When I was couple of years old, my grandfather, whom I remember wearing only white garb, used to carry me on his shoulders, walk couple of miles and to take me to a local potter who made toys out of clay. These toys were molded by hand and painted in the shapes of animals – parrots, dogs, lions, cats, or rabbits. All the toys were painted in bright colors, like reds, blues, yellow, orange, green or black. They would capture my imagination at that age.
Bapu ji, as I fondly called my grandfather, would get me a new toy, and then we would walk back home. The toy, being made from clay, would invariably break within couple of days and he would take me back to get a new one. So this small journey would happen every week.
Time would fly while riding his shoulders, listening to him humming a hymn, the periodic rhythm of his gait, and desire of getting a new toy. We would reach the potter, and I used to choose one of the toy animals. As much as the journey to the potter would be filled with excitement of getting a new toy, the journey walking back home used to be filled with happiness of holding it in my hand.
My eyes would look up in the skies, and I would try to find a cloud, shaped like the toy I just got. As soon as I would find some decipherable shape, I would point to the cloud and shout “Bapu ji, look there is a cat”. He would stop, shade his eyes using his wrinkled hand, and look up. He always agreed with me on the shape of the cloud. He would then tickle my feet, break my gaze from the sky and start to walk again, as I would giggle with tickles.
As I got older and heavier, he would hold my hand, so I could walk along. The moment I would step out of the house, I used to tell him that I would get tired. He would implore me to walk a little further, till the end of the street, where he would promise to pick me up. As we would reach there, he would ask me to go a little further. Humming hymns, pointing to new shapes of the clouds, he would keep me distracted from not feeling tired. Before I knew it, I would have a new toy in my hand, and I would pull on his hand making him go faster. Hopping, skipping, pulling on his hand, he never let go of my hand. We would keep looking for new shapes in the skies.
Summers were hot, so we would sleep on the terraces. The sun would wind down, bringing in a cooler dusk. The sky would get shades of orange, red and purple. I would lie down on the terrace with my parents, or grandparents, or uncles, or aunts, or cousins, and watch those clouds as they float by. Constant changing clouds would result in innocent arguments about their shapes. I would call some shape a horse; my cousin would say that it is a dog. The wind would melt away the white elephant before my aunt would make out its trunk or tail. And sometimes the rain clouds would appear and start pouring as everyone would rush downstairs.
While lying under the skies, I would slip into the dreams of floating with the clouds. I would never know when my father carried me to my bed on the terrace, or when my mother would tuck me in. The bird calls at the break of dawn and my mom’s calling would wake me up. The slanting rays of the sun would hit the eyes. Through peeking eyelids, the white and grey clouds would be floating against yellow or red sky.
Maybe these memories are the reason that every camera that I have ever owned, seem to turn itself up to the heavens. I am still looking for those shapes in the clouds that I used to as a kid. The blue skies seem so far away, yet it seems like so close. It carries all the memories from my childhood in its vastness – of people who were, people who are; for the people who will be.
All I have to do is just reach out.
Jatinder PS Nagi
May 25, 2012