Between the ages 4 and 7 I had a doll, and I'd christened her Neetu. Or maybe the shopkeeper had christened her Neetu when handing her to me. But anyway, she was this dolly I carried all around (sometimes holding her by her hair, it wasn't a pretty sight and I feel for the poor girl now!). I insisted my dad reserve tickets for her on the train, and buy her her own slice of chocolate cake (OK, I was a sly one.) When we had annoying guests over, I'd stalk off to my room (again probably holding her by her hair) and sit and teach her to sing till they were gone. (Maybe the singing drove them away, but well, goal achieved.) There was one trip that we took where I'd forgotten to take the bag in which I'd packed her (that's right - I didn't always go dragging her around holding her hair. Hah!), and all hell broke loose. For the three days we were away, I felt like the world was coming to an end. The sweet aunty who's house we stayed in looked like a witch in one of those fantasy movies, I thought the juice they gave me was poisoned, and actually said so, much to the dismay and ire of my parents. Yeah, can you imagine, 5 year old girl nodding sadly at the glass of juice and saying, "she's trying to kill me."
I didn't even smile when we went to the zoo, except a little bit when I saw the panda (I love panda bears.) but I quickly pretended to be wiping my mouth when my dad caught me smiling. (Of course I'm not happy, you cruel grown ups. You didn't let me go back and bring my doll, so you suffer my cold silence.) The trip was mostly a disaster. My parents, learnt the trick, and just ignored my serious accusations after that. They had a wonderful time. I just sulked. Neetu was my security blanket. At that age, of course, I had no frigging idea that a five year old was feeling as complex an emotion as "need for familiarity". I just wanted to see Neetu again.
After we reached home, I hugged my long lost friend so hard that I broke her neck, but that's a story we'll reserve for another time.
Once I grieved and moved on, I soon found another security blanket. We'd just started library hour at school, and I'd discovered the genius of Enid Blyton. I would just greedily read Malory Towers, St Clare's, Famous Five, Secret Seven and the Five Find-Outers one after the other, feverishly hoping that when I looked up from the book, I'd actually be sitting in one of those schools, maybe with Pat and Isabel O'Sullivan. I loved the glimpse I got into this whole other world out there, with everything so different from the one I knew. I'd read these books at every available opportunity. I'd carry them to read on train journeys, I'd read them when I was ill, I'd read them when we went to weddings that I absolutely didn't want to go to. Of course things got a little out of hand when I once burst into tears because my mum didn't make scones and tea for my birthday party. But I loved to read about the adventures Julian and his gang had, and once attempted to form my own "Famous Five". It wasn't exactly a success. There were nine of us, for starters. You can imagine the mayhem. (I'm the leader, no I'm the leader).
After what can only be described as the golden period of my reading career, I progressed onto R.K Narayan and Ruskin Bond. Narayan's Malgudi had an earthy charm to it, open plains, and open lives, while Bond's Mussoorie had a mysterious charisma with the Victorian bungalows and the nip in the mountain air.
Now, in my adult life, I still feel the need for a security blanket when I'm in an unfamiliar environment. It changes after every few months. Sometimes it's chick lit novels, sometimes it's reruns of sitcoms that have ceased to be funny after the tenth watch, but what the hell. A lot of time it's talking on the phone. I drive my husband crazy with my obsessive need to read something or watch some show, or endless phone conversations. But after all this while I think he knows that without it, I'd drive him crazier.
I think we all feel the need for a security blanket at some point in time or the other. For some of us, it's a blanket, for some us it's a book. But it feels good to know that there's something familiar when everything around is new and strange.