Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cat and My Room: Influences that Shaped Me...



“All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” wrote Virginia Woolf. A room of one’s own develops the mind, body and spirit. Then, one can accomplish anything.

I was going through some old pictures this morning, a picture of my room when I was 10 is the trigger for this post...This post, unrelated to ID or e-learning, is related to a much larger learning for me. Here are the influences that shaped me, made me into the person I am today, taught me about life and fortitude. While dealing with the personal, I still chose to include it in this blog because it is about LEARNING--and it matters not whom or what we learn from...

My room was at the extreme end of the terrace in our almost 200 year old home. It was my sanctuary, my retreat. I had inhabited this room from the time I was 10. This used to be my grandparents’ bedroom. But had remained locked after they passed away. I am writing about it because I want to remember it with clarity. Memory plays us false all the time, and I am scared that what I can see so clearly in my mind’s eye now will lose its clarity one day. I don’t know when the sharpness will start to diminish, when the edges will become fuzzy…when I will no longer be able to recall the details with conviction... I do know memory depletes; even the image of the beloved fades. Did the hair fall just so? Did the eyes crinkle at the corner when he smiled? Or was it my imagination...

It was very high with wooden beams criss-crossing the ceiling and large as all rooms in old homes are wont to be, painted a pale green that had mellowed to an almost indeterminate shade over the years. No one could remember when the room had last been painted. The peeling paint bore testimony to the passage of time. The spots where the sun’s rays fell incessantly throughout the day were bleached almost white giving the walls an interesting, patchwork appearance. The flooring was beautiful, laid with alternate white and black Italian marbles making the room look like a gigantic chess board.

The window deserves a special mention. Because the house was built during the British regime, the room had a classic stained glass window with wooden blinds that could be pulled shut. I loved it when the sun streamed in in the morning, the rays turning to vibrant, mystical shades as they filtered in through the differently coloured panes. I would wake up to blue and red rays casting their kaleidoscopic effects on the walls around me.

The room was separated from the rest of the house by a long terrace. During the monsoons, I had to carry an umbrella whenever I went to and from my parent’s room or the kitchen. It was simply furnished with a low bed, a study table, a built-in book case, a cupboard, and a clothes’ rack. The study table was a beautiful mahogany roll top that had once belonged to my great grandfather and was Cat’s favourite perching point.

Cat and I spent many Sunday afternoons sitting on the doorstep. Or rather, I would sit and watch Cat while she made futile attempts to catch pigeons. For a cat, she was extremely clumsy. I think it was the result of her growing up with me. She would spot a pigeon who had flown down to peck at something on the terrace, look at me inquiringly, and if I nodded, would bend low, flatten her tummy till it touched the ground, and stealthily creep forward. What marred the whole show—and this happened all the time—was that Cat invariably failed to distinguish the pigeon’s front end from its behind. The pigeon would of course see her creeping up, go on pecking unconcernedly, wait for Cat to draw in her front paws prior to springing, and lazily fly away. Cat by then, all set to spring, was too far gone to stop herself, and would land looking extremely foolish. I wonder why she never learned. Or, as I like to believe, she just enjoyed the game and didn’t care if the pigeon was there or not.

I got my room almost at the same time as Cat came to me. Even as I write, I can see her snugly curled up on my pillow or sunning herself on the desk where the red, blue and green rays of the sun striped her back giving her an ethereal, extra-terrestrial appearance. I had not read Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own then, of course. But I learned to love solitude, to value privacy, to be thankful for the freedom and the peace. (To this day, noise agitates me.) I spent hours in my room reading, playing with Cat, and listening to music when I was not in Katha-O-Kahini (our bookstore) attending to the customers.

I can see myself sitting on the floor in my favourite blue shorts and a red shirt, bent over a chart paper, sketch pen in hand, occasionally getting up to change the song playing on the cassette player. Cat was made to sit on one corner of the chart paper to weigh it down and prevent it from folding over as chart papers rolled for a long time tend to do. I can hear Ma calling me for lunch, see Baba sitting on the bed listening to the song I was playing, watching me play with Cat.

The solitude my room offered, the challenges that Katha-O-Kahini posed, and the unflinching and unwavering love that Cat gave me developed my mind, body and spirit and, I believe, made me a stronger and a better person giving me the fortitude to face the surprises that life would spring upon me.

Someday, I will include a post about Cat who taught me about love--the kind that is unflinching, undemanding, unquestioning...

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