Scores of dead animals. The paddy-field coloured grasshopper who wandered in through your window and collapsed on the floor of your room, the ant you squelched under your bright pink, size 2 shoes, the baby pigeon, which fell into the air-conditioner shaft and cried piteously breaking your heart till it rolled over to stay still like stone.
I wonder what my parents thought when every two days I would dig up the earth and inter another body into it. If I had access to my childhood playing grounds now, I would be acutely conscious of what a graveyard I had made of it. In the beginning, the first burials were always marked with a carefully chosen pebble or a twig shaped into an abstract geometry to represent the gods of nature. As the dead animals multiplied, the ritual lost some of its meaning but I persevered having absorbed the belief that everything deserves a decent burial.
My friend’s daughter buried 237 guppies. Her mother who delights in the strangeness of her child’s obsessions counted. Today, the little gravedigger is eighteen years old. I had taken her out for one of those unhealthy, dead fried birds she likes to eat and I mentioned her compulsive undertaker services for guppies. To my surprise, a brief sadness flickered over her face, ‘Of all of them, Molly broke my heart the most.’ Not only did she remember the creatures, she even had a favourite. What a weird child (Of course I thought this most affectionately.)
I had gone with my partner to the place where he had grown up. We were driving through a road of no important consequence when he suddenly stopped the car and showed me a tree, dusty, sparse, unnoticeable, ‘Betsy was buried there.’ We stood in silence for a moment thinking about the Alsatian who waited by the gate for him to come home from school, every day.
For a long time, I thought it was only I who remembered the baby squirrel which didn’t survive being fed milk through an ink dropper. As I spoke to more people, I realised everybody remembered this first brush with death, this offering of a ritualistic goodbye to creatures that stepped into our lives and out of theirs.
Yesterday, my partner and I found a beautiful spider. Large, yellow with flecks of brown and a mossy, red abdomen. It was shining in the sunlight, dazzling, immovable. For a second we contemplated burying this beauty of nature. Then, without words which voiced a decision, we just scooped it up gently with a piece of paper, so as not to crumble its stunning body and tipped it into the dustbin, with a twist of the wrist. The end of innocence was complete.
Still Figuring It Out is a funny, sad, questioning take on adulthood that appears every Saturday on Asianet Newsable. Arathi Menon is the author of Leaving Home With Half a Fridge, a memoir published by Pan Macmillan. She tweets at here. The views expressed here are her own.
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 6:45 PM IST