Last summer, looking at my little daughter, I’d thought that this was it, this was the last year.
This summer, as one purposefully purposeless day melts into another and the weeks roll by, blissful, uncomplicated, and with the unmitigated enjoyment that only end-of-school-year holidays can bring, I have looked at my seven-year-old girl and thought again: “This is it, this is the last year.”
The last year of being an uncomplicated child: of doing the things that as one grows up, one finds no longer remotely alluring; of relying on parents in a certain kind of way, and of having them as the fixed, almost immutable points of one’s universe; of feeling thrillingly happy; of being contented — the unique unsullied, face-glowing contentment that we mislay as we grow up — after licking an ice cream by a swimming pool; of finding so many things new and fresh in the world.
Already, I think of last year’s holidays, and I notice so many differences.
Oishi tends to be less surprised by many things — like her own ability to make tea, coffee, toast or luchi. She reads much more, and derives a more adult pleasure from it. She is worried about what will happen when we exhaust the resources of our planet. She has become much more hostile to my smoking, and my (office-enforced) late-night fiddling with my BlackBerry. She frets about precisely when my new book will be published and whom it will be dedicated to. There is about her a poise that there wasn’t last year; there is a new impatience and assertiveness.
I watch her very carefully these days.
I look as she, her wet swimsuit clinging to her, slithers like a yellow tadpole across the water and then erupts into a high-pitched laugh as she emerges from the pool. Beads of water, luminous and precarious, hang from strands of her hair.
I look as she counts the number of books I have of each of my literary heroes and tots them up, nodding wisely, saying hmmm, as though she has understood something vitally important, as if writing were some kind of spectator sport.
She always catches me looking at her, and asks: “Baba, what is it? What are you staring at?” And then she smiles; baffled, but probably quite enjoying the fact of being important enough to be stared at.
I shake my head. There is nothing I can say. And I wonder again about how, yes, this is it, this is the last year.
I think I’ll quite enjoy her being grown up. At the same time, how can I not miss her being little? You know the feeling, don’t you? Well, someone else does: Lewis Carroll. So here — lest you have thought of this column as merely schmaltzy tripe — is an excerpt from the poem that concludes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July
…Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.
…In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream
Lingering in the golden gleam
Life, what is it but a dream?
Look, it can’t be just me, can it?