Back then, they would air Titanic every New Year’s Eve. Rose would kiss Jack in the jeep, the window fogging up to the world outside. The three of us would watch entranced as dolphins swam alongside the great ship, the sunrays lighting up the morning. It was only when Rose would decide to pose for a certain pencil-sketch that we would bury our heads in a pillow. Jack would have to finish alone.
My Mama and Mami were much sought after every holiday season. They brought along dozens of stories, fruits specially picked up from Dehradun and of course, my two cousins. Gautam Bhaiya and Raja. As soon as they would arrive, our dynamic trio would scamper away to the little room downstairs and jump like monkeys from one subject to the other.
“I told her she was an elephant. She immediately tore open a new packet of Uncle Chips.” “Raja lost the wrestling match the other day. I pushed him from atop the cupboard!” “Seen the Christmas tree yet? Mom and I made the decorations with cardboard.”
Mami would barge into the room at lunch time. “Poor deaf children. We will take you to the doctor this evening.”
“We have been calling you up for the last one hour!”
Without further ado, we would fly up the stairs and set the nostrils to work. Tomato soup, chicken, pulao, aloo dum. Holiday food always tasted delicious. They didn’t make it like that for school tiffins.
On the last day of the year, when Titanic had sunk and our eyes drooped, the grownups would put us to bed. We would be snuggled under quilts and the lights would be dimmed. Then they would all settle down for music, hot coffee and snacks till midnight.
We were indignant. It was sheer injustice.
“Just because they are grown-ups, doesn’t mean we will be mum. I want coffee too!” “And I want some of those veg-chops they are having.” “Let’s go tell them what we think of their behaviour. Putting us to sleep!”
All energized, we marched into the TV room. Everyone stared. “Did you kids need something?”
“Yes. I want coffee!” “And I want veg-chops.” I looked around to find something that interested me. “I want aloo bhujiya.”
So determined did we sound, that even to our surprise, the grownups complied. We sat around on mattresses, munching and chomping and guzzling.
“Don’t you think it’s time to sleep now?” Mom said after a while. “You don’t want to be late getting up the first day of the year.”
Gautam Bhaiya was looking earnestly at something outside the window. Fireworks, in all colours of the palette! He winked at us. “Can the three of us sleep up in the terrace room tonight?”
From the corner of my eyes, I saw Raja smuggle some of the aloo bhujiya in his pyjama pocket. “Please Mamma. We promise to fall asleep fast.”
Permission was granted and at midnight, the beds were rearranged. The terrace room had a sliding window overlooking the road outside. Up above was Delhi’s dusty sky, speckled here and there by a rare star. The best part was: while in the room, you had a terrific view of doggies being taken for a late walk, the kids of the laundry wallah engaged in a scuffle and that night, the fireworks set off by the young Punjabi couple who had newly moved into the flat across the street.
“The kids are sure to oversleep tomorrow. Will probably be up at noon.” We heard Mama say. “Oh I assure you they’ll rise at the crack of dawn.” Dad remarked.
We gazed at the fireworks in awe. They lit up the December sky gloriously. Munching the smuggled loot, we didn’t realize when Lady Sleep arrived on tiptoe and carried us away to her land of slumber.
I remember I was dreaming about waterfalls. They were in all colours, much like the New Year fireworks. The water gurgled and gushed melodiously, before it started buzzing. What water buzzed? The noise went up, up, up till I could stand it no more.
I jerked out of sleep. A giant housefly jerked with me, almost pouting at being disturbed. Gautam Bhaiya and Raja were already up, scratching their ears. A whole procession of giant houseflies seemed to have taken over the terrace room. In the blink of an eyelid, we escaped and landed in the living room downstairs. Not everyone seemed to be up. Dada and Dadi were sipping tea.
A sleepy Dad grinned at Mama, sitting up in the makeshift bed on the floor. “What did I tell you?”
The clock on the mantlepiece struck six.