I often wonder how it is possible that everything about the last six months with Peanut feels so intense for me, so unforgettable - and that she will retain absolutely no memory of all this when she grows up!
It's almost as hard for me to understand how my own mother seems to have zero recollection of my early months - or indeed, those of my elder brother or younger sister. How can you be so matter of fact about bringing up such beautiful children, especially me? Ok, whatever!
Anyway, this thought is what prodded me to write about my earliest memory. It's very clearly imprinted on my mind still. No question about it.
I'm around 3 and a half years old. My mom seems to have disappeared for a couple of days. I am standing in the hall of my house in Delhi. My grandfather has a really wide smile on his face, and he is telling me that my mother is coming home with my little baby sister. Clearly they have already decided on her nickname at this point because what he is saying to me is 'Mama aa rahin hai - Chanda ke saath'. I am quite interested in this piece of news. I also remember thinking something along the lines of 'What the heck is a Chanda?'
(My next memory is one of feeling intense hatred towards my sister as I stood next to the bed where she was being breastfed by my mother, but I will quickly pass over this - to my credit, I thought she was hurting Mom)
So that was my earliest memory. My most intense childhood memory however, is the time when I nearly died. I exaggerate not.
I am around ten years old. We are visiting family friends who have a farm in a lovely place called Kashipur. Their house is practically in the middle of a jungle. There is a chicken coop outside, always a source of great diversion for me. This particular morning is a sunny, crisp one and I step outside of the house, freshly bathed, to go have a look at what the chickens are upto.
As the door closes behind me, it clicks shut - one of those self-locking doors, new to me at that age. Just at this point, I note that I am not the only one interested in the chickens. Approximately 100 feet away from me, right in front of the coop, meditatively observing the nervous birds within, is a large panther.
At the sound of the door shutting, however, it shifts its attention towards me with a turn of its head. Even at that distance, I feel as if our eyes have locked together for an instant. I still have no words to describe that feeling. It was as if someone had pressed the pause button on my life.
Then my heart starts pounding and it flashes through my mind, some talk amongst the adults the previous day, about a man-eating panther causing havoc in the nearby village.
Everyone knows that when you are confronted with a dangerous wild animal, you make no sound and stay absolutely still. But a ten year old doesn't know or doesn't care. I turned around and began to bang on the door, completely terrified. I kept screaming 'Aarti Didi', the name of the youngest of the three kids in that family. Finally, after what felt like ages, someone, I think a servant, opened the door and I nearly fell in, weeping with relief. Before the door shut, I cast my one and only backward glance towards the chicken coop.
There was nothing there. The panther had melted away in complete silence.
I had no witnesses. I am not sure if I told too many people about it because all I remember is being dazed for a long time afterwards. I do know that I did tell my mother at some point - and she didn't really believe me. Later, she tried to tell me that I had probably dreamt it or imagined it. I have a feeling she still doesn't believe it happened. I have never quite forgiven her for that. But it's okay.
Now, what I am really, truly interested in is YOUR first memory. What is the very first thing you remember and how old were you then?
Also, have you ever had an experience where your life was truly in danger? Tell me about it. Did your mother also refuse to believe you?
I will believe you. Just try me.