It is not an old photo, something I expect photos to be – old and yellow, found accidentally while you are looking for something else. Sadly, this photo is up on a wall that I see every day in my bedroom. It is clean and unfading. The corners are neither torn nor yellowed. I am holding a rabbit and looking at it endearingly. It is an expression that I don’t remember. I do not look at animals like they are precious things today. I must have been around 6. I am wearing a black top and trying hard not to squeeze the rabbit.
Travelling was something we did as a family every weekend. Some waterfalls point, some picnic spot, some hill, some temple and an ambassador car waiting for us at 7 in the morning. My mother was not a lunch packing kind of person so we rarely carried food.
Guest houses were booked in advance, food would be waiting. The guest houses all smelled the same, musty with faint traces of phenyle. Cupboards like wooden windows opened to the smell of naphthalene balls and dust. The floor was cold and pillows, colder. Dining halls were loud and echoing because we would be the only 4 occupants. It felt more family like during these out of station dinners. We would sit together at a long, oval table, dad at the end of one, and I competing with him, at the other end. It felt like how people in movies would have dinner at their homes.
The food looked just like the food in movies. Chapattis were tastier, vegetables looked eatable and dessert was always a bowl of vanilla ice cream. The guest houses usually had one TV in the common room. My sister and I wouldn’t dare go in there because all the servants watching TV would hurriedly get up and smile nicely and give us the remote. It would leave us heavy with guilt and we would spend the remainder of the night avoiding each other’s eyes. I think we telepathically felt responsible for everybody’s discomfort. This happened twice, maybe thrice after which we gave up on TV altogether.
The night would be a long struggle to lose myself to sleep because I never could sleep as a child. This gift that comes to me so easily now is cursed because I seem to be compensating for lost sleep all the time. Somehow, over patterns of listening to insects and owls, I would sleep for what seemed like 2 hours before being woken up by dad who was and still is a believer in health and stuff. Eventually we would only get off the bed when mother would start the famous ‘you guys are so lucky speech’.
On one such morning, my father started laughing and screaming with joy. He had found a bunch of rabbits feasting on carrots out in the front yard. He had picked one up and a man whose face I don’t remember took a photo. Meanwhile the ambassador engine revved and mother beckoned us into the car. I wanted to pick up the rabbit but I was scared and they told me it would scratch and bite. Dad said it won’t, dropped a rabbit in my hands and ordered the photo to be taken. Too many things were happening, the car wouldn’t shut off, dad kept laughing and trying to scare me, mother kept telling dad to shut up, my sister ran away from the rabbits because apparently they scared her.
Now I had to balance posing and not looking scared with feeling happy at finally having a rabbit to feel in my hands. It was dry and soft. I was tempted to squish it. I only remember this much before the rabbit scratched me, hopped out of my hands and fled. I was brought back to and by the voices of my sister shrieking and my father laughing at me. It was a happy day.