The thing that shocked me the most about moving to America was when my friends would turn on the kitchen tap, fill a glass, and drink it. Water in our house was directly channeled through a filtration system before it was boiled to kingdom come, cooled, poured into sterilized bottles and stashed in the fridge. A separate batch was poured boiling hot into a thermos flask for my mother who insists on boiling her insides irrespective of the weather.
My greatest rebellion, the way I see it, was when I went to camp and drank my fill from a nearby tap like all the other care for nobodies around me, against the strict instructions of my parents. Of course, the Gods immediately felled sinful me with a mighty bout of flu and I landed in the hospital. But by then camp was over and I had other things to worry about like that perennial gift of camps everywhere: lice.
[Yes, my life is exactly that lame. Sorry.]
My very first memory of hospitals is from when I was barely four – I pigged out on contraband popcorn and my stomach rebelled. The resultant projectile vomiting was unpleasant but what followed was worse. Apparently the only way to treat a four year old with popcorn poisoning in 80s South India is to shove all sorts of tubes down her nose and stick her with IVs. Personally, I think the doctor must have been pissed coz he got dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and was trying to scare my parents into keeping a beadier eye on me.
If he’d been trying to warn me off popcorn, he definitely didn’t succeed. But hoo boy, did he teach my mother about the evils of popcorn. To this day I can barely munch a single kernel in her presence before she starts making noises about how its going to land me in the hospital.
The only good thing that came out of the whole experience is that my dad bribed me into staying still and convinced me that this was a Fun Thing for us to do as a family by buying me bucketloads of popsicles. The kind that come in a plastic tube and are probably filled with ice from the morgue? Or as I like to call it – the best kind. Raspberry and orange were my favorites. Of course, they were also the only flavors he ever bought me (or were available for that matter) but I loved them all the same.
The raspberry was a dark magenta and tasted like cough syrup. I’ve never understood why raspberry is such a hot flavor in India – I don’t think I ever saw it in its natural state until I left the country. Strawberries make so much more sense. But there it is, in everything from ice cream to jello. Is it some kind of colonial hangover?
The orange was a virulent shade of neon and was basically like sucking on a mild, iced lemon. You know how Rasna made the orange taste so much more orange-y than an actual orange could ever be? This made the orange taste less orange-y than the most withered, water-logged orange could ever be. And yet! So delicious!
The secret ingredient was obviously some cancer-causing chemical engineered to turn to children into mindless slaves. Or maybe dead people. Who knows! I can’t find them on the market these days. They’re probably banned.
Which was the bad news my father brought me that day as I lay on my hospital bed, eagerly awaiting the by-now de rigeur bribe of popsicles. Oh, the things those little goodies have convinced me to do – let them stick needles in my arm, tubes down my nose, push me into claustrophobic scanners that resemble coffins… No more.
I looked at the rectangular thing in my hand. “What is this?”
“It’s an ice cream bar,” my father said, refusing to look me in the eye.
I unwrapped it. “It’s an ice lolly.”
Now I’m not philosophically opposed to the idea of a ice on a stick but the whole point of the hospital experience was to suck it out of a plastic tube. Didn’t he know anything?
“Why don’t you eat it?” he asked, already hovering at the door.
“Where is my popsicle?”
“EAT WHATEVER YOU LIKE, YOU STUPID CHILD!” he yelled preemptively and dashed out the door.
I looked at my mother, laughing hysterically on the couch.
“Oh baby,” she said, patting me consolingly. “They don’t sell those anymore. In fact, they tore down that shop from which you father used to buy them. And those are the only things they carry in the supermarket.”
And that is how I found out that my childhood was losted. Isniff.