My heart goes out to those people who’ve lived in apartments throughout their lives and in all probability, never had the chance to grow up with what is lovingly phrased ‘the secret place‘, or in other words a ‘backyard‘. The textbook definition would tell you that a backyard is literally what it says it is..’an area at the back of a house usually fenced or walled’. A storehouse of nostalgia, a truckload of memories!
Which brings me all the way back to the period ‘1995-2001’. Between age 5 and age 11. The times when coming back from school in the evening meant dirtying yourself in the filth of the backyard, getting soaked in the torrential monsoon downpours, playing hide and seek with the kids from the neighboring houses amongst the tall coconut palms, sturdy jack-fruit trees and thorny shrubs..the times when weekends implied waking up early to catch the sunrise view from the terrace or the backyard, or serving bowls of piping hot milk to all the ardently meowing kitties in the locality who were automatically woken up by their ‘alarm’ of the unlocking clack of the back-door.
The backyard was also the play-space for you and your dozen pets, bought or adopted. Generations of cats predominantly called our backyard their own home. Apart from them, there used to be cameo appearances from a variety of birds, squirrels, caterpillars, and red-ants even (at the age of 6-7, you just like what you see and end up ‘adopting’ it as your latest pet; you’re captivated by its looks, movements and eating habits, not turned off by its wriggly body or uncaring demeanor). Sigh, how everything (including your thoughts and interests) becomes conditioned as you grow up!
Backyards also hold an important position in our childhoods owing to the fact that these were the venues for our summer cricket tournaments. Teams of 5-6 battling it out amongst themselves to ensure that their daily dose of honor remains intact. The demography was pretty wide; there would be 7 year old boys and 20 year old dudes participating in the same event. This was probably where the milestone event of a cork ball hitting your manhood for the very first time, took place. There would be days where you took on the role of pinch-hitter, striking the winning boundary or sixer for your team and returning home with the most joyous of smiles and indulge in deep slumber without caring a damn about what the future held in store for you. The number of times you struck the ball outta the park only to be demanded (by the entire gang), to fetch the ball from a grubby puddle or amongst the debris on your own, whilst everyone else including your own teammates took a time-out and carefully observed you on your little adventure!
You could also attribute a good number of bruises on your body towards your backyard. In all its likelihood, some of them were made so deep in your skin that their marks are still clearly evident. Marks of pride, marks of dignity. Mostly the result of all the scampering around the muddy floor or trying your own slick moves (such as skipping a stone) while climbing stairs, these bruises are unmistakably the palpable proof of an eventful childhood spent mostly outdoors.
Not even once did the risks of getting bitten by snakes or mosquitoes or bees hamper the desire to explore our backyards even to the scariest extents. We would inspect even the smallest of changes, such as a freshly burrowed hole made by a supposedly new entity (or new ‘member’ to put it across from the point of view of a 7 or 8 year old), not do anything but simply stare and plod along. Of course, the additional peril of a ripe coconut or jack-fruit falling on your head was obvious. Yet, none of this kept us away from being the pioneers that we were.
You enjoyed every bit of getting drenched in rainwater, hopping on plashes and sprinting on slippery floors, falling down and getting back up in a jiffy, look around to see if anyone noticed the fiasco (and glad that nobody did!) only to get home and find out that the backside of your shorts had torn from the fall and everyone you passed on your way home had a great view of your bare buttocks. Your prestige would be in shambles. The backyard was the place for all your self-loathing needs. You would even ramble to yourself about how you could make things better than they used to be. I guess our long-gone backyards were infact principal witnesses of our secret interests, crushes, ambitions and life-goals. Love failures, getting rejected by your crushes, examination disasters, seeing Kane unmask himself, India losing in the finals, a shocking movie-climax, arguments with parents or siblings..no matter what the incident was, we would spend a little time introspecting in our beloved backyards. Yes, it would make us feel slightly better..about ourselves..about the rest of the world!
You might have come a long way from those times, and the memories you made in the later stages of your life might seem more significant at the moment, but you cannot deny the fact that the backyard played a seemingly consequential role in shaping your childhood..thereby shaping YOU!