“Tell your children some good family stories, and you’ll be remembered for generations. Be the story, and you will live forever.”~Joy Clarkson
I trawled through my memories for stories, incidents, and anecdotes I could add to my collection of ‘paans’ and ‘giloris’ (tidbits) for my ‘#khaandaan ka paandaan, (the family cache of differently flavored ‘paans’), and as I did, I wondered about my need to recount little snippets and snapshots of our family life. I believe it is very important to know, if not all, then, most of the people (nuts too!) of one’s family tree.
But what’s more important to know is how they lived, and what ingredients were stirred into their lives that produced characters and lives so varied and diverse that one wouldn’t even know they were related if the family tree didn’t join them. It also helps to know which ancestor to blame for all the quirks you have!
I enjoyed listening to the yarns about my parents and older siblings. I also learned a few things; some ‘what to do’ things and some ‘what not to do’, and a bit of ‘left to do’ stuff. So was this the reason why I was going down the tunnel to the past? I mulled a while, and the outcome was the quote which opens this chapter!
Once again, I go back to where my story starts, with my mother and father.
The Royal Indian Navy and the WRINS
“A great #marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ come together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”~Dave Meurer
Daddy decided to join the Navy as a sailor to fight the war – WWII. He was only seventeen when he made this momentous decision, but more on that later. The British were ruling India so the Naval Force in India was called the Royal Indian Navy. The women’s division was known as the Women’s Royal Indian Navy Services, and the recruits to this wing were referred to as WRINS.
Having earned his commission in the UK, Daddy returned to India. He was in the signals division, posted at Bombay, now known as Mumbai. He bossed over some WRINS who were stenographers and made up his department. My story revolves around only this group in his office because it is important to the development of this narrative.
Daddy was a youth from rural Punjab, with an excellent physique and handsome face. Tall and dark, he fitted the bill to be a Barbara Cartland hero… “tall, dark, and handsome.” Needless to say, he was much sought after by women, including those in his office. He was quite aware of the effect he had on them and enjoyed the attention they lavished on him. The drawer of his table would be filled with chocolates; just one of the bribes to ensure they didn’t get a rough day at work! Daddy was a strict disciplinarian and low on patience if things didn’t go accordingly.
No matter how many times I heard this story, I never failed to marvel at the stupidity of these WRINS. Why on earth were they giving Daddy chocolates! They should have been receiving them from him!
“Ab woh laakar rakhte the meri drawer mein, toh main kha leta tha. Unko bola thodi na tha ki mujhe chocolate achchi lagti hai” (“They’d bring them and put them in my drawer, and I’d eat them. I never told them that I liked chocolates.), he would laugh off my childish contempt. I guess these WRINS knew the ‘mellowing’ quality of chocolate!
“Of course, you used to ask them to get you chocolates. And when they wouldn’t, you’d get angry.” Mummy was quick to correct him. The jealousy apparently still lurked within.
Daddy would refute that with a silent nod of his head.
This was the cue for someone to ask if everyone, without exception, gave in to this extortion. And I promptly did!
“Oh no, everyone wouldn’t. There was this small Burmese who refused to comply,” he’d say, his eyes twinkling.
We’d all turn to look at Mummy who’d be blushing and smiling shyly; another cue for more questions, and I’d shoot them.
“Why didn’t you bring chocolates?”
“Did you get a rough day at work”
“Didn’t you like Daddy?”
How many girlfriends did he have?
“Were you jealous?”
Whenever these #conversations took place, I sought the same information in different ways; but the answers were always the same as was the accompanying bashfulness. Despite the well-worn, oft-told anecdotes, the interest remained fresh on both sides of the table; just as Mum and Dad retained the #timeless #joy of their courtship even though they had been married for donkey’s years.
I listened and marveled, at the love that had bound these two very different people, with renewed interest. For every wrinkle, every gray hair that got added, with the passing of time, made it more amazing that the story could still evoke the same feelings which #youthful #romance had embedded in their hearts forever.
“Love me when I least deserve it because that’s when I really need it.” `Swedish Proverb
I’m not even remotely suggesting their life was Utopian bliss for them. They had their squabbles and bitter fights. As I mentioned earlier, they were poles apart in all things. And that’s what makes it unbelievable. Daddy doted on Mummy even though she drove him mad at times… most times. And she remained forever jealous and possessive of him till she died.
Theirs might not be an ideal love story as love stories go, but it had all the ingredients of which legendary romances are made. Boss and steno; rich-poor divide; North-South chasm; urban-rural culture chasm; language barriers (with in-laws), whirlwind courtship, parental objection, elopement, alienation; they went through it all and survived the tests! Taken in the time that they did all this, it is commendable. I’m talking about a long time back. They married in July 1947, in a small, conservative town in Punjab!
“Love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is the fruit of love the verb or our loving actions. So love her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her.”~Stephen R. Covey
I still smile when I picture Daddy teasing Mum, obviously savoring those long-gone moments. He’d look lovingly at Mummy who’d be as shy as a new bride as she smiled and glanced at him with apparent adulation. Yes, they sure had something special between them.
Paans and Giloris: Paan is betel leaf with supari (areca nut) and other things added to it. Chewing paan is an age-old practice deeply rooted in India. A Gilori is also a paan, but smaller in size.
Khaandan: Family. Earlier it meant the whole extended family… a joint family… grandparents, mom-dad, including boys of the family (brothers) and their families.
Paandaan: A container that had the betel leaves and all the other things that would go into a paan. These were usually ornate; they could even be in silver and decorated beautifully. Families that chewed paan (especially the women) habitually kept these paandaans. They were usually found in the homes of affluent families.
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