As I huffed and puffed along on my (terrace) walk today, a delightful spectacle made me stop short.
A flock of swifts went whooshing barely a foot above my head in a giddy spiral… twittering away madly. They looked so irrepressibly exuberant and so obviously out on a lark, that I had to stop, goofy grin plastered on my face. For almost ten minutes I watched them, mesmerized, as they cavorted merrily in the sky, tumbling, skidding while maintaining the equivalent of a gale of giggles.
The entire flock moved as one with exquisite timing. It truly was magnificent to watch. The leader lead; the rest followed in perfect coordination. It was the most exhilarating dance you could ever imagine. After ten minutes of this, the flock just disappeared from the sky. I suppose they felt they’ve given me enough. And they had.
As I resumed walking, a forgotten memory tugged at my attention.
Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.
When I was a little girl (all of 8-9 years old), we lived in a flat. Behind our building, across the narrow gauge railway track, was a hill. Atop the hill was perched a ponderous water supply tank, made of cast iron and painted a dull brick red. A filigree of iron angled girders held the huge thing suspended in air. Enormous bee-hives clung to the girders, buzzing darkly. Needless to say, there was a temple on top of the hill too, completely dwarfed by the water tank.
From the tank, two large cement pipes ran down, parallel to each other. The pipes were inlet and outlet pipes and were nearly two feet in diameter. Or maybe a tad more, I don’t remember too accurately. Between the parallel pipes, a semblance of steps had been eked out. Those steps were more of a trap than anything else, what with their loose stones and crumbly structure.
This hill and all it contained, was like a magnet to any child worth her salt. And I surely was worth mine. I was itching to explore. My mother refused to let me go because she could discern no path that led to the bottom of the hill from our building. Moreover, she said, I had no friends I could go with. I had to wait, I was told.
In two days I had found out how to get to the hill from one of the maids. But I kept the intelligence under wraps. I waited patiently for a day when mom would have afternoon classes at the college and I would be alone at home. I knew she would be gone for at least four hours. Within a week of moving into that flat, I made my way to the bottom of the hill, staring up it with eyes round as saucers. I hadn’t seen anything as fascinating as that in my life.
As I stood there all alone, a little girl and boy (littler than I) came frisking and gamboling along. They glanced shyly at me through the corner of their eyes but said nothing. Like nimble monkeys, they leaped on to the pipes, one on each, and ran all the way up to the top of the hill in glee.
Once they reached the top, they hopped off and looked down on me, still standing with reluctant (yet very eager) feet where hill and flat ground met. The hill was as high as a six storied building. I could barely make the boy and girl out at the top. I doubt if I appeared much larger to them. But they saw that I had made no move to duplicate their agile ascent.
For about a minute or more, we stood looking at each other, them and I. Then, with one accord (or maybe they debated with each other), they hopped back up on the pipes and came running down the hill. If I saw that performance today, I would probably freak out. They looked as if they’d lose their footing any moment and break their necks. But I was too young to recognize the peril.
You can have anything you want if you want it desperately enough. You must want it with an inner exuberance that erupts through the skin and joins the energy that created the world.
When they reached the bottom, they gestured for me to come with them. Speaking in the local sing-song dialect, they urged me to do what they did.
Once I hopped on to one of the pipes, the duo mounted the other one and away we went. In a trice I was at the top, out of breath, exhilarated, elated.
I raced around the top, examining everything. I went to the temple and irreverently rang the temple bells. In a hop, I went over to the other side of the hill to see what lay there. Meanwhile, my companions were impatient to accompany me down the hill. We hopped on to the pipes and off we went, flying down the hill at break-neck speed, arms outstretched to the sides, mouthing a rambunctious whooooosh.
It has always seemed to me that a love of natural objects, and the depth, as well as exuberance and refinement of mind, produced by an intelligent delight in scenery, are elements of the first importance in the education of the young.
~Frederick William Faber
On reaching the bottom of the hill, we collapsed in a storm of laughter. For the life of me I can’t remember why we laughed. But laugh we did. Maybe the very act of sharing a joy is enough to melt you into laughter. I don’t really know. All I know, all I remember of that moment, is that I felt filled to the brim with a feeling of such fierce invincibility that had I known how to give words to the feeling that day, I’d have said, “Behold! I am GOD!”
All day we ran up and down that hill until their mother came hunting for them and gave them a couple of juicy ones across the jaw for making her come out to look for them. But they just grinned at her and hugged her legs merrily. Then they sped away, but not before instructing me to come again on the morrow.
My first taste of unfettered Exuberance; unforgettable!
I think that word describes childhood best. Exuberance. When we felt we had no rules to live by, and so just flew free. It’s only when we start to lose the essence of childhood that we seem chained, we think too much about taking a step or breathing free. I don’t say that life is something to be lived without thinking of a decision, I think that thought before a step is very essential, but too much thought on every little decision makes life more about the decisions than living itself.
Like you, even I have such a memory, sitting at the parapet swinging my legs, just for a moment feeling the exhilaration of having nothing to hold me steady. 🙂 Maybe it’s because the restrictions came much too early in life, that these memories come rushing back than others.
You are so right Leo! Exuberance is born when there is an aspect of danger infused in your feeling of unfettered freedom. Perhaps it is the danger that adds the extra thrill to your experience.
So pleased to see you here! 😀
The last quote you share there, by Anne Sexton, summarises the whole post perfectly. Only those who have a child-like heart can truly be saints or poets, who take delight in littlest of things, who experience exuberance, who truly know what abundant joy is, simply and perfectly, even when all the outer appearances speak of all that is wrong, painful and joyless.
Thanks for sharing this exuberant memory from your childhood. I loved how you speak of the ‘fierce invincibility’ feeling.
I knew you’d pick the ‘fierce invincibility’ phrase. You would understand it perfectly, I knew! 🙂
Isn’t that quote so perfect? What awesomely wise things people say! Would people quotes us someday, do you think? Maybe after we’re dead and gone? I wonder sometimes. 😀
You reminded me of that song – meri awaaz hi pehchaan hai….what is the poet referring to when he/she says ‘awaaz’? Is it only the sound of one’s voice. Or the voice itself? 🙂
I was smiling broadly as I read about that day so long ago which has left such an indelible mark on your memory. Such simple joys can only be experienced by the innocent, the young and the ones who can find exuberance in the flight of a fleet of swifts 🙂 It has unlocked many such small and big moments of exuberance in my own heart, Dagny! Thanks for jogging my memory too!
I’m so happy this post unlocked a few of your memories too. But since you are reading the Oz series, perhaps you were already primed for the unlocking. My post was just the cherry on top I guess. 😀