Growing up with Grandparents

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It was those days when the raindrops used to be blue, green, purple and burnt-sienna. The old, fat toad used to sit under the Toad-stool  and tell stories. The breeze carried the smell of Neem flower and butter-toast.  And in those days I was small enough to tuck myself between my grandma and grandpa to listen to the radio play. My grandpa, the ever hypochondriac that he was, used to be wrapped in a warm shawl from head to toe – with only his tiny eyes visible. Grandma’s long locks smelling of Amla hair oil used to casually flutter over my face. By the time the play used to get over, she would be fast asleep. My grandfather would silently put off the radio with a ‘click’ sound and wrapping the shawl tighter would go off to sleep.

Our childhood was with and about grandparents. We were nine of us – cousins, technically, but we had a single collective tag – ‘brats of Mamma-baari’. Mamma was what we used to call our grandma. Being the assertive and stronger one of the duo – our grandma was the matriarch of the family. So our house unknowingly became “Mamma Baari” (Mamma’s house).

Our grandfather was the soft one – gentleman in the truest sense. By the time I grew up enough, he was a retired man – taking recluse in the comfort of the sofa set in the front room. He was so pinned on to the sofa day in and day out that every second year the sofa would pop out the springs inside–as if to announce it’s exhaustion!  Soft that he was, my grandpa would hardly complain till one of us would get a chance to sit on it! Ouch! What was that?? Grandpa! How could you not tell us all these days? An expert would be summoned to repair it within no time! Once repaired grandpa would be back to his seat. When I was younger, grandpa used to spend his retired moments helping maids and masons open bank accounts in the newly opened branch of a local bank- just like that. When I grew up he became Amitabh Bachhan of Piku. There was this yellow telephone with those round dials kept just for him. Every morning he would dial his second daughter – my aunt- who is incidentally married to a doctor. His opening lines would be something like this:

“Hello Pia. This morning I am a bit better. I went to the toilet and had a near clear motion. Now, should I still take the enzyme in the afternoon?”

Or

“Hello Pia. I just went and tried but ‘it’ did not happen!”

My ever-loving and soft-spoken aunt would patiently answer him or comfort him – as the situation be.

But the ‘it did not happen’ would be the cause of his depression for the rest of the day. He was a terribly neat and tidy person and would insist on shaving daily. But on the days when ‘it did not happen’ he would not shave and would eat as little as possible. Back from office during lunch time, my father would laugh, “Why didn’t you take a shave Baba?”, very well knowing the answer he would get in return.

“Huh, what shave…I did not even have a proper potty!”

My grandma was always poles apart from grandpa.  That they spent more than sixty years together is a Black-hole mystery of the family!

She, unlike grandpa, was robust, loud, hot-headed and unlike women of her age and time – a total dictator of the family! From fixing marriages to ensuring education of all her grandchildren she was the ONLY authority in the family! From her food habits to response to life’s situations – she was so different from grandpa! While grandpa was a frugal eater – satisfied with just a light fish curry and rice, grandma would eat four times his consumption level – and some strange eating habbit it was! While we would be over-filled with our morning breakfast of Parathas or bread, grandma would have an additional 10 am ‘mid-morning snack’! She would have a bowl full of left-over rice from previous day, add oodles of raw mustard oil, salt and then devour it with immense passion with a green chilly. And then have a full three course meal after two and half hours – rounding it off with a short helping of her handmade pickles!

Unlike a ‘womanly’ woman, she would hardly show her patience when it came to cooking. So most of the younger days of my dad and aunts was spent in eating strange items like – half-burnt curries, massive chunks of boiled potato to be had with rice, fish curries still carrying the smell of raw fish, hot chapatis with sliced onion!!!  She was hardly bothered about what the others thought about her! Her real passion lay in her eccentricity! That she was a good writer of her times was a catalyst to that! Once, just after my mother was married into the family, she came home from the market with a dozen small fishes to be had for lunch.

“Just clean these and keep the oil and masala ready. I will come and cook”.

My mother did as instructed and waited for her mother-in-law to return. One hour passed, two hours passed…..with the racing hands of the clock my mother began to panic. It was near lunch time but grandma was not to be found anywhere. Hesitantly my mother took the plunge and cooked the fish her way! My grandma ultimately returned after two days! She had gone to her younger daughter’s house in Dakshineswar –a half an hour train journey from Calcutta – not to meet her but spend moments besides the river Ganges in order to get ideas about a story!

She would hardly be at home, finding opportunities and pretexts to go outside. So, almost every evening I would accompany her to the nearest Gariahat market just to buy ‘important’ household items like – a pair of rubber slippers or clips for hanging clothes or even a handkerchief. I would proudly accompany her –  sitting in the hand-pulled rickshaw. This was till the day we had ‘rickshaw mishap’! God knows why or how but having found a school bus in front of him, the rickshaw puller suddenly gave up! He let go of his hands, leaving grandma and me see-saw head down while he himself hung in mid-air. Men all around came rushing towards us. They brought down the rickshaw puller from his mid-air position , only to flung grandma and me back in mid-air. While the game of see-saw gave fodder for loud laughter to the crowd, grandma was ready to turn the poor man into ashes by her angry stare! From that day on, we both went and came back to the market by feet but strangely that rickshaw puller was never to be found again!

My grandma had a unique knack of being associated with troubles and mishaps of all types. So every second year she would end up with fracture of some kind or the other. The orthopaedic had almost become a family member! Though with her impatience, grandma would hardly carry on with her plaster cast for too long. One fine day we would find her with her favourite pair of scissors – cutting away her plaster cast with uneven cuts! As a result she had knees that wouldn’t bend beyond a certain level, a half-twisted left arm, a limp etc.

But beyond all this she had a self that was unique. That was that part that ensured that her six grand-daughters grew up to be self-reliant and strong-willed women!

But my purpose of writing this blog was not just to tell about the unique people that my grandparents were, it was also to talk about the fact that irrespective of what or how they were, they were an integral part of our lives. They were luckier than the grandparents of our children. When I see my parents, my in-laws, my aunts and uncles – I realise that though they are busier these days, they are lonely somehow. With nine grandchildren creating havoc, my grandparents were a luckier lot! Till the day my grandfather died, it was an unwritten rule in my family that food would be first served to him. It was a satisfaction for my mother to see her father-in-law closing his eyes in front of his plate of frugal meal for a short prayer of thanksgiving.

Sundays were especially special. My grandparents would watch with loving eyes as nine of us would empty jars of biscuits and puffed rice! My father would lovingly accept the little note of donation from my grandfather as his contribution towards ‘one kilo of meat’  for a special Sunday lunch.

“Son, would this be enough for a Kg of meat?”, he would ask.

My father would smile, “Ofcourse Baba. This would be more than enough”, though he well knew that the amount wouldn’t even fetch half a kilo.

And most of all, for us and our parents, their decision was always the final decision. Erratic, wise, eccentric, unbelievable, practical, impractical – we accepted all their decisions – with frown or with smile – but we did accept!

Today, my parents are the ones who have their dinner after all of us . Now, I do not expect my son to have the same level of obedience towards his grandparents as I had. And my aunt who was once a patient listener to her father’s call waits unendingly for a call from all of us!

We are too busy to attend to their needs ; too involved with our own selves to teach our children the value of ‘genuine bonding’. Parents and grandparents are now a matter of need and convenience rather than of necessity.

Times change, so do situations and we are, perhaps, victims of our changing circumstances. But how I wish there was one thing that hadn’t changed – growing up with grandparents – the way we did!

 

 

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Shadows…..

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The day I lost IT….

I remember the day vividly. Vividly because it hadn’t ever rained like that before….atleast not in my recent memory. Vividly because my steady food supplier, my mother, had decided to take a sabbatical. She had trudged along with her basket to her friend’s house; leaving a sour apple, a few crackers for me to munch on for dinner. A lazy egg had stared lovingly from the refrigerator, beckoning me to use it.

But I was in no mood for a self-service. I ordered a pizza instead. I purposely chose the pizza service that offers a free pizza for every missed arrival timing, just in case….Funnily enough the guy arrived before time- amidst the non-stop rainfall ! I was pissed off for a while but decided to enjoy the night with pizza and my favourite show. The fire-baked tomatoes and jalapenos had a rustic appeal. As I was about to pull out a string of mozzarella I thought I saw a finger – a greyish dark finger digging at the pizza with equal gusto. I blinked twice, thrice and even four times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. The finger by then had wound a stringy mozzarella around itself.

“Mmm…tasty, but you should have opted for baked chicken with pineapple – full bodied and value for money”, someone spoke.

I turned to look. A dark shadowy silhouette was toying with my wedge of pizza.

A series of thoughts flashed passed my mind in those nanoseconds.

I was dead and the moron was my soul!

I was possessed – by satan, devil, vampire….by whatever hell is sinister!

An evil friend was masquerading- just to scare the wits off me!

I looked closer – the dark whatever was ditto me! Just then I observed the wall. A lamp was placed not far away from me and technically, by the law of science, there should have been a shadow on the wall. But there wasn’t! Which meant, the dark figure was…. my shadow!

That my shadow had decided to make it’s ‘presence’ felt was an absolute improbable, bordering on psychological distress. I thought I had gone insane. For the next few days I hardly got out of my room. I bluffed to my mother that I had an upcoming exam for which I needed to prepare. My mother was only too glad to push in food through my door – happy that her son had finally chosen studies over dance. I avoided my friends too, not choosing to take their calls or mumbling an excuse of a severe flu.

This went on for nearly a week. My shadow shared my bowls of chicken stew while I kept wondering about my shadow-less existence! By the end of seventh day I had almost got used to my other me. Infact I would have perhaps developed an easy camaraderie with it, had it not messed up with my things. My pillow-covers were dyed in ink, my song-list was tampered, shoes were sprayed with my perfume, paper boats were made out of my diary pages….

There was a note-pad on which I had scribbled only two lines of poetry:

“ As crystals of raindrop
Merge in emerald”

A visit to the washroom and back and I discovered two additional lines:
“The frogs do a hop
And monkeys go bald”
.

This was too much for my sanity! A few more hours and I would have throttled myself.

Just then there was a call from Anna, my girlfriend.

“What on earth is wrong with you sweetie poodle?”, her voice oozed concern.

Normally mushy talks like that knock off my patience but for that moment Anna seemed like a dream option.

“We haven’t practiced together for a long time babes. The dance competition is just four weeks away. Infact I am thinking of trying out a new dance form tonight – the shadow dancing….you know, the kind where the audience get to see only our shadows!”

“Done girl! Evening, at 6 pm sharp”, I delightedly confirmed.

To hell with my shadow! I whistled and packed my dance bag. And then it struck me. Shadow Dancing –  is that what she said? Oh hell! How would I be able to do shadow dancing without my shadow?

Anna may be my girl friend but she is a difficult girl. If she has decided ‘shadow dancing’ then ‘shadow dancing’ it has to be! And now I was in total fix! How would I dance a ‘shadow dance’ without my shadow?

I hated the moment but I knew I had no option.

** *** *** ***

The rehearsal hall hardly had anyone. Other than Anna and myself, there were six others who were either busy in practice or watched others perform.

The shadow screen was set just in front of us. The music began. My heart was in my mouth. I eyed Anna through the corner of my eyes. She was busy adjusting her dress. I took advantage of the moment and showed a thumbs up to my shadow.

“ Not a single step away from me”, I had warned It before leaving my room.

“Not one bit bro’….shall be a good boy . You and I will be as inseparable as Chalk and Cheese”, It let out a crude joke while pinning my favourite socks on my wall board!

I had not believed It one bit but so far It hadn’t behaved erratically – deciding to behave as a shadow should. I kept my fingers crossed.

The music flowed like dream. Anna and I waltzed to perfection. And so did my shadow. With Anna’s shadow. There was a perfect sync. I couldn’t be happier….

The music was drawing to a close. I was trying to keep pace with my shadow and hers. They seemed to be much more in love with each other, rather than Anna and myself. Thankfully Anna was so engrossed in looking into my eyes that she did not notice the glitch.

“Close your eyes”, I whispered into Anna’s ears. She was only too happy to oblige.

“Keep your eyes shut…As the music would close I would glide you outside the hall- into eternity”, I whispered again.

There was a mild twitch of surprise in her eye-brows and then like a timid lamb she surrendered into my embrace for the final whirl.

On the shadow screen, by then, a frenzy move – quite different from ours, was being carried out.
Before the music would fade away forever I held Anna by her waist.

She kept her promise. Her shimmery eye-lids let out mild waves of expectation but she did not open her eyes.

Still holding her by waist I drew her out of the back-stage. She put her head on my shoulders – letting me lead her to wherever I wanted.

Two of us walked out through the back-stage corridor….two shadow less entities.

*** **** ****

The night of the Blue Jay

She placed her chin on the glass separator near the window. The commotion below had caught her attention. There is a public tap just below the window. Morning hours often make an interesting collage- of people, events, emotions. Today there was this group of kids chasing and making fun of another one. They had attached a paper tail to the shorts of a hapless victim. The more he ran, the more his ‘tail’ flew in the air – drawing laughter and loud fun-making from the crowd. She too laughed in mirth. I looked around. There was no one in the room. Normally they would never, ever keep the glass separator open. How they overlooked it was a mystery!

“Shall we? Now?”, I whispered into her ears.

Her crossed eye-brows told me that the timing of the question was totally wrong!

She watched the circus below for a few more seconds. But she being she, it did not take much time to change her mind. She rushed to her table and picked up the bottle. In her hurry she almost upturned the table. The pencils made a mute noise as they collided against the crayons.

She held up the bottle and examined.

“Mmm..mmm..na na…not yet….the sunlight has not yet touched the pinky mark”.

She pointed to a small pink dot near the lid of the glass bottle. Golden hues of sunlight splashed the indoors of the bottle. But way below the pink spot.

Just then the nurse appeared with her breakfast. Bread, strawberry jam, milk. The everyday fare.
Her eyes shone in delight. She scooped out a spoon of strawberry jam and let it drown in the glass of milk. The milk changed hue, gradually turning pink.

“Blood, blood, blood”, she clapped.

“This is pink, sweetheart. Blood is red”, the nurse tried to reason.

“Blood, blood, blood”, she banged the spoon against the table.

Damn! Now for the next few hours she will be in the worst of her moods. Why the hell do they fix up new nurses each time!

*** *** *** ***

The golden hue of sunlight had finally touched the pink dot on the glass bottle. My happiness knew no bounds. The day had arrived. I waited for the night to dawn on the other side of the glass window. I stuck the grape-vine laurel to her curly hairs. The nurse hadn’t cleaned her face well. Her cheeks were sticky and dirty…But she still looked beautiful!

“Tonight?”, I wanted to re-confirm.

“Mmm..tonight”, she confirmed. Her concentration was however on the drawing that she was making. My eyes too were fixed on her paper. I watched in utmost concentration the slice of evening light that had found it’s way on the paper. The salmon-pink of the fading evening gradually morphed into pale blue and then a total purple.

Tch”, she expressed dissatisfaction at the dim light. She threw the crayons away and rushed to the glass window…..A plate-like silvery-golden moon sneaked from the clouds.

Wiffooo”, she whistled with her small mouth.

And then what I hadn’t expected happened. And it happened too fast. A larger-than-life Blue Jay appeared on the parapet .It’s wings oozed blue fire….It was nearly blinding. Looking at it she clapped loudly. Then with fearless happiness she crossed over the barrier of the half-window. She perched on and held the wings of the Blue Jay.

It was a blink-and –you- miss moment…..Too fast for my comprehension. I ran with all my might to the glass window.

“Wait, wait for me”, I screamed.

She hardly listened. She smiled and waved. The Blue Jay began it’s flight.

“Stop! Wait for me….You cannot, you just cannot leave your shadow behind”, I screamed hoarse.
By then she was too far away.

A sudden gust of wind blew past. The glass of the half-window slid down the frame – leaving me locked behind in the room – forever.

*** *** **** *** ***

Anish looked around the room. It was dusty. A wet smell hung all around.

“Two rooms should be okay for a single person”, he thought.

Twenty years and no one had entered the room. He wondered, why.

A small two room flat on the fourth floor, without a lift, was perhaps a tough choice. He reasoned.

The rooms suited his need perfectly but there was something that nagged him constantly.

What was the rumour he had heard about a death or a suicide in this room?

Anish turned to the broker.

Achha, wasn’t there a suicide or something in this room?”

The broker laughed a sly laugh.

“Ofcourse there was! A mad girl…you know , kind of psycho case….Her father was a rich man…Couldn’t save her though. But I thought you were a budding scientist, aren’t you?”. Being a seasoned broker, he knew exactly how to touch the raw nerve.

“ Uh no…I am not bothered. Just wanted to know if the rumour was true. The rooms fits fine into my need. If you can just change the glass window and have the room whitewashed….”

“Ofcourse. That shouldn’t be a problem.”, the broker chuckled.

The broker led the way out of the room. Anish followed him. Before the door closed he gave one last look at the room. The room was silent with just trails of dust and two of their shadows.Wait! Was that two? Or was there yet another one? What was that third shadow? Or was it a glitch of his eye sight?

*** *** *** ***

Hariprasad’s Flute

The night was blue- ink blue. Droplets of moonlight were haphazardly flowing down the ink-blue background and melting into the dark grasses. Whiffs of scent – jasmine, wet grass, grain shafts were drifting here and there in little parcels of surprise. And under the Frangipani tree Hariprasad was playing his flute.

People say Hariprasad become possessed when he plays his flute. And that his flute has magical properties. Some even claim that Hariprasad’s flute can cure one of diseases. To Rukmini, it hardly matters. To her, all it matters is that her husband is a four feet pint sized dwarf! All her life Rukmini had dreamt of marrying a charming prince-like man! She herself is no short of a princess. With a peach and milk complexion and doe eyes, she would be a befitting choice of many royals – if there had been any royals that is!

But why her father chose Hariprasad was a mystery to her. That he plays flute like magic wasn’t a satisfying reason for her. So annoyed was she with her father that she had chosen not to visit her father’s house on the eight day after her marriage – a ritual followed in their community.

Standing at the door Rukmini looked outside. Her gazed was fixed under the Frangipani. She lifted her skirt slightly and walked towards the tree. Rubbing against the tall grasses, her anklets hardly made noise. She stood for many seconds under the tree, waiting for the music to fade away.

The moonlight lent a strange mirage. His shadow under the tree looked way taller. And with the flute touched to his lips, it definitely gave an illusion of Lord Krishna with his flute.

Was there tears in his eyes?

Would this be the right time to raise the issue? She wondered.

Keeping his flute down Hariprasad looked at Rukmini. He hardly looked surprised. Infact such emotions were not really his forte.

Only his eyes bore question about her presence.

“ You know they came yet again. Those city babus…..This time they also had their van. A sitting inside the van and it will be done. Two thousand for a six inches , three thousand for one full foot…”, Rukmini hesitantly spelt the offer.

“Hmmm…”.

Now Rukmini was really scared…..rather apprehensive. What if he rejects the offer?

She had even gone and filled up the form. The sale of her silver bangles was enough to procure the money.

It was a simple procedure. They would fix some screws – shoulder upwards and staple on some fresh skin. That would be enough to add the inches.

Infact she couldn’t believe her eyes when a five feet something hunk of the neighbouring village came out of the magic van as six.

“So what do you say?”, Rukmini enquired. “They have this offer for the next two days only. After that they will move on to a new place.”

“What time?”, Hariprasad enquired casually, wrapping his flute in his bag.

For the first time since marriage Rukmini actually felt overjoyed.

“Ten in the morning. Sharp. Their technician will arrive at that time”.

“Ten then…”, Hariprasad looked away while confirming the time.

*** *** *** ***

It didn’t take much time. Twenty five minutes. Just as they had promised in their television ads.

Hariprasad sat still on the chair while the technician worked on him. Rukmini had anticipated that he would back out in the last moment. He didn’t. That he would be anxious and jittery. He wasn’t. There was a certain annoying calmness about him that irked Rukmini.

It rather shook Rukmini for seconds when the technician neatly sliced off his head and kept it on the table. She almost shrieked in horror. But a light with the words ‘SILENCE’ was immediately switched on and she had to swallow in her horror.

Hariprasad’s head stared at her in sheer nonchalance as the technician fixed screws and calipers to his headless neck, straightening and pulling it up.

“How much did you pay?”, the technician queried.

“Three thousand – paid in full”, Rukmini announced proudly.

The technician glanced at her and smiled.
“Your desire for a tall husband is really strong, eh? But looking at the current height of your husband he won’t be taller than five feet at the most. Another thousand and I’ll transform that to six.”

Rukmini sighed. Desires and abilities always shared an antagonistic bonding. Three thousand itself was tough for her.

“May be next time…is it possible to add on later?”, she enquired softly.

“Always….but you won’t get the season’s discount that we are offering now. Moreover, you will have to bring him to our workshop in the city”, the technician informed helpfully, letting his fingers attach more pins and screws to the bare neck.

“We are doing this at such a discounted price as a favour for our rural sisters and brothers. These are all foreign techniques – all the way from far away China. Costs a hefty lot. This we are doing as a part of our social service scheme”, he spoke again.

It took another five minutes to reattach the head and staple on the skin.

It was finally over in the twenty fifth minute and a few seconds.

“After an hour give him a glass of milk and he will be back to normal’, the technician informed helpfully.

“And take this slip. It contains the terms and conditions. Also the warranty card. If you ever find the skin peeling off or the screws not tight enough, we’ll service him….free of cost….for the next two years of course. After that, you’ll have to pay”.

*** *** *** ***

The moon wasn’t like the night before. There was a pretty dent in it. But the oozing moonlight was as wondrous as the previous night. Hariprasad was back under the Frangipani tree. The flute adorned his lips. His lips moved in amazing fierceness. But it did not make any music. He filled in as much air as possible and blew in again. His flute remained silent. Tears flowed down his eyes. But no music flowed from his flute.

Rukmini ran as fast as possible. Her anklets tore out tufts of grass. Her delicate feet rubbed against the here-and-there rocks but she was not bothered. At least not at that moment.

By the time she reached the Frangipani tree, little beads of sweat had kissed her forehead.

She looked at Hariprasad. And then his shadow. Like a tiny blob under the tree, the shadow with the flute was hardly close to the surreal magic it creates everyday.

Like a man possessed, her husband was blowing into the flute with all his might. But the only sound that was being heard was that of the night crickets and the howling of a she wolf far away in the wilderness.
Rukmini could no longer control herself. Holding a branch of the tree she sobbed like a child.

Just a few moments ago, while pushing in the warranty card and the slip inside her tin trunk, she had happened to glance through the ‘Terms and Conditions slip’. Within seconds, the hardly readable bit of a paper had turned her ice-cold.
“Though the customer of our ‘Hi-Fi Height Control’ technique will be blessed with a desirable height, his/her shadow will reduce in proportionate rate”, read the third condition.

“ A customer of our ‘Hi-Fi Height Control’ will however never be able to play any kind of wind instrument – bagpipe, flute etc. A small price for a larger benefit! Condition is irreversible. M/S Jing-Ping and Company – the patented license holder of ‘Hi-Fi Height Control’, will not be held liable in whatsoever manner”, read the final condition.

__END__

Originally published at: http://www.yourstoryclub.com