Tiny Conversations… “Come here. I’m going to Touch you!”

This happened some 6-7 years ago. I lived in Chile then. I had to consult a physician about a mole that was growing on my leg, and it was also indicating inward growth – a kind of plantlike feeling where I felt it had a root.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

At the clinic:

Doc– Buenos Dias, señora!

“Buenos Dias, señor!”

Doc– Cual es el problema? (what is the problem?)

“No sé mucho español. ¿Puedo hablar en inglés? (I don’t know much Spanish. Can I speak in English?)

Doc– Si, Si. No problema. I know leetle, leetle Englich.

“That’s a relief. Thank you so much!”

So, I tell him what my concerns are about the mole on my thigh. He asks me some pertinent questions. Nods his head thoughtfully.

Doc– Ok, I will see it first.

Then he gets up and walks away from the his desk towards a curtained area in one corner of the room.

Doc– Come with me here, señora. You will remove your trouser and I am going to touch you here, in this place.

I almost burst out laughing. The immediate thought that ran through my head was…‘what if I were silly enough not to understand what he meant!’ I’d have gathered my handbag and vamoosed out of the room!

“Ok, señor,” I said instead and followed him into the curtained area.

Examination done. He agreed that there was a downward, rootlike growth. Diagnosis would depend on removing the mole surgically and sending it for biopsy. We walked out and sat at his desk. He had to decide on a date for the surgery. That done, I stood up and thanked him from the depths of my heart.

Doc– So señora, how you like my Englich?

“Awesome, señor doctor!” I said genuinely appreciative. “I am so happy to have found a doctor with whom I could communicate in English.”

Tiny Conversations – Imagine Wine, Jacuzzi, and…

A few months back, my son and DIL bought a house. The day they moved in, the twins were extremely excited. They called me and announced that they had “finally” moved lock, stock, and barrel, into their “new house.” Thereafter they promptly took me on a tour of the place with running commentary and expert comments. They did a great job I must say. Soon, the tour was done inside and outside the house too.

It was time to settle down and chat.

Amu: You know what, Dada, there’s a room just for you when you come here.

“Now, isn’t that simply fantastic! I will have to think about how to do it up.”

Mia: Mama’s already thought about that. She’s put up new curtains too.

“Well, then I’ll think about what should go on the walls and some other itty-bitty things.”

Amu: It’s going to be fun Dada. Aren’t you excited?

“Yes, I am. Super excited.”

Mia: But you know what Dada, just in case you’re wondering which of the two bedrooms we showed you was yours, the smaller room is yours. The bigger one is ours. You do know yours is the smaller one, right?

Two worried faces looked at me intently. They expected me to be disappointed. I decided to play along.

“Oh!” I said and pulled a long face.

Amu: (clearly moved) Dada, Dada, it’s just a wee bit smaller than ours, she said placatingly.

“Then it’s alright!” I laughed. “Anyway, it makes sense, you know. There are two of you and just one ME. You definitely have more stuff to put in. I was just teasing you. I’d be surprised if I had the bigger room”

They relaxed. And looked at each other in silent communication.

“We’re going to share the bathroom too!” they exclaimed, taking advantage of this moment. And giggles followed that revelation.

“I hope it’s big enough,” I said laughing.

Mia: Oh, Yes, Dada, the bathroom is big enough, but (she pauses) the WC is a bit low! How will you manage? Your back will hurt.

Amu: Maybe she can use mama-papa’s one.

Mia: Or the powder room… the WC there isn’t low!

As I listened and watched their expressions changing with each thought and possible solution, I realized how genuinely concerned they were about their Dada and her physical limitations in some areas.

“What would I do without you two ladoos to care for me! (Literally, ladoo is a sweetmeat). You think about everything to make me comfortable.”

Both: We love you Dada!

“Love you to smithereens too, my dolls.”

Amu: Do you know the master bedroom’s bathroom is BIG and has a jacuzzi too?

“Yes, I heard about that and saw it too on the tour you took me on around the house.”

Amu: Yes, but you don’t know something. (both the girls giggle).

“Now don’t laugh alone. Come on, tickle my funny bone too. I like a good laugh.”

Amu: Mama said she’d like to relax in the jacuzzi with a glass of wine.

“Oh boy! Now that’s a thought. I wouldn’t mind doing that myself!”

Both: But you can’t! Mama said only she and papa would be using that bathroom.

“Oh shoot! (sad face) and here I was dreaming about luxuriating in there with a glass of wine!”

Amu: Really?! But can’t you imagine it?

“Well, I already did and that’s why I thought it would be awesome.”

Amu: (thoughtfully) No Dada, just imagine a naked woman with a glass of wine in the jacuzzi! Ewww!!

Mia: It’s so silly, Dada, (she says between bouts of laughter.)

Amu: And so funny. Just imagine that Dada!

“Well, I could imagine that but I’d rather not, you know,” I manage to say as I laugh out loud. “Come on girls, ever heard of bathing suits aka swimsuits, bikinis. Imagine that kind of a woman.

Amu: But that is not so funny, Dada. Another burst of laughter.

Their laughter and mine punctuated and truncated our conversation about nude women, wine glasses, and jacuzzis.

Tiny Conversations – A Bad Choice

One evening, the twins, their mum and I were sitting out in the little park behind the house. The girls decided the bench we were on would be the school bus.

Amu: This is our school bus, and you are the bus driver, Dada! (they call me Dada)

“Oh no! I can’t drive your bus. The driver’s seat is uncomfortable and you know I have a bad back.”

Mia: You just have to sit. No walking. No standing.

“No. I don’t want to be the driver.”

Both: (Disappointed) OK! (They turn to their mother) Mama, you are the driver. (She accepts).

“Thank you,” I said, relieved. I walked across to the opposite side to a comfortable chair and lowered myself, leaned back and relaxed. I closed my eyes and breathed deep. I could doze off, I thought. It was so peaceful and relaxing. But, enroute to the school, the bus broke down.

Amu: Let’s get the mechanic!

She makes a dash…

… and stands in front of me. I keep my eyes shut.

Amu: Dada, come quick. The bus broke down.

“Why do you need me?”

Amu: You are the mechanic!

“What?!”

Amu: You didn’t want to be the driver so you are the mechanic.

“You never asked me if I wanted to be the mechanic,” I said haughtily.

Amu: But we did ask you to be the driver. You didn’t want to. So now, you are the mechanic.

“(Groan!) I didn’t know it was a choice between two jobs.”

Amu: But it was. We gave you the first choice! Now quick Dada. We’ll be late for school.

I haul myself off the chair. Walk reluctantly to the bus, dragging my feet as she goads me to move faster. I repair the bus, bending awkwardly, by changing an invisible punctured tire. I overdo the grumbling and groaning!

Mia: See, if you had chosen to become the bus driver you wouldn’t have to bend and push and pull. You would just have to sit. in. your. seat. We told you.

“Ok, Ok! Don’t rub it in. There, it’s all done. Now off you go.”

Amu checks to see if everything is alright. They get on the bus. I heave a sigh of relief. As they roll away, Mia shouts:

Dada, what does ‘rub it in’ mean? And she laughs heartily as their driver picks up speed and zooms off to school.

Tiny Conversations – Whodunnit?

Photo by Laura Garcia from Pexels

My twin granddaughters joined playschool when they moved to Canada, and their teacher was expecting. For a couple of months, they were unaware about this. But then, a few more enlightened girls were discussing their teacher’s “big tummy”. Our little ones soon learned that she was going to have a baby.

They were super excited! At that young age of innocence they were uninhibited and wanted to confirm the news… hear it from the horse’s mouth and they also had some other questions to ask. They didn’t only want to confirm what they had heard, they wanted to know who put the baby in and how it would come out of her tummy. Yes! I bet you are laughing now imagining how the conversation went.

Amu – Is there a baby inside there? (she points to the tummy).

Teacher – Yes, there is. (highly amused by their frank curiosity)

Mia – When will the baby come out?

Teacher – There are a couple of months more.

Twins together – OHHH! (Their brows were furrowed. There was a HOW knocking around).

Mia – How does it come out?

Stumped on how to answer this without going into unnecessary details, which they wouldn’t know nor understand, she said:

“Oh, you know, I’ll go to the hospital and the doctor will help the baby out.”

Amu – Will the doctor cut your tummy?

Teacher – (In order to avoid another “how” question if she replied in the negative, she opted to go with…) I don’t know. He might have to cut it.

Both – But that is horrible!

Amu – It’s going to hurt a lot and there will be a lot of blood!

Both the little girls seemed quite disturbed by this.

Teacher – Oh no! You need not worry about that. They will give me a medicine and I won’t feel a thing. No pain.

Both were relieved by this information and turned to leave. Just when the teacher thought the conversation was over, one of the twins had another question.

“Who put the baby in your tummy?

Should she answer that with, “the stork”? Indians didn’t use the stork story because it isn’t a bird everyone knew about. What everyone knew was GOD! And being who he was, he was bigger and stronger and more powerful than superman, especially in a kid’s mind. He could do anything, even the impossible. Scripture stories, in any religion, speak of these amazing feats. So it was the easiest way to explain it to very young kids.

Now the teacher was an Indo-Canadian and like all, or almost all, Indians answer this question she said:

God put it there!”

“Oh!” they said and off they ran to play with the other girls. I’m sure she was glad they didn’t think of another HOW question! How did God put it there?! That would need a lot more imagination to explain in a satisfactory way!!

I remember being told that God had dropped off my younger brother at the Army Hospital and my mother was there to pick him up! I swallowed that story hook, line, and sinker! Just in case you are wondering — even at the age of ten, I hadn’t noticed that my mom’s tummy had grown enormously! I was pretty naive or too tomboyish to have noticed such things. Besides, that was 1965 India. And that was the story all kids were told until they learned the truth… mostly from their friends, older kids, or when they were old enough to study it in their Science class.

I Got Mail – Jacqueline Kennedy Replies

During my big moves from one country to another, thrice, I gave away, sold quite a lot of my personal belongings, and also lost quite a bit. No, not because of lost baggage, that’s not happened yet, thankfully. It was through leaving behind, in safekeeping, some of the stuff that I cherished and valued. All that just disappeared. When I asked for it, they said they didn’t know where it was! Without going into too many details, let’s just say I resigned myself to the loss, and after a few more queries off and on, I accepted the fact that I had lost my precious things. The most precious among those were all my photographs! Heaps of loose ones and many in the albums. 

Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s not a pity party, I just wanted to show how thrilled I was to discover two very old envelops among some of my original documents. They happened to be two replies from Jacqueline Kennedy (on behalf of Mrs. Kennedy!) to two of my letters sent to her. Why did I write to her?

Honestly, it was only because I was moved by the assassination of JFK and the pictures I saw of a bereaved Jackie and the two little children. I couldn’t care less that he was the President or what the implication and situation of this unforeseen incident would be. I was just 8 years old when I wrote that first letter of condolence!

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This was the first reply that arrived almost 4 months later. 

The memory of that morning, when the news flashed across the world, is tinged with humor because of my reaction. I can clearly recall how Daddy read the headlines and exclaimed, “Oh no! They shot him!”

I dashed to the room in consternation and dread not knowing who had been shot. The memory of my uncle getting shot in a hunting accident popped into my mind.

“Who? Who Daddy? Who got shot?” 

“Kennedy. John Kennedy. They assassinated him,” he said crestfallen and obviously emotional. That was something we never saw. He wasn’t a man who showed his softer emotions. 

I thought John Kennedy was a fellow officer in the Navy, or then one of our neighbors in the Defence Officers residences.

“How do you know? Did you see it?”

“Everyone’s shocked,” said Mummy, “you can see people outside talking about it.”

“Did you see him, Mummy?”

“Yes,” she said and went off to see to whatever it was she was doing. 

I dashed to the balcony behind and leaned over to see… but I saw nothing that I thought I would see. I had expected to see a body and… well, you see, I was an over-imaginative little girl, all excited about a shooting, and I had these pictures in my mind of one of those cowboy movie scenes. I guess I expected to see Kennedy sprawled on the street with a bullet hole in his head, dead center!

“Where’s Kennedy? There’s no one outside except Major K and Squadron Leader G and some others I don’t know,” I was disappointed. “You said you saw Kennedy, Mummy, you said you did.”

She burst out laughing. “I was talking about the pictures in the newspaper. Kennedy is the president of America.”

“I want to see them too.”

I walked away and saw the newspaper photos. I was disappointed! Nothing as dramatic to see as I had imagined.

Later, Daddy called me and sat me down. I heard how he was shot and that his wife was sitting beside him when it happened. He explained who a President of a country is; and how important the President of America is, and he showed me the pics of the children and spoke about how small they were and how sad it was that they should lose their Daddy so early. Then he showed me Jacqueline’s photograph. JFK’s pics. I fell in love with both of them.

“She’s so pretty. And he’s so handsome.”

And automatically, the drama was created. From cowboys to fairy tales my mind conjured up a tragedy… I felt really sad. I was heartbroken for her and her lovely kids.

I opened my heart and spoke about my feelings and Daddy listened quietly. I have no recollection of what my 8-year-old mind was thinking and expressing, but I do still recall how my heart was aching for them.

Finally, when I was spent, it took a day or two, Daddy asked me if I would like to write Mrs. Kennedy a letter, “Let her know how sorry you are for her and her children’s loss,” he said.

And that’s how I wrote a two-page (notebook pages) letter to her. I introduced myself first and then went on to say how sorry I was to hear about her loss. I showed it to my father, who read it, said it was very nicely written and then, without any editing or corrections, he sent it off. The letter had a long way to travel and in those days, it took anything between 3-4 months to reach an overseas destination.

Expressing my grief in writing was cathartic. I guess that is why my father had suggested I do it. I soon forgot about the letter until one day, they handed me an envelope with Mrs. Kennedy’s name on it. I was ecstatic. Not even in my wildest dreams did I expect anyone from there to respond to an 8-year-old’s scribbled condolences. But, they did. I held the black-rimmed card in my hand unbelieving that it was actually a letter addressed to me on her behalf.

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It didn’t matter to me that it was one of the hundreds that must have been sent out all over the world. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t written it or that she wouldn’t have even read my letter. Yes, Daddy explained that to me. I understood that she couldn’t have done it herself. Besides, “she must be so sad,” I thought.

That letter addressed to ME was satisfying. And that it came in response to mine, was even more gratifying. After all, I was just a little girl who didn’t even know what the president of a country meant. It was just the horror of the assassination and the genuine sadness that I felt and in some way understood. I felt a deep sympathy for them.

The incident was soon forgotten as many other things occupied and hogged the attention of this 8-year-old. We changed residence and I had to make new friends, get used to using the school bus, and also the new class in the new session. Time went by and soon it was nearing Christmas. As I made a list for Santa Claus, I thought about the Kennedy kids. Would they be making lists for Santa? Would they be celebrating Christmas?

In our society, usually, festivals aren’t celebrated if a death occurs in the family during that year. I was sad once again for the Kennedy family! So, I wrote another letter and handed it to Daddy. He read it and nodded his head in approval. “Is it ok to write a letter now? Will they read it?” I wasn’t sure if it was the thing to do. I just wanted to share their sorrow. Anyway, my father thought it was the right thing to do and sent this one too on its way.

I forgot about it. The months passed. And once again, I was surprised by a familiar envelope. This time around, I didn’t even harbor a sliver of hope for a response. My letter had been just a letter of love, hope, and caring. Something one would write to a friend or family. Who was I? Just a 9-yr-old girl from faraway India. But, they did reply on behalf of Mrs. Kennedy.

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This time receiving a reply taught me something. Courtesy, formal etiquette, and consideration. My letter could have been ignored or worse not considered worthy of a reply. Another thing I noticed was that each envelope was addressed by hand and the thought of the sheer numbers of envelopes that had to have addresses written on them zapped me. Some effort! This time around, it wasn’t a black-rimmed (mourning) letter paper.  

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I’ve carried these around with me for 55+ years! Every time I look at them, I wonder at the little girl who felt so deeply for the tragic loss of this family and expressed it of her own accord. It surprises me more because I was a shy girl. I wasn’t outgoing nor so open with my emotions with strangers or extended family. I could be open and free only with my immediate family. So, yes, it was a hidden part of me that released itself much, much later in life… some decades later! #oldletters #memorabilia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lockdown Home Schooling

It’s been some time since the lockdown, and homeschooling is on in our home as it is in homes across the globe. With a WFH schedule for the adults, schooling three kids with ages ranging from 10+ to 3+, it’s quite a challenge. Add to that some activities to keep them engaged, entertained, engrossed, and not 24×7 on the iPad or iPhone (10+ girl), or watching TV!

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5-yr-old M did a great job in this fill-in-the-blanks test! She did it in a jiffy too! Now, she’s keen to move on to the table of 3.

Then, of course, there’s the looming threat of a hangry’ outburst. They need food to chew on (perpetually) before they bite off each other’s heads! So I dash to the kitchen, my head in a swirl. Peanut butter sandwich…as I spread the butter I re-run a passage I was working on…editing… “that part needs a rewrite”… “What could be a better word for…” I switch channels and get back to the food one… ok, a ham and marmalade one too…and what did Z want? And these are only the in-betweens, there’s lunch beeping, “what’s for lunch?” in another corner of my head!

Keeping their hunger pangs down with this, that, or the other something light they can snack on between meals, without losing their appetite for a proper meal is a daily challenge. There are days when I’m just a breath away from climbing the walls. I let off steam by deep breathing and muttering mantras (I’m doing good. I’ve got it under control. I can do it. I’m patient…) under my breath so they can’t hear, and I do the best I can. 

We’re all trying to do the best we can! These little ones must find it even harder to adjust to being locked in, away from friends, and school with its activities and community. This thought helps me to rein in the frustration and sail on even keel even in choppy waters. But I have my human frailties and limitations too. So I need to accept and acknowledge my feelings of inadequacy that overcome me, at times, and the fatigue, both mental and physical.

I love having the kids around. I am closer to them and am a part of their life more than ever now. We share so much more… conversations, jokes, games, and camaraderie! And I do love doing their lessons with them and teaching them some new things too.

This brings me to the subject of this post… Math… the bane of my life 🙂

I’ve been getting 5 yr-old M to do single-digit addition sums and made a small step into single-digit subtraction. She’s learned her two tables and can max her revision tests: oral and written. Just the other day, I gave her a written test with blanks and she did very well: All correct answers!

As I watched her excited and loving her numbers; sums, tables, and tests, I thought of a 6-7-yr-old me and how I disliked arithmetic. And how tables tripped me up when I was quizzed in an oral test! As she rattled out her answers in her oral test, I compared it to the picture of me and my orals in the same two-three tables. It was funny and I found myself laughing. It was such a contrast in every way – the teachers (me Vs my mum), the students (me Vs M), and the love of the subject (me Vs M).

A foray into my journals threw up this short entry:

Two times Nine is…..umm…is…er…

I think I should add a few incidents with Mummy. Daddy’s been hogging all the space till now. Not that there’s much that transpired with her and me together…..I was always a Daddy’s girl…a tomboy. Anyway, Mummy was (as all mummies were in their homes) my teacher at home. Very bad really, for me, when it came to Arithmetic because she was short on patience and I was short on memory, especially when it came to multiplication Tables. By the end of an interminably long study hour, I’d manage to finally get through one Table and escape.

Oh yes! Escape it was. For my face, which would be burning with the tight slaps she’d land so precisely on my small cheeks, and the small palms that got whacked with a ruler, or my legs that got thwacked with a ladle or whatever was in her hands. Getting away was the greatest relief of the day.

Poor thing, she must have been relieved too! When I think back to the almost stupid way I’d stare at her, while I stumbled and hemmed and hawed my way through the same old Table day after day, my heart goes out to her…..any one would go crazy. So I had to find a method to remember my Multiplication Tables and avoid being slapped. And what a way I devised!!

I’d generally wait till she was in the kitchen instructing the cook and doing odds and ends. I would stand against the door jamb, in the pantry, and my elder brother would stand behind me hidden from her view. Then I’d very quickly and very loudly say the whole Table and hey, without a mistake! Jasper’s prompting got me a lot of praise and shorter study hours, till the day she decided to quiz me. My prompter failed me. Ah! It was back to the grind and a good slapathon and copious tears.

I couldn’t get why she got so impatient and exasperated. She, I guess, couldn’t understand why her bright daughter, good in all other subjects, cultural activities, sports, and discipline was so daft with numbers.

The slapping didn’t last long, though. I sobbed my heart out sitting on Daddy’s lap and convinced him that I was scared of her punishments and so I couldn’t remember anything. He must have spoken to her. She must have understood or found it a huge relief that she was off the hook if I didn’t fare well in the exam 🙂 Whatever, the punishment went back to a longer study hour or Time Out. Grounded. No playing outside with my friends or even my brother. I didn’t mind that because my brother and I found enough of recreation and fun things to do inside the house too.

My grandkids, four of them from 5-10-year-old, are good with numbers… brilliant, in fact! For some reason, that makes me happy!

PS: I still dislike Math! And I’m totally against slapping!

PPS: Just for the record:

1. Mummy was an awesome teacher in everything else. I’ve learned a lot from her. Her love of writing poems, rhymes instilled a love for words and writing. Her expertise in cooking. Her energy and spirit in tough times. Her resourcefulness. Her talent in singing (she sang alto), sewing, and embroidery. Her jovial nature and the laughter that always hovered behind her lips. Her helpful nature. There was so much I had to take away from her to build up my strengths. Her presence, in the house, meant a lot to me.

2. It was not considered as abuse, in India, in those days, to slap a kid and corporal punishment was allowed in schools too. And many kids, even girls, must have got a slap or two or three or more from their moms. Luckily, things have changed since our days.

 

Nanaji and the Dirty Fellas

A baby has a way of making a man out of his father and a boy out of his grandfather. ~Angie Papadakis

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We have specific names for our relatives, to make it clear how they’re related to each other and from which side of the family they belong. For instance, paternal grandparents are Dada (grandfather) and Dadi (grandmother). So the moment a child refers to someone as Dada or Dadi, everyone knows it’s the son’s child. And if Nana (grandpa) or Nani (grandma) are used, everyone knows it is the daughter’s child.

The same goes for other relations. They are easily recognized as paternal or maternal relatives by the terms used to address them. There is no confusion about any relationship, unlike the common terms uncle and aunt or grandma, grandpa, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, etc. Each of these relatives is referred to by different names that make it clear how they are related to you.

To come back to my father and a few memories of our kids’ interactions with him. When he became a Nana, my kids and my sister’s kids called him Nanaji. The ‘ji’ is suffixed as a sign of respect for elders. As a father, he was a strict disciplinarian and had grown more reserved with the passing years. Everyone was still in awe of this man, who though mellowed with age, yet held a commanding demeanor, and a sarcastic sense of humor. 

My two boys learned to talk rather early, so their interaction with Nanaji began early too. By this time, Daddy had already transitioned to the grandparent level courtesy my elder sister’s son.

Daddy would use all his sarcastic humor on the kids, who just loved it! They were quick to retort and he would have his laugh. They often got into little ‘kiddie’ fights with him, and when we’d hear, “Dirty fella, I’m not talking to you,” we knew we would witness a wonderful, funny incident soon.

The First Grandson: Forgive and forget

One day, Daddy had a falling out with my elder sister’s son Hemant (pet name – Chiku). Chiku was three and a half then.

“Go away, I’m not talking to you, dirty fella!” says Nanaji to the scowling boy. 

Both walk off in a huff to their rooms; the grey-haired one hiding a broad grin and the younger one certainly miffed.

A few minutes later, a chubby face peeked into Nanaji’s room. He was ignored. The second and third attempts to reconcile were also met with a royal ignore! The fourth time, he came with a bunch of grapes as a peace offering. Nanaji refused to accept it, closed his eyes, and appeared to have fallen asleep.

Chiku stood and stared at him for a while. Then he decided it was too much. Enough is enough! He plucked two grapes off the bunch. Kept the bowl on the bedside table. Daddy was observing all this through his eyes that were closed to slits. He did not expect Chiku’s next move and thought the little guy had decided to eat the grapes himself. But his grandson had other plans. Before Nanaji could say, “dirty fella,” he deftly stuffed them into Nanaji’s nostrils and scampered out like a grinning monkey!

Thankfully, the grapes weren’t far in and he could snort them out easily! Then, he was in splits. He laughed so much. I can’t say what the dirty fella had expected, but I’m sure he hadn’t seen this coming. He crept back, confirmed it was a truce, and stepped into the room.

A while later, we saw them sitting together and eating the rest of the grapes.

The Second Grandson: Dirty is not good

Daddy would sit in the back verandah or in the back lawn and write when the weather was cooler in summer or warmer and sunny in winter. On one such day, Nanaji had an encounter with another three-and-a-half-year-old Ranjit (pet name Tintin), the elder son of yours truly.

Nanaji was immersed in his study and writing while Tintin played with his toys. Nanaji had an old, in fact very old, Bible which he loved, and in which he had written many notes on pages specially inserted into the binding. It had a thick, hard leather cover that was faded, well-worn for use, and cracked in places. It was open and lying face down on a table beside him.

Tintin sauntered over and looked at it. Apparently, he didn’t like the look of it. He screwed up his face and asked what book it was. Nanaji answered him without interrupting his work or looking up. A few moments later, he needed to refer to something in the Book, and well, it wasn’t on the table! he looked around and what do you think he saw?

“You dirty fella, what are you doing?” he exclaimed and jumped out of his chair to rescue his precious Bible from a washing.

Tintin had carried off the heavy, thick Bible and dunked it into a tub full of water, that was kept for two small tortoises Nanaji had bought for him. He was just getting into the washing part when it was retrieved.

“What are you doing, you dirty fella? Why did you put it in the water?”

“It was dirty so I was washing it,” replied the “dirty fella” blissfully unaware of the damage he could have caused.

Nanaji found the explanation quite plausible, and though he was worried about the Bible, he couldn’t stop laughing.

Once again, this little escapade didn’t cause major damage. Except for some notes pages getting smudged with ink (he used fountain pens which had to be refilled with ink poured out from a bottle!), so a wet page meant the ink would smudge. And, of course, a loss of Daddy’s personal notes. Apart from this, the Bible was not irretrievably damaged. We just needed to dry it out. This took a long time given the volume of pages! Thankfully, we had a few sunny days!

This was one time when the grandson antics got me a bit worried. I knew how much that antique Bible meant to Daddy. Besides its worthiness in its antiquity, it had been his companion and guide for many years. I thought that this time, the ‘dirty fella’ and his mom would have to bear the brunt of some annoyance if not anger!

I shouldn’t have worried and trusted the Daddy I’ve known since I was a girl. 

Though some note pages and notes had gone, Daddy didn’t worry much about that. He could rewrite them. But after drying out, a few of the pages were a bit crinkled like an unironed shirt and the cover looked more thumped and weary than it did before!

The third Grandson: A Lesson in Etiquette

Nanaji got a lesson in etiquette and right practice from yet another of his dirty fellas when he came on a holiday to Rajasthan. This time, it was Vineet (pet name Viny), not quite three yet. He is my younger son.

The days passed off fast, and Nanaji and the boys had a rollicking time. Then, it was time to leave. Our little one was over-eager to help. He tried to push and tug bags to a waiting taxi. Everyone was mightily impressed by the offer of help, as all the bags were too big and too heavy for him to even budge a centimeter.

Yet, he was lending the proverbial helping hand. He’d place his little hand on a bag being carried or rolled out! He hung around Nanaji, who once again saw through all the show, and was waiting to get his last laugh before leaving.

All the bags were stowed in the trunk. Mum was in the taxi and it was time to say the G’byes. Nanaji got into the taxi, but he didn’t close the door. Instead, he kept making small talk with his “dirty fellas.” We tried to hurry him but he kept stalling. Finally, what he was waiting for happened. Afraid that it would be too late, Viny took the initiative to inform his Nanaji about Rajasthani customs.

“Nanaji,” he said seriously, “jab koi jaata hai na, woh kuch de kar jaata hai.” (Trans: Nanaji, when someone leaves, he gives something and goes.)

Nanaji was thrilled. He got his laughs. He dug into his pockets and handed both the boys some money. It was customary, in those days, for elderly relatives to give the kids some money before they left. Needless to describe the glee with which the cash was handed over to mother dear (me!) as Viny rattled off all that he would buy with it, including a car.

I didn’t spoil his joy by telling him that he would fall a bit short of cash for a car!

Just for the record, he was thinking of buying a real-life size car… LOL

So #grateful for the memories.

“Love is the greatest gift that one generation can leave another.”~Richard Garnett

 

 

 

Two Minutes -tiny conversations

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The Two-Minute Wait

The twins were over eighteen months, and one-word or two-word conversations jerked along in English, Spanish, and Hindi. One day, Miraaya, the younger of the twins, wanted something, and she wanted it right now. She was getting impatient and I saw a tantrum coming up.

In an effort to stall it, I lifted my hand and patted the air gently and said, “Wait, wait,” and then, holding up two fingers, I continued, “Two minutes.” And I repeated that to make sure she got it.

“Two minutes?” she asked holding up two fingers.

“Yes, baby, please wait for two minutes,” I said emphasizing ‘wait.’

“Wait,” she echoed, patting the air gently the same way she had seen me do. I smiled in answer.

Whatever it was that had to get done, I forget what now, took longer than two minutes, but it didn’t bother me because Mia certainly wouldn’t know how long two minutes was. Well, that’s what I assumed.

The next morning, she woke up early and I went to her cot to greet her. She looked like a sleepy, disheveled cherub.

“Good morning, my little birdie. Morning, morning!” I said cheerily. She didn’t give the usual response. So I bent to hug her. 

“Wait, wait,” she said patting the air with her little hand, “two minutes?”

“Ok.” What now, I wondered highly amused. 

Then, laboriously, she hauled herself up and lifting her arms high demanded, “Dodi.”

She wanted me to carry her and used the Hindi word ‘godi’, pronouncing it her way. I lifted her out of the cot and put her down.

She took a leisurely walk around the house and came and stood in front of me.

“Morning, morning!” she smiled.

I had waited for more than two minutes! Was she telling me something?!

 

THE TWO-MINUTE ARGUMENT

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Amaara, the older twin can be quite assertive, most times, especially when she thinks she is right. Not one to give up without an argument or demonstration of some kind when vocabulary fails, she engaged me in an argument one day.

They were watching one of their TV shows and “The wheels of the bus” rhyme came up. She looked at it and knit her brows. The nanny had put on a different channel and the presentation wasn’t the same. The bus looked more like a van.

“Car,” she announced, pointing to the TV.

“Oh no, that’s a bus,” I said, deliberately baiting her.

“Car,” she insisted.

“Bus,” I stressed keeping a straight face, which was hard as suppressed laughter threatened to break free. She had taken the bait.

We bandied our opinions for a while until she lost her cool.

She drew her chubby little face closer to mine and in a loud voice and no-nonsense tone declared with finality, “Car!”

Unflinchingly, I brought my face close to hers and said firmly, but in a lower tone, “Bus!”

A staring match ensued. She was the first to turn away. Her little face showed confusion. She didn’t know how to react. She opted for diversion.

“Papa?” she asked.

“Office,” came my quick response.

“Mama?”

“At office, too.”

She repeated these questions a couple of times more. Then paused for a second or two. She had come to some conclusion. She leaned towards me again.

“Bus,” she said and smiled. I was surprised at how she resolved the whole thing. Small as she was, she acted like an adult!

I laughed and cuddled my little teddy bear.

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SLIP OF THE TONGUE AND GENTLE CORRECTION

We, the twins and I, were watching Gazoon, a cartoon featuring animals. It doesn’t have any dialogues or songs, so I had to do a running commentary and add tones, inflections, and drama to the whole show verbally. 

One evening, while the girls were having their dinner, Gazoon was on and I was going full swing with my narrative.

Hisssss...there comes the snake… he’s scary…oooh oh!”

“Scary…oooh,” and Miraaya brought up her clenched fists under her chin and faked a shiver!”

“Stomp…stomp…stomp…here comes the Elephant and there’s Cock-a-doodle-doo sitting on his head! Hahaha! So funny.”

“Cockadoo…doo, so funny,” they chorused and laughed.

“And what’s this? Someone’s coloring the clouds! Look, it’s a zebra…he’s painting the clouds.”

“Sky,” Miraaya quietly corrected me. She didn’t know what clouds were, she only knew ‘sky.’ So in her mind, I had made a mistake. I thought I’d show her clouds later and continued.

“Okay, sky,” I picked up from where I’d left off.

I looked at Miraaya, she seemed quite chuffed. I continued…

“Yes, and the giraffe is coloring the sky…” I got no further.

“Zebra,” Amaara quipped confidently. She knew she was right and her expression said it all. No scope for argument here.

“What?” I ask distracted. “Oh, yes, it is a zebra!” I laughed and they joined me.

I knew why I was laughing, I suspect they knew too! They’d won a point without any counter-arguments.

 

 

A Modern Day Sir Raleigh

It was in Viña del Mar that my love for gazing out of the window; an entire wall of big windows became a regular routine. The windows faced a tree-lined street and situated at the corner of crossroads, on the second floor, provided a vantage point to look down on people and things happening on a street that was not a crowded one. My advantage – I watched unobserved. The heavily leafed trees screened me! 

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I watched people; how they walked; how they conversed as a couple or in a group. I noticed their expressions. And at times, I just gazed at a world moving on the sidewalks and on the road. Everyone was going somewhere while I sat and watched. Even the everyday, mundane activities of strangers interested me. And then, one day, I saw something that was sweet, heartwarming, and totally unexpected. This was as unexpected as the time I saw the woman on the street at night. You can read about it here: A Midnight Watch in Viña del Mar

Let me start at the very beginning. The much needed and awaited rain was welcome in all ways but one; it played villain to my daily walks. With water-logged streets even with a medium shower, it was not appealing to take a walk. So I’d spend some pleasant hours sitting by my bedroom window, intermittently burying my head in a book or gazing at the streets below.

There’s always something or the other that catches my attention and that day too, I witnessed, what to me was a combination of everything that spelled romantic. It was cute, sweet, chivalrous; unimaginable, sort of adventurous, and daring in a way…well, given the drizzle, cold winds, dark sky…all these combined to make for a great Bollywood song setting! There, I said it at the risk of sounding dotty!

Our apartment was at the corner. So where I stood at the window, I was above one of the zebra crossings. The corners, where the four roads joined, would get flooded during a heavy shower. As I sat gazing emptily into space, a movement in the periphery of my eye caught my attention.

A girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen, slender build, was contemplating crossing the ‘Red Sea’ in a rather comical manner. Clutching her open umbrella, she would stretch out her leg and attempt to leap across, except, she never made it because she never thrust herself forward. She kept hopping in place. Each time she made up her mind to jump, she’d lose confidence and abort, ending up doing a jig. Then I realized there was another spectator to this unintended pantomime.

A youth, possibly in his twenties, was across the street on the Norte side and was so amused by what was going on, he had forgotten to cross over, to the side the girl was on, which is where he was headed. I guess he was as intrigued as I was, and also keen to know how she would finally cross. Both of us watched her; I from my perch on the second level, and he right across from her. But she was oblivious to everything.

Finally, she decided that her open umbrella was hampering her long jump over the muddy water, and she closed it. If it meant getting wet, so be it, is what I presumed she thought. Contrary to her belief, however, it lowered her confidence even more. Now, she hesitated to even stretch out her leg and hop. That’s when I saw the young man make a snap decision. He splashed his way across the street and was by her side in the blink of an eye. She reared back surprised.

There was a brief conversation. She seemed not to like something and gave a negative nod. He was convincing apparently because a minute later, she took hold of her umbrella from the middle and the next thing I knew, she was riding piggyback with her arms wrapped around the youngster’s shoulders. He sploshed his way through the muddied water with his precious load and deposited her safely, relatively dry shoes and all, on the other side. Then, he happily made his way back to the corner where he’d picked her up and carried on, on his way. 

I saw a Bollywood in that. I saw a hero and a heroine… two strangers at a crossroad… will they meet again? If not would she relate this to her children and grandchildren? Would he? Obviously, this wasn’t something they had done or would do normally! Was fate at play here?

“Oh, it’s the rain,” I mumbled to myself. I find rain romantic and its pitter-patter calls out to me! So here I was drawing pictures and stories about two people who were blissfully unaware that they were being woven into a typical Bollywood film. Can you blame me for being silly?!

I belong to another generation, and century, and it was so cute and sweet, and romantic. It warmed the cockles of this woman’s heart as she sat in her seat by the window on a cold, rainy day.

 

 

 

A Brief Meeting – Harry & I

“Nothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between two people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily… and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim.”~Thomas Mann

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Harry…93 yrs old, is a long time retired lawyer. He walks with the help of a walking stick (no wheelchair or other assistance) doesn’t wear glasses (he can see quite well, short distances) and is as chatty as ever. According to his wife, “He loves to talk!”

I’d seen him many times before, but I met #Harry because he chose to meet me. I’d seen him and his wife with their regular group of friends sitting at the same coffee shop that is my haunt. It’s been over two years since I’ve been going there and that long since I’ve shared public space with them in a very congenial environment.

We’d never even exchanged the general acknowledgment smile one gives a #familiar face at the cafe. This day was different. Harry walked in alone; I didn’t see his wife following him. Nor was there anyone from their group seated at their usual place. I went back to reading my Jack Reacher novel on Kindle.

Instead of turning towards their usual space, he walked straight where I was seated and took the empty seat on the couch at the four-seater table in front of mine. I sensed rather than saw him looking at me over the back of his couch. I looked up and met the #friendliest #smile that beamed through his crinkled eyes too. I was surprised. I smiled back, both pleased and puzzled.

It became obvious that he had wanted to meet me; that he had noticed me here as I had noticed their group and was interested to know more about this non-local woman who, unlike others, comes here and sits reading or then writing and if not these, then she’s playing #tabletop #games with her granddaughter/s! And unlike others of her kind and race, sits here for hours and hours even when she’s alone. My #curiosity was piqued too. I wanted to know a bit more about this group of men and women. But I didn’t start a conversation beyond returning a warm smile.

A minute or so later, I heard a chuckle and a voice saying, “I’ve been abandoned!”

I looked up to see that he had turned sideways to be more comfortable. He had stretched out one leg on the couch and the other hung down giving him a more comfortable position to turn his head, look at me, and talk.

“You mean your group has #abandoned you?” I asked.

“No, they’re not here yet. We’re early. My wife’s left me.” He said laughing. Then he saw my face and raised eyebrows and added quickly… “She’s out there,” he pointed to their car that was parked outside our window.

I looked out and saw her sitting in the car. Her head was bowed.

“Squabble?”

“No, no,” he answered and his body shook with #laughter as his head moved from side to side emphasizing that a fight could not be the reason for abandonment.

“It’s the phone! She’s #addicted to it like everybody. She’s chatting with someone! I don’t count as much as that!” 

“Ah! No, you don’t,” and I laughed with him.

I went back to reading my book eager to know more about the situation Jack was in and what would happen next.

But Harry hadn’t come to sit within talking distance just like that. He had an agenda. He was curious and wanted to know who I was. So the conversation began with him telling me all about himself without me asking him anything. I guessed he thought that a woman who was apparently non-western would be reluctant to start divulging personal information to a total stranger. He wasn’t wrong in his surmise, generally speaking.

The account of his life, the stories of his youth; the shenanigans he and his friend, who was his partner in crime, had had were very amusing and interesting. I asked questions and got to know more about his family. Why he never left this city where he has lived since he was a boy. How others, even his best friend, moved out to bigger places or a different country. 

Seeing my interest, he felt he could ask me something about myself. After a brief lull in our conversation, he turned back to me and said, “What about you? Where are you from?”

“Where do you think I’m from?”

“China,” came his quick reply.

“Hmm…China?”

“I’d say Shanghai. Am I right?”

“Um, no. Try again,” I coaxed. 

“Oh, yes, I got it. Hong Kong!” He was as pleased as punch because he thought he was right this time.

I burst his balloon.

“Then, where are you from?”

“Well, you’ve got the continent right, just the wrong country. I’m from India.”

He looked surprised, “I should have guessed, but you are quite different from the Indians I’ve seen.”

“You haven’t seen all the Indians from every region. You’ll be surprised,” I said gently. “We come in all skin colors and tones, different color of eyes, hair, features, ” I added, “so you couldn’t have known.” He nodded his sage head.

“Do you know Bhopal?”

“Sorry, I didn’t get that.”

“Bhopal,” he repeated. I still couldn’t get the name. So I asked him what he was asking about… a person or place?

“It’s a place in India.”

Comprehension dawned!

“Oh, you mean Bhopal,” I said enunciating the word slowly and with the right phonetic sounds. “Yes, I do know of it though I’ve never been there. How do you know Bhopal?” 

He answered with another question.

“Is the name Warren Anderson familiar?”

“No. Can’t recollect any name like that. Why? What’s it got to do with Bhopal?”

“He was the Head of Union Carbide.”

It all came back. “You’re referring to the Gas tragedy in Bhopal!” 

“Yes,” he replied.

“He was the friend I was talking about. We’ve been friends for years…close friends. He was a Canadian before he moved to the States. He died five years back.” (this conversation took place in November 2019)

I didn’t know how to respond. The shocking news of the gas leak, the deaths, and the effects of that gas leak came to mind. It had caused children to be born with deformities and other abnormalities; it all came back. I kept quiet. He was quiet too.

I turned to my kindle and tried to catch up with the action, but my mind wasn’t in it any longer. 

He broke the silence.

“It was a terrible #tragedy.”

“Yes. Horrifying.

“It’s cold comfort, but I’d like you to know, he was burdened with the grief of this tragedy. He was genuinely grieved. He never forgot and it was a #heavy #burden on his heart.”

“Do you think he was at fault?” I asked.

“I can’t say. The Plant was being operated by the people there. He wasn’t directly responsible for any error in the functioning. He wasn’t at the plant nor supervising it. Those who were there are responsible. But he did take the responsibility to heart because he was the head of the company.”

“He was wanted in India,” I said.

“I know. Do you hold him responsible for the tragedy?”

“Not directly. No. It’s not like he was negligent or irresponsible in operating the plant. But as the head of the company, he should be concerned about what happened.”

“Trust me he was,” said Harry. “He was always carrying that burden with him. He suffered a great feeling of loss and helplessness. You know what he would say? He’d say that he’d have to struggle with this always. And he did go to Bhopal because he felt responsible.”

“I guess, it would be a very big burden to carry. A big punishment in its own way…” I was moved. To hear about something like this from a friend had a different impact than what one reads in the news.  “I can’t see why they wanted to arrest him? You know they wanted to arrest him?” I continued. “There are planes that go down due to malfunctioning, there are cars that burst into flames while one is driving… People die. It’s very sad…tragic. But the car company Head or the designers of these machines can’t be hauled into prison. He could be penalized in some way but not incarcerated unless he was directly responsible. He’s not responsible directly”

“That’s what we told him but it wouldn’t help,” he said.

“It’s a tragedy on both sides. Someone was responsible, directly, for some negligence that occurred… I forget what it was now. There was a sabotage theory going around too. Whatever it was, it was the fault of those who were right there, directly in charge of the operations. It’s a heart-rending accident.”

I didn’t want to discuss this any further.

I thought it was time to change the subject. It was getting heavy. So I veered it away to him. I asked him questions about how he managed to keep himself going even at the age of 93.

He beamed and gave all the credit to his wife who was a nurse. Her expert care and company! His group had long since come and settled in. They had even gestured to him to come over but he had refused. Said he liked it where he was.

I was eager to get back to my book. So I thought I should give a hint. Just as I was going to tell him it was nice talking to him, he turned and looked at me.

I zipped my lip and waited for him to speak.

“You know I’m glad I’ve lived so long, thanks to my wife, but it’s very sad for me sometimes.”

“How so?”

“I’ve outlived everyone. My friends and many family members younger than I. It’s not really nice when I see them go.”

He looked crestfallen and the glint in his eye had faded a bit, and his smile was sad on his lips. I waited a while and let him have a quiet moment.

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Then I said, “Your wife and your friend have been signaling you to join them. I think you should. It’s been very nice talking to you but I don’t want to steal all your attention and time. Save some for them too.” 

He gave a broad grin and said, “Yes, I think I better. I love to talk and can go on and on!”

With that, he moved to where his group was and I went back to Jack Reacher, a little wiser, and with a bit more knowledge. And I stress the “bit” part because only when I got home, I realized I hadn’t asked his name nor he mine. But, since then, when his wife sees me she waves a ‘Hi’. Harry does so only when he’s close enough to see me clearly 🙂

Later, much later, a month or more, my granddaughter who had heard me relating this meeting to my son, overheard his friends call him, “Harry.” Excitedly, she informed me that the “93-year-old” stranger’s name is Harry!

He’s now on my list of Tim Hortons’ friends. These are my ‘stranger’ friends. We smile at each other and maybe exchange a word or two about the weather or a titbit about their health or any such everyday occurrences. I don’t sit with them, we don’t go out together, nor do we know where the other lives. We don’t even know each other’s names. And, in a rare instance, if I get a name, it promptly goes out of my mind leaving just the face behind. So it’s their faces I remember more than their names.

“I am a free soul, singing my heart out by myself no matter where I go and I call strangers my friends because I learn things and find ways to fit them into my own world. I hear what people say, rearrange it, take away and tear apart until it finds value in my reality and there I make it work. I find spaces in between the cracks and cuts where it feels empty, and there I make it work.”~ Charlotte Eriksson