‘Saturday’s Child’ recounts a magical childhood in India

Daphne Economou’s account of her childhood in India spans a time of world-shaking events. Just as the long era of foreign domination of India was drawing to a close, most of the rest of the world was about to be convulsed by the Second World War. Those external events have their repercussions on the life of the privileged foreign community of which she is a member, but the emotional impact of domestic events is equally powerful for the young Greek girl as we see her stretching her own wings and struggling to make sense of family ties that bind and sometimes break. Primal tie The primary tie is with her mother, to whom the book, «Saturday’s Child: A Journey through an Indian Childhood,» just out from Oceanida, is addressed. Economou has chosen to tell her story through the eyes of the child who grew up with her beloved mother, devoted nanny and a houseful of attentive servants. Her father is there, as are a host of other visitors, school friends, teachers and more or less peripheral figures, but the primal relationship, the first great love, the first experience of attachment, identification and separation, is present throughout. The other great love is for the magical place where she spent her childhood: India. She was born in Madras to Greek parents, her father was the managing director of the Madras branch of Ralli Brothers, a merchant firm that had been operating in India since 1851. As the war intensifies, the news from Greece is alarming. Plans are made to get mother and child out of India, and they end up in Alexandria by way of Basra, Jerusalem and Cairo. There the child’s earlier intimations of loss, sparked by family quarrels, prove all too true: «At times I longed so much for India that it was like pain. I longed for the colors, the sounds, the heat, the dust and most of all for the lashing, pounding, tropical storms of Ootacamund. The rain like stones, pelting the tin roof and the window panes, the wind like a dark torrent thrashing the trees to madness, the dampness in the sheets, and the wet bracken in the woods next day.» It was a charmed childhood, rich in sensory input and full of satisfying opportunities for mischief. More than a record of a long-gone world, this engaging account recreates the growth of human consciousness as experienced by a child with acute powers of observation and a passionate desire to belong who takes her first steps in the world. The book ends with her first real encounter with Greece and the next challenge to the self she has constructed. «There are roots,» she wrote later to her mother on a trip back to India, «and one never fully recovers from being transplanted, but the traces of my footprints are still here.»

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