The small easy chair was stashed on top of the luggage. The smog had not overtaken mist in those days. Before we were to leave during the winter vacation for the hill station just a couple of hours’ drive from Mumbai, I was given this tiny chair. It was a précis facsimile of the one my grandma had, the one I would hide behind and the one I sat near to play with her nascent sagging skin as she related stories. I had got my own story-telling chair now.
We usually stayed at a clubby hotel that had rooms on the ground floor. At the front of the room section, there was a library-cum-lounge and at the far end the dining hall. There was no room service. A few guest residences were behind and they provided a splendid view of the valley.
That December, I had my easy chair. It wasn’t pretty. The wood was weak, painted a pale yellow to make a child feel happy. The seat was like a hammock made of coarse cloth to last; it had large checks in blue and red. There were no flowers, no dolls, no cute words. It was a drab-looking chair.
I often took it to the little patch of green that overlooked the valley; there were no fences or hedges and I could see the nude edge of the mountain top and the clear sky with a hazy sun, a lazy sun. Sometimes, I would walk towards that edge and turn around to look at the chair. There would be butterflies fluttering near it, and I would run back to claim my space. The butterflies became my enemies. I did not envy them their freedom, but I did not want them to come close to my chair. Each time I left and found those beautiful creatures caressing it, I’d run back.
I was learning about attachment. It was not the warm motherly touch; this was the beginning of my association with the inanimate, the spark for my imagination and an anchor for my thoughts.
It was while sitting in the chair that I would hear the sounds that were to mean so much – my mother singing an old Hindi film song, my grandma’s soft hum, maybe a hymn, an aunt’s tales of another childhood. The women would be huddled together, away from household chores, eating meals in that dining hall with its white linen splotched with curry stains, starting with a thick soup and always bread and a dollop of butter, followed by the gravies and rice and dessert. I’d pick on food except for the sweet, often caramel custard or a fruit salad with cream. I was shy of opening my mouth so my morsels were small and it would take me a while. The others would stay back to chat while I returned to my chair to relax. “Walk a little!” I would be admonished. This was such luxury, the coarse cloth under me, my feet touching the grass beneath the canopy of a tree.
I was learning from the chair that the most routine things in life when recollected seem so extraordinary.
It was while sitting in the chair that I started drawing. I was never given picture books in which to fill colours. I had crayons and coloured pencils and paper and I would draw, draw with a hard hand, no delicate flourishes, until I’d reach the end of the page or the pencil needed to be sharpened. Then I’d be done.
I was learning from the chair that even what we create may not last.
It was time to return home and the chair was stashed again on top of the luggage, except that I now imagined it smelled of the flowers we were leaving behind. At home I continued spending time with it, but with school and play, there was not much time. It would stand folded up in a corner, like a paralysed person. On days when I’d open it, it seemed ill. The stripes had faded, the wood, weak as it already was, had begun to falter. As months passed, I felt uncomfortable. It hurt me and would poke into my thighs. I was growing up and outgrowing it.
One day, before it was too late, we decided to give it away. I thought of the valley, the butterflies, the caramel custard, the trees. Not once did I think of the coarse cloth I had sat in or the wooden frame that held us together.
I was learning from the easy chair’s tiny body what it meant to have a large heart. When we drink water we do not think of the vastness of the ocean or the lakes that carry it to us.
I have learned now that when the tears fall, there are eyes to think about too. And the sorrows mirrored in other eyes.