March Medley: Monthly Missives from The Dream Pedlar

In which I tell you a little about my childhood in India, tales of adventure and excitement, of joy and carefreeness ...

March Medley: Monthly Missives from The Dream Pedlar
a picture of idyll

Hello, Dreamer!

Whether it's to do with all the wonderful sunshine we've been getting here offlate, or because the robins are back and trilling most magnificently,

or because a sci-fi movie won the Best Picture award and Naatu Naatu was judged the best song at the Oscars this year,

or because I've just found my new favourite fictional protagonist,

or because I'm no longer on social media and this place here,, is my only abode on the world wide web for all time to come,

March has certainly brought back a smile to my face that the darker, shorter days of winter seemed to have stolen!

the most important thing I learnt by quitting social media
... what I had been seeking in that non-stop flow of images and videos and boxes of text on the screen was a salve for my loneliness.

But quitting social media made me aware of how I had unknowingly been using those platforms as a salve for loneliness.

As a result, March also brought back that feeling of hiraeth, that deep longing for home, for a place from my childhood that exists nowhere else but in my memory although I'm not entirely sure memory serves as a reliable guide.

Consequently, I've been indulging in a lot of Indian movies on Netflix – RRR, Mission Majnu (based on an Indian spy mission in the 1970s), The Romantics (a docuseries on the  life of late Indian filmmaker Yash Chopra), Jodhaa Akbar (a historical romance featuring one of India's most renowned Mughal emperors and a Rajput princess, and I watched it for the first time this month, 15 years after its release), War (another action-thriller involving an agent gone rogue) – and we even managed to watch Pathaan in the theatre.

Wow, that's a lot of screen-time for someone like me! Even D now loves the soundtracks from these movies, namely Ghunghroo from War, and Jhoome Jo Pathaan, although my translation of these Hindi lyrics into English for his comprehension leave much to be desired.

weathered Bollywood movie posters pasted to a blue and green wall
Hindi movie posters / Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

childhood memories

Given the frame of mind I've been in for most of this month, I thought I'd take you down memory lane to a place called Thane, on the outskirts of Mumbai (Bombay, as I knew it growing up) where I spent six very impressionable years of my life, from the ages of 6–12, in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Back then, my dad worked for Voltas, manufacturing cranes, and we got to live in a housing colony meant for some of the company's employees and their families.

There were only six apartment buildings, all three-storeyed structures with six units each, complete with a large garden and lawn, an outdoor play area for children, as well as an indoor recreation centre well-equipped with table tennis, carrom, and other tabletop/board games.

Surrounded by lush, green hills (called Yeoor Hills) on three sides, the buildings faced a serene lake (Upvan Lake). With no other residential properties for miles around, it was a very secluded but self-contained property, quite like a resort.

green meadows and hills
Photo by Claudio Testa on Unsplash

It is the kind of place that'd likely come to mind as an idyllic setting, in the lap of nature, the perfect place to spend one's childhood in.

There was no dearth of children to play with. The concept of playdates was a very foreign one; we could simply run out and call out to our friends.

The colony was gated and secure with security guards positioned round-the-clock, and the area was so vast we rarely ever needed to venture out alone, but we did so quite often, trekking around the lake, climbing up the hills, and exploring the nearby areas.

Standing on my balcony on a hot summer's day, I could often see trekkers in the distance climbing up the hills, looking as small as ants and meandering just like them. There were a few shanties not too far from our colony, and the children from there would come to the lake for a swim every afternoon.

I had no idea how much this scene had imprinted itself on my heart and soul until I wove it into one of my earlier works, Dying Wishes. In Chapter 29, Outside The Window, to be precise.

curiosity lured this big cat

There were lots of stories too to tickle the imagination. Rumour had it that a wild tiger lived in the hills and that, every night, it jumped across the six-foot stone wall crowned with barbed wire fence that separated our colony from the jungle beyond, and prowled the grounds at night.

Apparently, a security guard once saw it and locked himself inside his cabin all night long, shivering and praying to every God he possibly could.

At around this time, a Bollywood movie named Junoon was released; it was about a man who changed into a tiger every full moon night because of a curse.

That movie terrified me back then; now, despite the deluge of shapeshifter fantasies on bookshelves, many with romantic arcs, I find it impossible to convince 11-year-old me that within 2-3 decades, we'd go from being beast-fearing to beast-loving people.

visit from a stranger

On another occasion, some of us were playing in the indoor recreation centre when the door to the restroom opened and out came a tall, muscular stranger, dressed in nothing but a short wraparound garment from waist to thigh. He also held a long stick in his hand.

As tall as the doorframe, he headed out in long, purposeful strides, went up the rear lawn that led to the stone wall, climbed up the wall and stepped over the barbed wire, then jumped into the jungle on the other side and disappeared into it.

All of us were shocked, and when we were later asked to recount the details to the grown-ups, we couldn't quite agree on who or what we had seen.

It was certainly a different era and a very different way of life. I wonder if the colony exists in its original form now. Google Maps shows me that countless high-rises have sprung up around the lake, no surprises there; it was prime real estate, and we were lucky we got to enjoy it all for ourselves before it drew the crowds.

But if you were to ask me what I really miss about that time, I can easily answer that it is not the people nor the place itself, but most certainly the jolly carefreeness of childhood that these memories evoke.

The unquestioned sense of possibility.

The utter lack of doubt.

That whole and absolute inhabitation of the present moment, without past memories or future worries to weigh me down.

I see all this in 6-year-old D, and it reminds me of 6-year-old me, full of unbridled optimism and courage.

And I can't help thinking, what a blessing that was, what an incredible blessing it was to have felt that way even once in my lifetime. Because if I could feel it once, I can certainly feel that way again, and again, and again.

three children running across a meadow in a black-and-white image
childhood / Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

WHEN DID IT HAPPEN? by Mary Oliver

When did it happen?

"It was a long time ago."

Where did it happen?

"It was far away."

No, tell. Where did it happen?

"In my heart."

What is your heart doing now?

"Remembering. Remembering!"

~ Felicity: Poems by Mary Oliver

So what is it that your heart remembers about your own childhood? Will you be so kind as to share your fondest memories with me?

Tales for Dreamers

an orange offering

Call it serendipity, but I had written this tale two autumns ago but never got around to publishing it. It is a very autumnal tale. It is also a tale of longing for home, of hiraeth. I had no alternative but to share it with you today.

tales for dreamers: an orange offering
What does the colour orange remind you of? The answer depends on where you come from.

Books You May Love

In keeping with the theme of hiraeth, the books I read either had Indian-origin protagonists or were set in India.

And I read three books by two amazing authors, both featuring Indian female detectives, one snooping around in an English seaside town, another breaking barriers in 1950s Bombay.

British crime author, Elly Griffiths, has two standalone novels featuring Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur, who's now my favouritest fictitious person, my imaginary friend, if you please!

And another British crime author, Vaseem Khan, has been writing the Malabar House series featuring Inspector Persis Wadia, India's first policewoman, and set in post-independence India. I read The Lost Man of Bombay, the third book in the series, after having read and enjoyed the second book, Dying Day, a few months ago. Apparently, the fourth book is slated to be released later this year, so I'm going to go and read book 1, Midnight at Malabar House, in the meantime.

And you know what I do when I read something that I absolutely love: I blog about it at great length. So here's all the wonderful details on these books and how much I've enjoyed reading them; perhaps that will coax you into checking them out!

books you may love: DS Harbinder Kaur series & Inspector Persis Wadia (Malabar House) series
Spreading book cheer in the world, and some enlightening thoughts on diversity and representation in fiction!

I also read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho in order to set my eyes once again on those immortal words: "... when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

In addition, if you're looking for some diverse science-fiction to indulge in, take a look at The 2023 World SF Bundle curated by Lavie Tidhar. 

I purchased the 2022 edition of the bundle when it came out last year, and I've been eagerly awaiting this year's bundle.

Let me know if you grab a few books or the entire bundle, and we could read along. I've begun with Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Signal to Noise and I'm already loving it!

With that, dear Dreamer, it's time to say goodbye!

Next month, Monthly Missives would have completed one rotation around the sun! The first edition of this newsletter went out in April 2022, titled April Alchemy.

I just went to take a look at it, and guess what I talked about in that first missive? Hiraeth, of all things on earth! Reckon some things will never change.

So many of you have been with me since that very first missive, and so many of you have joined me along the way. Whenever or however we met, I am very glad you are here.

I hope these words I write continue to fill your heart with much joy and delight. I am grateful for your support. Always.

Thank you! 💕

~ Anitha