An experience called life

The Ocean in my Yard
by Saleem Peeradina. Penguin.
Pages 229. Rs 250.

The Ocean in my YardAN introspective and first person account of growing up in Bombay, the author Peeradina takes us on a journey, which is not so much about the physical aspect of it as it is about the still dynamic creation of Saleem Peeradina, the poet, artist, teacher and compulsive watcher of people.

The book is all about Saleem and that is quite in order since it is an autobiography. It speaks of his boyhood in Bombay in the 1960s. But the boyhood, though tinged with magic and miracle, is the description of the rites of passage, of growing from boyhood to young manhood. And along the way comes his disenchantment with religion, parents and sometimes with himself and at other times with his situation. And, finally, Saleem finds himself making his choices in life, and he goes on to be a college teacher.

The book has strong doses of the authorís ideas about human values. For example, when he talks of the role of the teacher, he unequivocally says: "The teacher should resist with all his honour not to use the student as a spittoon into which he can squirt his ideas, or a blank slate on which he can inscribe his brief. The worst thing that a teacher can do is create clones of himself."

There is a strong sense of joie de vivre running through the book that introduces us to the large Muslim family that Saleem grew up in. A strong and difficult doctor father who Ďderidedí his decision to be a college teacher for "teachers lived in penury", a self- effacing and diffident mother, whom he came to appreciate only much later and legions of cousins and uncles and aunts. And, of course, the aunt to whom he was a Ďhandy masseurí, massaging her aching and weary limbs while he was initiated into sensuality through the experience.

In fact, there is a lingering sensuality that pervades the book as the author takes his readers through the markets and bazaars of Bombay. As for most children, his memories are the recollection of the reactions of the senses. And itís not only the fish market that evokes the memories, itís also the special food cooked at festivals; the Sunday repast of "Mutton dal, which never came out the same in Fufijaanís house"; the scent of chameli as his mother told them their favourite stories; the white jamuns that the children gorged upon "till our bellies ached".

The book does not deal with only happy childhood memories but also the pain of growing up which was compounded with hostility towards his father. As an adult, he concludes about the relationship: "`85the more mutually dependent the relationship, the more devious is the interplay of love and hate, sympathy and indifference, domination and resistance`85 the harder you try to resist the defiling influence of your antagonist, the messier your hands get in the otherís blood."

The Ocean in my Yard is a recollection of the growing up years: the enjoyable times that came with the growing up; the realisation of oneís capacities and powers that were later realised; and the sensuality explored. Besides this, itís mainly about the growing up experience without the rose-tinted glasses, without any kind of glossing over and without the romantic recollections, a trap that all too many authors who choose the rites-of-passage theme fall into.