytime the lights would go out in cinema theatres, i would begin bawling. I was a problem child. I would simply cry. So as a punishment, i was never taken for good films-yes i was given the miss for SHOLAY!! Now that’s unfair…bcoz once my atya (aunty) took me Haathi mere Saathi, i think in the first few minutes there’s a shot of herd of elephants making sounds & i had to be taken out, after few hours of bawling i was dropped back half way in to the film!
The other impact also was that when I grew up I would return home late at night & for many years I would unwittingly switch on all the lights from the passage to the kitchen! My baba (ya see the change in reference from Hitler to father) even told my mother Neeta may be having a problem why does she switch on all lights so late at night. He wondered why I could not manoeuvre at night.
Now I did NOT do it deliberately. These patterns continued for a decade, unconsciously. The minute I realised it was a psychological problem (then I should be on permanent medication or treatment) or an indication of it, I began working on it. I first discussed the incident alive in my mind about the war times or rather nights. Initially my aai & baba rebuffed it. Then my father claimed I always have a theory ready for explanation for any occurrence in my life & most importantly he thinks I love to sound like a martyr. Now we all do that. But the memories were real. I argued sensibly with him.
I tried explaining that I in no way was accusing him of any crime or lack of understanding. It was plain stock taking for some latent possible fear or effect of it. I decided to work on it & that meant free of fe
ar. That was something hard for me, coz among other experiences I had also suffered abuse at a young age, so all this needed to be addressed by me. All issues that made me the way I am, that gave me my identity as Neeta & that which made me stronger today have that little tragedy in early days.
Today those memories & visual rewinding of war images are truly in the past. I am truly free of fear! I fear NO one or anything. I love myself for all my faults. I roam at night, in fact I am alert, aware & have learnt the skill of moving around in the dark. Life is brighter I have faced near-death experiences & count myself lucky to be alive. But its taken many years to realise that it is NOT my weakness or personality problem, it was impact of bizarre childhood experiences wc i’ve worked upon.