Saskya Jain in MoreIntelligentLife:
I don’t remember thinking of running away when I asked Ram Singh, our house help, to get my small grey suitcase from the storeroom. We were living in a government flat surrounded by a big garden in the centre of New Delhi. I was five or six years old, and it was the first of many long summer holidays. My classmates had all fled from the heat—abroad, mostly. The school fees sapped my parents’ income and, with both of them working full-time, the only prospect of travel was accompanying my father to meetings in nearby Jaipur. So began what turned into a ritual of sorts. Every day I would arrange a varying selection of belongings in the empty stomach of my suitcase—only to unpack them all a little while later.
To fill our own empty stomachs, my family relied on Ram Singh’s limited repertoire of roti, sabzi, dal and chawal—unleavened flatbread, fried or curried vegetables, lentils and rice. My brother and I often ate by ourselves, and we knew that, of the four, only the roti lent itself to mid-meal entertainment. It could be torn in half if a ship’s hold needed to be loaded up with potato bricks, okra beams or chickpea crates. It could be attached to each ear, to make a pair of giant earrings such as we had seen dangling from certain aunties’ rubbery lobes. With just one bite, a solo roti could become Krishna’s lethal chakra, which he’d spin around his finger on Sunday-morning episodes of “The Mahabharata” before using it to slice off his enemy’s heads. But despite our best efforts, lunch rarely brought us more than 15 minutes closer to the end of the holidays. I was often in our garden, watching aeroplane trails wrinkle the clear blue sky. The promise of discovery wrapped in the idea of travel appealed to me. I started telling my parents that I had lived in America in my previous life, before I was born into our family. They encouraged me to tell them stories of my prenatal adventures; it took me some time to figure out that their queries were motivated by something other than a keen interest in geography.