By Upendra Mishra
BOSTON—For someone whose life got frozen at the age 20 and who never grew out of it, despite his body growing older, anything related with age and love I read or watch, I get overjoyed. Such was the case with a recent post on the Facebook by a friend.
It started with a quote by Charles Bukowski (1920 –1994) a German-American poet, novelist and short story writer. He was quoted as saying: “The problem is, we look for someone to grow old together, while the secret is to find someone to stay a child with.”
I was just stunned by this wisdom, especially at this stage in my life when I am looking for more depth in my relationships, feelings and experiences—even if it takes me back to those innocent days of childhood and teen years. As I grow old, it seems, the eternal spring of joy and happiness keeps taking me down memory lane to those bygone days and friends. In other words, I am looking for those childhood days.
Talking about childhood, I remember my first crush. I was in the 10th grade. The walk from my home to school was over a mile, on a zig-zag path that will go through local district court compound. There were a lot of people coming from villages to attend to their cases and hearings in the courts. On the side walkways, there were also a group of pandits, sadhus, astrologers, palm readers and fortune tellers. People from the village would often be curious about the outcome of their cases and consult these astrologers and fortune tellers, although their abilities were questionable. At that time, I believed that these astrologers could really tell the future. Now, I know it was not true, but in my innocent youthfulness, I believed them 100 percent.
Coming back to my first crush, in the house I lived in with my aunt and uncle, also lived the niece of our landlady in the other part of the house. The niece must have been at least two years older than me. I was love-stuck (or rather, crush-stuck) with her. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever known or seen, and in my eyes, there was no defect in her. Despite she had failed twice in high school, she was the smartest person for me.
In those days, our exposure to love was very limited, rather nil. There was no television, and my aunt and uncle were strict about letting me watch movies in theaters. No Gulshan Nanda novels were allowed and no film or juicy magazines like Manohar Kahanias or Satya Kathayen were permitted. Learning about love was on the streets of hard knocks. We had to figure it out by ourselves. We could not talk to anyone about love or girls or our romantic feelings, not even with our family members or relatives. But the hormones had started to kick in and a strange feeling of being somewhere between a child and an adult had started to sink in as well.
On my crush (love those days) front, I was not going anywhere with this beautiful girl. I could not tell her about my feelings. I was so scared. I also could not sit idle either. So, one day while walking to my school, I saw a sign “Aap Ki Har Ichha Puri Ho Jayegi” (You Every Wish Will be Fulfilled) on the makeshift shop of one the pandits on the street. I stopped and walked to him. He asked me: “What I can do?”
I could not say a word. My lips froze. I just stood there, feeling uncomfortable. He asked again: “What do you want?” I sat down on the dirt floor and slowly whispered “Ek ladki ka mamla hai.” (It is about a girl.)
I explained him the situation and told him that I love this girl, but I cannot tell her anything. Can he help? “Yes, of course,” he said with full confidence. “Do you have five rupees,” he asked.
“I don’t have it right now, but I can arrange it. I will bring the money tomorrow,” I told him.
I came to school, but my mind was stuck on arranging five rupees and I was so happy. When I came home I told my uncle that I need five rupees to buy books and pens for the school. He gave me five rupees. I could not sleep that night. I was so excited. In the morning, I left for school early and went to pandit. He was happy to see me. “Did you bring the money,” he asked. “Yes,” I said proudly, thinking about the girl and my wish coming true, and gave him the money.
The pandit said that he would have to do some pooja (worship of Gods) and for that he will need a red rose that must be touched by the girl. I was taken aback. I can get a rose, but how I am going to get it touched by her, I began thinking. Any way five rupees were gone, I told myself, and now there was no option but to find a red rose flower and have this beauty queen touch it. Then an idea flashed in my head.
One of the subjects of study in my class was botany. The girl was also studying botany. While returning from school, I picked a red rose from a public garden in the District Court complex. Came home and then went straight to girl’s home and told her that I needed some help on a school project. She asked what project? I told her that my botany teacher has asked me to find out if this flower is a male or female flower, and gave that flower to her. She had the flower in her hand, looked around and said: “I have no idea. I don’t know” and handed back the flower to me. I was so happy—if I was made the king of this universe. Next day, I brought the flower to this pandit and proudly told him that the girl had touched the flower.
I asked him how long will it take for my wish to come true? “Two to three months,” he said. I went to school afterwards, and probably that day no human was as happy as I was on this planet. Of course, I eagerly waited for my wish to be fulfilled for three months. By that time, my high school exam was over, and my uncle was transferred to another town, and in July I joined another school in the new town. Now, many years later, I still sometimes wonder what happened to that beautiful girl and where she might be today.
Childhood now sounds so sweet to me. The Facebook post I mentioned earlier, also included quotes about ‘what does love mean’ to 4-8 year old kids. I don’t know who did the research or when and where the research was conducted, but the following answers on love by 4-8 years kids make so much sense. Here they are:
‘When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore… So, my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.’ Rebecca – age 8
‘When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.’ Billy – age 4
‘Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.’ Karl – age 5
‘Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.’ Chrissy – age 6
‘Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.’ Terri – age 4
‘Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.’ Danny – age 8
‘If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.’ Nikka – age 6
‘Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day.’ Noelle – age 7
‘Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.’ Tommy – age 6
‘During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.’ Cindy – age 8
‘My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.’ Clare – age 6
‘Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.’ Elaine – age 5
‘Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.’ Chris – age 7
‘When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.’ Karen – age 7
‘Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn’t think it’s gross…’ Mark – age 6
‘You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.’ Jessica – age 8
And the final one: The winner was a four-year-old child whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, ‘Nothing, I just helped him cry.’
(Mr. Mishra is managing partner of the Waltham, MA-based integrated inbound marketing and PR firm The Mishra Group. He writes about his three passions: marketing, scriptures and gardening.)