Friday, 28 February 2014

Wrinkled Skin, Toothless Grin

When I was a kid, whenever I returned home from a visit to the local market with my parents, there was one question that I could always count on my grandmother to ask.
'Market gayi thi? Mere liye kya laayi?'
Every single time, this question trumped me. When I was very young, I would look up at mom for help. Gradually, I learnt to answer that question by giving her some old toy or trinkle, confident that she would believe me when I told her it was new.
You see, I loved my dadi so much I just couldn't stand the pout on her face which indicated she was upset. In fact, as a kid, I shared that kind of a bond with all four of my grandparents.
And how couldn't I? They were always there to save me from the wrath of my parents when I broke stuff. And I remember, when I was in kindergarten, my dadu used to pick me up from the bus stop, and I would always convince him to take a short detour to buy me a packet of Cadbury Gems. (Except I had no idea they were called 'Cadbury' Gems. To me they were just Gems.) On reaching home, my dadi would bathe, dress and feed me, which would be followed by my shout of, 'Potty!' And after having pooped to my heart's content, I would dutifully shout, 'ho gayi!', so that anyone who heard me could come wipe my ass. (Then one day my mom told me I should learn to do that myself and I had to let go of that luxury.)

Whenever I visited Nani Ghar - as we so fondly call my maternal grandmother's house - nani would give me and my cousin sisters an old tea set she had, and all three of us would gather on a chattai in the verandah to have a tea party. I was always the first to get bored of tea partying. The next thing I would want to do was, 'something new'. So while my cousins continued to pour fake tea and pretend-gossip about their pretend-families, I would yell, 'koi toy nahi hai nani aapke paas!' knowing full well that nanu would be listening. He would then quietly put on his slippers, offer me his hand, and briskly walk out of the door with me running to keep up. We would go straight to the toy shop, where he would wait for me to take my pick. The moment we got home with my new toy, I would yell for my mother to take me back home, not wanting to share the toy with my cousins.

So yeah, as a kid, the most wonderful people in my life were my grand parents. The only things I, in turn, had to do for them were:
1) Fishing out their chappals and juttis from underneath the bed/couch/sofa.
2) Easing my dadi of her joint pains by sitting on her back or standing on her shins, while she lay on the bed guiding me to the exact point where she required me to sit/stand. I always felt great doing that, because it made me feel needed. In fact, my cousin brother and I would often fight over who got which leg to stand on.
How awesome were those days!

Gradually, as I become a teen, my pampering days came to an end. My grand parents suddenly realised that I was their height, and started having expectations of me, just like my parents always had. With my grand parents siding with my parents, I was left to face the 'all adults' team alone. Then little things about them started annoying me.
For instance,
My Dadu: When I come back from school on an exam day, the first thing dadu asks me is, 'Paper kaisa tha?' And dare I say that it went badly! 'Changa nahi si? Kyu? Number kithe katte? Tuition laen da ki fayeda hua?'
To avoid explaining myself to him, I make it a point to put on a smile, and say, without missing a beat, 'Achha tha.'
Then he would respond with another question, which would make me feel a pinch of guilt for lying to him, 'Full aayenge?' As if it were the most granted thing in the world.

My Dadi: All dadu's expectations don't stop my dadi from insisting that I should go out and 'play' when I'm preparing for my exams.
'Saare din kamre vich bayi rehndi hai! Baahr jaa k tappa kar! Jado mai tere jiddi siggi roz khed-di si!'
You have no idea how much I would love to go out and get some fresh air, dadi. I would, if I could! Can't you see I don't have enough time?

My Nani: Last Rakshabandhan, I went over to Nani Ghar one day in advance, just like I do every year. On Rakhi-Day, I put on a new top that I had bought specially for the occasion, and a pair of black jeans. My cousin, on the other hand, just had to wear an Indian salwaar-kameez. She just had to. When we came out of the room, ready to go about doing the usual Rakhi things, nani was sitting in the living room, and she looked up when we entered. Her eyes passed over our get-ups, and when her gaze settled on me her expression turned disapproving.
'Kadi te kudi bann litta kar! Jean-na paaye rakhdi hai saare time.'
Why lord, why me? Look, I have nothing against Indian attire, and I put it on when there's a wedding or something. But tbh, it's not very comfortable. So, sue me if I don't bother to put on a suit at every festive occasion!

My nanu, at least, doesn't nag anybody. Well, nobody except nani. You keep doing your thing and he'll keep doing his. Sitting on the floor in his usual latrine-pose (I have never seen him not sitting like that when he's in his own house), sipping his tea, watching cricket on television and cursing the players now and then. Bliss.

Now, coming back to my paternal grandparents. There's always the repetitive demand of being taught how to use their cell phones. Once in every few weeks, dadu or dadi would ask me something like, 'Ae dass, number kive kaddan aede vicho?'
And more often than not, I'm happy to oblige. But, sometimes I have more pressing matters to attend to and I have to admit (not without guilt) that it bugs me.

My point is that as I grow up, their habits annoy me more and more. Even the parts when they're just showing their love - like when my dadi forces me to eat desi ghyo vaale parathe - get on my nerves. I have grown wary of their remarks that, more often than not, are prejudiced and ancient. They have orthodox mindsets, and I sometimes feel like it's too much. I notice the little triffles my mom and dadi have, and I can't help but think that my grannie is being more than a little unfair.

But, when I think of all the things they did for me when my parents were out working, it sort of warms my heart. Think of it this way. The opinions you call orthodox are the beliefs your grand parents grew up with. Until they reached middle age, nobody criticised their beliefs. Now, when they have lived for the better part of the century with those beliefs, how can you expect them to simply let go of those opinions? Their thinking is faulty, and it's great if your grandparents outgrew it and turned modern. But, even if they didn't, remember that they played a major role in your upbringing, and event hough they themselves are not modern, they allowed you to grow up in an environment where you have the ability to form your own opinions.

If nothing else, remind yourself of their smile, which cheered you up when you were bawling over a broken toy. When you were little, they used to have a crooked dark-toothed smile, and over the years it grew into a toothless one. Remember, too, how loved you felt, when they addressed you with those weird-but-endearing nicknames, the ones that you feel too embarrassed to share with your friends. Remember, that they are at a stage in life where they no longer have their elders to give them love. You and your parents are the only source of support and affection for them, whereas you still have them, your parents, your extended family, and your peer group.

Remember, before time makes a fool of you.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Excuse the punjabi, please. You see, when you are a punjabi, and you're writing about your grandparents, it's very, very hard to resist the urge to throw in a few punjabi phrases.


  1. Very well-written. So felicitous that one can relate to it. I loved how it ended. Tussi te heart noo malt kar dittta. Sometimes it does get annoying how eating less=starvation and not wearing slippers in the house=fungal infections.. But if you cut the crap and cherish the times you've had with them, it's all beautiful.

    And what a title!

  2. Thanks so much, Nak boy! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)