Monday, January 17, 2011

Mockingbird, Mockingbird, I miss thee.


Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom.
(To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960, Harper Lee)

Perhaps we all have a Boo Radley in our childhood. Part-real, part-imagined, part-longed for. I had mine too. So reading To Kill a Mocking-Bird when the adolescence was drawing to a close, leaving only rusty images behind, was a walk down memory lane of sorts.


Nineteen years ago, there were four of us, and a friendly welcoming neighbourhood. I would hold my grandmother’s fingers and totter along the road to reach the place where the rest of my friends stayed. We had a meeting-place assigned beneath a large tree (or maybe not so large. Object size is inversely proportional to age. Or so I think). We never ventured out to check on that pristine-white abandoned mansion at night. The scare the sight of it would elicit in broad daylight was enough to convince us to stay away from it for a week, till, bored, we would challenge ourselves again to run and hit the window facing the crossroads, and come back.

“People said he existed but Jem and I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was high, and peeped in at windows.”

People said many things about the “bhoot” (ghost) at the “bhooter bari” (haunted house). Secretly, my three-year old self was relieved to see their fear because it gave me a sense of solidarity; when the elders believe in your childish ghostly fantasies, you are assured of the latter’s existence, and find a bulwark in their fear. I did the same. It was only when I read that book at nineteen, did I realize how the elders too had played along with us those many summers back. When Boo Radley ceased to be Boo and suddenly became Arthur, I shed copious tears along with Scout. 



 Curiously, nineteen years after I have quit banging that window, and four years after I have read the book, I feel an unbearable longing to go back and check that haunted mansion. A part of me is scared to be disappointed, and fears the mutilation of childhood memories; the inquisitive part wants to take the next flight out of the Blessed Isles to walk that walk down the memory lane. Sadly, I do not even remember the names of my childhood playmates, and have no idea of their whereabouts. If that is called growing-up, then it is a cruel serenade indeed.


My mind is a jumble of paradoxes. It obsessively strives to find a structure in its strain of thought; while it stays up during the hours of reason, studying and applauding the work of the Post-structuralists. It has come back to work again as it decides to label a reason for my writing this post. I attribute it to my last post (again); to R and T, for visiting me yesterday when I wasn’t home, and lovingly leaving a chocolate for me; to T’s frantic waving at me on her way back from school; and to the lines “She seemed glad to see me when I appeared in the kitchen, and by watching her I began to think there was some skill involved in being a girl” which instantly sprang to my mind when I partly woke up in the morning today and sleep-walked to the kitchen door, in an attempt to look for some tea. Later when I rediscovered sense and solace in my over-sized, colourful coffee-mug which holds only tea, my mind performed some frantic and desperate drill to locate the origin of those lines, and I unearthed my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

At best, I guess I woke up on a fungus morning, and as I watched the evening eat the tail of the day gone by, and the boisterous voices of the children outside my window fade, I decided to write about the people who dwell (as Virginia Woolf says in Orlando), in “the fields of asphodel”. I didn’t end up writing about the people much, but I have definitely coaxed some memories out of their slumber.

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