Tiny Conversations – Stork or God?

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The twins, Amu & Mia, joined a Montessori School and Day Care. It’s been a few days, actually. I was glad to hear they had settled in well and have already made friends. In fact, going by the latest conversation that drifted down, they’re doing pretty well in the socializing department 🙂

They are in lower kindergarten but at break time both higher kindergarten and lower KG kids play together. So they chat with the older children too. One fine day, the conversation veered to the twins’ class teacher Mrs. N. She is expecting and the topic under discussion was her tummy!

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“I am expecting and my 5-year-old asked how babies are made. I told him, ‘God took a piece of me and a piece of Daddy and he put them together to make a new baby.’ My 2-year-old studied me carefully and said, ‘I don’t see any bites out of you! What piece did God take?'” -Emily Clark

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What I gathered was that the twins and some others were wondering about her protruding tummy and some of the older kids informed them that there was a baby inside. Amu and Mia found that very interesting but weren’t convinced. So they decided to confirm it.

Twins: “What’s inside your tummy? Is it a baby?” they asked Mrs. N.

“Yes, it is,” she replied, amused.

“Oh!”

It was confirmed! There was a baby inside. That was sorted out but now another thought popped into their heads.

“Who put it there?” was the next question.

Mrs. N. wasn’t ready for that. She thought she had dealt with their curiosity. But they were eagerly waiting for more information. If there was a baby inside how did it get there?

I can imagine Mrs. N’s position. What should she say to these 4-yr-old, curious kids? And as the story proceeds, I realize that a lot hasn’t changed with the typical Indian mom/grandmom’s answers to this question.

“I prayed for a baby and God gave me a baby,” she said. (I imagine she must have prayed that they wouldn’t ask the “how” question!) 

“Ok,” they chimed. Thus ended that tiny conversation!

And like everything that you can’t comprehend about God but believe, they assumed it was something beyond explanation and went home satisfied. 🙂 They got their answers.

It amused me more because it reminded me of the time my younger brother was born. I was ten, these girls are just four, and I believed the “God gave the baby” story! I also believed He put the baby in a cradle in the hospital LOL. Talk about unaware, silly, dumbo… I was all that and more. OMGosh!

The part that tickles me more is; I hadn’t even noticed my mother’s tummy. Nothing appeared different or rather, I wasn’t the kind to notice such things. I spoke to her a lot and nothing about her face had changed!

So when I came home from school one day and couldn’t find mummy because she was in the hospital, I fell for the: “God dropped off your baby brother at the hospital and mummy has gone to pick him up” story hook, line, and sinker. I never noticed a big tummy, so it was the only way the baby could have come.

Besides, I was brought up with Bible stories and there are so many miraculous things there; I counted this as just one more. What’s funnier is that fifty-three years later, someone is repeating the same “God gave the baby” story. 

In my mother’s days, it was the stork. But that didn’t hold for long. Most kids weren’t familiar with this long-legged bird so soon God replaced the stork. Every child in India knew about God and his power to perform great miracles. It made him greater than Superman and Batman put together in their eyes. He could drop off babies anywhere; homes, hospitals. At least I believed that.

PS: For a long time I wondered if I was really picked up from a rubbish heap LOL. That’s what my elder sister often told me when we were at loggerheads. My doubts dissipated only because Daddy assured me that God wouldn’t be so unkind as to drop me in a garbage dump when I had a nice home and family waiting for me!

I’m sure the twins will not have such ‘tiny conversations’ when they are ten. Theirs will be a few notches above this. Our time was the time of radio, transistor, spool tape recorders, record players, and the ubiquitous big, black telephone! Knowledge was not a click away; at our fingertips, and no one spoke about the birds and the bees or sex education, not during our days.

So, where my granddaughters are at four, I was at ten! Now, things are different but only in certain sections of society. It’s still a taboo thing in most conventional homes. And that means a majority.

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Miriam James

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Miriam was born in 1900, in a small town in Punjab. Her mother, a widow, had converted to Christianity before her birth. I do not recall her mother’s name, but since Miriam went as Miriam Shaw, I guess I’ll just call her mother Mrs. Shaw!

Mrs. Shaw must have been a forward-thinking woman, an exception in that era when girls, in India, in most cases, were not allowed a formal education. Although she was illiterate, she was intelligent. She had a family to support and while she wasn’t poor; she was not a lady of ample means either.

To augment her income, she lent out money; loaning money at a fixed interest. She kept meticulous accounts although she had never been to school. Miriam was fortunate to be born to such a woman.

Mrs. Shaw decided that her daughter would have a good education. She sent her to study at a boarding school in Andrew’s Ganj in Delhi. Miriam completed her Matriculation there. Having studied in Delhi, she learned English too. This was an asset as her children learned the language even though they studied in small town Government Schools in Punjab.

Miriam’s education also served in getting her an educated husband. She married Bernard James, a teacher in a government school. Teachers, in those days, were highly respected members of society, especially in small towns. (And Bernard went on to become a senior teacher).

Their position as teachers also ensured that their larders always overflowed with the offerings and gifts of grateful parents and students. It would have been very rude to refuse the gifts of grain, ghee (clarified butter), fruit, farm-fresh vegetables which they brought to the home of the teacher. This was “Guru Dakshina,” a gift of gratitude from a student to a teacher and not a bribe for favors of any kind. It was unthinkable to attribute any such base motive to these gifts.

Miriam and Bernard had ten children; five boys and five girls. Owing to her mother’s precedent of not discriminating against the girl child, all of Miriam’s daughters had a sound education too along with their brothers. The eldest daughter joined the Army; Women’s Auxiliary Corps – India (WACI) in the forties. Two younger ones became teachers, and both retired as Headmistresses. One died young, and the fifth didn’t work opting to marry a Naval officer and be a housewife.

After Bernard became a senior teacher in the Government High School, he moved to Mission Schools. He rose to the post of Inspector of Schools (mission schools). Their second child, Jason, was my father.

Miriam was a woman of substance. She had grit, determination, strength, perseverance, and all this coupled with her pragmatism made her one formidable force. To understand how progressive she was and how adept at adapting, I will have to recount this story I would make her tell me over and over again when I was a little girl.

Grandpa would be out of town often when he was on an inspection tour. This left Grandma alone with the children, and not safe and secure as their house stood by an orchard on one side and fields on the other. Times were a-changing and petty crimes like thefts were on the rise. Grandpa had already dealt with a few attempts of thieves to scale the boundary wall on the orchard side. But Grandma didn’t scare easy. She didn’t fret and rose to the occasion.

To protect the home and family, she devised a plan to have Grandpa always at home! Since keeping him back physically was not possible, it had to be a ruse. Whenever he went on a tour, that night, Grandma would wear his “pagri” (turban), light the “hookah” (hubble-bubble) and sit up through the night until daybreak, smoking the hookah.

She hoped that the glow of the embers and the silhouette of a turbaned person would mislead anyone peering over the wall into believing it was a man. However, one day, some daring men decided to take on the ‘lone man’. Bad idea!

Grandma, ever alert, heard the sounds of furtive movement and whispered voices behind the wall. Thieves! Before they could get a hold on the top of the wall and heave themselves up, she was waiting and ready, armed with a big, thick “lathi.” The moment the first head appeared over the edge of the wall, she struck with all her strength and let out a full-throttled war cry! This sudden, ferocious attack not only took the men by surprise but also woke up my father and his elder brother.

Although they were in their early teens, both were tall and had robust physiques. They were quick to gauge the scene. Both were on top of the wall in a jiffy with lathis (stout sticks used for self-defence in India) hurling warnings and threats of dire consequences at the retreating backs of the thieves.

There were two outcomes from this strategy: There were no more attempts at theft and, Grandma became a regular hookah smoker!

 

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This is an Arabic hookah and not the kind my grandparents smoked. Theirs had a clay cup for tobacco and a brass water compartment at the bottom to hold the water. I couldn’t find a pic of the ones that were in Punjab at the time.

 

From then on, it became a common sight to see her puffing away at her hubble-bubble, not only in the night but in broad daylight too. She and Grandpa always had their lighted hookah between them and would take puffs alternately while they chit-chatted or shared their silences. I had the privilege to see them like this when we moved from the city and returned to our town. I was just a girl, but it impacted me.

It was such a wonderful sight to see. So much of togetherness oozed out of these moments. That grandma never felt the need to smoke the hookah in hiding and indulged in her newly formed habit with undisguised enjoyment, speaks volumes about her zest for life.

In pre-independence, rural India, Miriam was a rare gem in her class.

“To all those who care, You can’t forever. 
Time steals the years, And your reflection in the mirror.
But I can still see the story in your eyes, And your timeless passion that’s never died.
While your skin became tired, Your heart became strong,
The present became the past, And your memories like a song.
And though the moment at hand is all that we have, 
You’ve taught me to live it like it is our last.
Since two words don’t say ‘thank you’ the way they are meant to,
I’ll try all my life to be something like you.” -Crystal Woods

 

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Grandma’s Tales – Piggly

PIGGLY SMELLS THE ROSES

By Joy Clarkson

Acknowledgment – Thank you, Mia, for planting the seed of an idea for this story.

“Dada, Dada,” Mia called out as she scurried into the dining room and made for the corner, at which end of the dining table Dada had set up not only her permanent seat for meals but also a workstation where she’d sit and write.

Mia came and stood beside Dada who looked up from whatever she was doing into Mia’s serious and troubled eyes.

“What’s the matter, Mia? You don’t look too happy.” Mia nodded her head up and down. Dada waited.

“Dada, my lil Piggly has lost his snout!”

“Lost his snout?” Lil Piggly?” This was the first time Dada had heard about a lil pig called Piggly.

“Yes, Dada. Lil Piggly has lost his long snout,” she repeated gesturing with her hands in case Dada didn’t know what a snout was.

“What can I do Mia? Do you want me to help you find the snout?”

“Yes, let’s find Piggly’s snout,” she said, happy and relieved, as she took Dada’s hand in hers.

“Where’s Piggly? I need to ask him some questions,” Dada asked seriously. This was a serious case. Who ever heard of a pig losing its snout!

She pulled Dada out of the dining room and into the corridor that led to the bedrooms.

“There he is,” she said pointing a finger.

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“There he is.”

“Ah! I see him and he’s not looking very happy. Piggly, can you tell me where you lost your snout?” asked Dada

“Oik, oik,” said Piggly sadly, “I don’t know.”

“See,” piped Mia, “he can’t even speak properly without his snout. He’s saying ‘oik’ instead of ‘oink’!” And she looked so sad Dada thought she’d cry any minute.

Now Piggly, that doesn’t help much, does it? Let’s see, can you tell me all that you did this morning?”

“Well, I played in a muddy puddle. It was so much fun! I rolled around in the muddy puddle and splashed and jumped…” Dada interrupted him.

“And what did you do next?”

“Oik, farmer Longbottom took me to find truffles. I did a good job of it. I’m sure he’s pleased with me, oik, oik!”

“And what else did you do? Where did you go?” asked Dada.

“Oik, oik, I was tired and took a nap. I didn’t go anywhere and I didn’t do anything else.”

“Can you take us to the muddy puddle and the place where you found the truffles?” asked Mia.

“Oik, I can,” said Piggly eagerly. He did want to find his snout.

So off they went to look for Piggly’s snout in the muddy puddle. Dada used a pitchfork to dredge the squelchy, muddy pool for the missing snout but found nothing but slimy leaves and a few pebbles.

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Dada used a pitchfork to dredge the squelchy, muddy pool for the missing snout but found nothing but slimy leaves and a few pebbles.

Then they trudged to where Piggly had searched for truffles. It was a lot of searching as they had to go over a large area. They were quite exhausted by the time they had finished their search but had still found nothing. No snout!

Mia, Piggly, and Dada, who was not so young anymore, sat under a shady tree to catch their breath and rest their aching legs. No one spoke for a while. They were all lost in their own thoughts. And then the silence was broken by a big…Achoo! Achoo! Achoo!

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Then they trudged to where Piggly had searched for truffles. They were quite exhausted by the time they had finished their search but had still found nothing. No snout!

Piggly had a sneezing fit.

“Do you have a cold Piggly? Said Mia, as she patted Piggly gently.

“No, I don’t,” he replied. “It’s an allergy. It happened earlier today when I was sniffing the roses. I think I’m allergic to roses or flowers or pollen or…dear me! I’m so miserable, I could cry! Oik, Oik, Oik.”

“You smelled the roses?” said Dada sitting up straight.

“When did you smell the roses, Piggly?” asked Mia.

“You never mentioned it earlier,” mumbled Dada annoyed.

“I forgot,” wailed Piggly, “I just remembered when I sneezed. While farmer Longbottom rested under this tree I strolled that way…there. There’s a patch of wild roses down there. I sniffed them and …Achoo! Achoo!” Piggly had another sneezing fit.

Dada took Mia’s hand and both of them hurried in the direction Piggly had pointed out. A short run and they came upon a beautiful sight. The patch of roses!

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A short run and they came upon a beautiful sight. The patch of roses!

“Be careful Mia, these roses have nasty thorns. You stay here and I’ll look around for Piggly’s snout.”

Though Dada was very careful, but still, she let out a yelp now and then when a thorn pricked her. And then, Mia heard Dada shouting…she had found the missing snout and was shouting for joy.

“How are we going to put back Piggly’s snout?” Mia wondered aloud.

“We won’t,” replied Dada, “Dr. Horsense will do that. Come on, let’s hurry.”

Later that day, after Dr. Horsense had fixed Piggly’s snout right where it belonged, Dada and Mia went to see how lil Piggly was doing.

“Oink, Oink,” said Piggly happily, when he saw them. “I’m so glad I’ve got back my snout. I’m never going to sniff around roses again. Thank you, Dada. Thank you, Mia,” said lil Piggly as he trotted home.

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“Oink, Oink, I’m so glad I’ve got back my snout. I’m never going to smell the roses again.”

The story of the story:

Three-year-old Mia, one of the twins, came running to me at my ‘workstation’ and said, “Dada, Piggly has lost his snout.”

I said, “And who is Piggly?”

“My lil pig,” she replied.

From then on the story unfolded as we went around the house…to the places mentioned in the story above.

‘Oink, Oink, it was fun finding Piggly’s snout!