One of my favourite questions to ask people I know is “What is your very earliest memory?” It is almost always fascinating. Take my first Hindi teacher’s answer for example. Born in Charik, Punjab in 1922, his answer would be nearly as different from mine as anyone’s could be. It was almost certainly from the early 1920’s, almost 100 years ago.
He told me that his father was an ayurvedic physician who would travel by horse to neighbouring villages. Back in those days some would pay by money but just as many would pay with barter often vegetables or fruit. One thing he remembered about his dad was that he always had to have the best horse in the village. If someone else got a better one he would also get an upgrade.
One day he was playing out in the field when he heard the sound of a horse coming. He knew it was his father and he was really excited. He’d been gone for some time and whenever he came home there were often sweets. Jumping up, little Jagdish ran as fast as he could for the house. He didn’t make it far, though. Within a few steps he tripped and bumped his chin. It hurt and bled like crazy, scaring him.
Based on where the memory was, it was likely in 1973. I would have been 2-3 years old.
It is very dark outside and my dad and I are riding in his Plymouth Fury. Because it’s the early 1970’s I am not in a car seat, I am not wearing a seat belt. I’m sitting in the front passenger’s seat.
In my mind I can still see the dimly lit dashboard and the little light that comes on when my dad turns on the high beams. I’m fascinated by how he does this seemingly by magic, but then he shows me that he’s pushing a button on the floor with his left foot.
We stop talking for a bit and he turns on the AM radio. Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love comes on. I’ve never heard music like this before.
I am both attracted to the sound and a bit scared. It’s loud, there’s an urgent energy to it and in at about 1 min 45 seconds in a part of the song that sounds terrifying. Why is the guy screaming? What are those sounds about? Is everything OK? I watch out the front window as we drive down a dark road, the trees above lit by our headlights.
The song ends and the car starts to slow down. I hear a rhythmic click-click-click-click and see a tiny light on the front left part of the car’s hood flashing yellow. As if we’re following it’s direction we turn left and stop outside a big brick building.
“This is an Army Barracks” my dad says. “It’s where soldiers live.”
We walk inside and there are lots of men in olive green pants and white t-shirts hanging around. Many are smoking. It’s noisy and they greet my dad. He says “This is my son.” and they seem happy.
And that’s pretty much where the memory ends.
So let me ask you, dear readers. What is your earliest memory?