I like to tell people my earliest memory is from when I was three or four. It features two little homeless children, about the same size as me, on a garbage dump. They were fighting feral dogs for a few scraps of food. I say that memory has marked my actions forever, and it has. But it is not my earliest memory — I have one from just before that.
I was probably two years old. We lived, at that time, in an apartment where all the rooms were inter-connected, so that you could walk in a circle inside our home. I must have just taken a bath. A bucket bath would have been the norm, and I’m guessing my mother might have been teaching me to bathe myself. I don’t quite remember those details. What endures in vivid technicolor is a naughty little girl, stark naked, running as fast as her little legs will carry her, holding a blue plastic mug. My mother, too thin, draped in a sari, is running after me as I lead her a merry chase, going round in circles through the apartment.
I don’t talk about this memory to acquaintances. I tried once, and things quickly became awkward. But that led me to consider why this particular memory had endured. The sheer pleasure of that freedom! I had escaped all bonds — my mother’s arms, my pesky clothes. I was braver in those days, as all children are. They have, after all, not yet learnt the pain of failure or disappointment. They may fall down a lot, but they haven’t yet learnt to fear the falling.
Decades later, I have started to fling off my bonds and run again. I’m reaching for my blue plastic mug!