It’s kind of strange not having to put up my finger friends on top of this post. I’m meant to be taking a long hiatus from 30 days of posting but it’s such a natural part of my morning, like eating breakfast. I found myself staring at the keyboard for far too long and so I finally gave in.
It is my happy birthday (Indianism) after all!
Something happened with grammie today. She is 90 and has dementia. It’s very hard to get her to share anything about her past. The 3 years that I took care of her taught me her language and a few glimpses of what it must’ve been like for her – married at 16, farmer’s wife, mother of 10. Every time she does share a story that we’ve never heard before, it feels like Christmas.
This morning she was talking about how she went to school till grade 4. In her days, girls attending school was unheard of. There were farms to be tended, mouths to be fed. Sometimes I can see her draw outlines of words in her script on her lap. She’s usually unaware that she is doing that and I love watching her lost in thought.
Her name in school was A.V. Maria. I asked her what the AV stood for. She didn’t budge. I started giving her suggestions “Audio Visual? Active Voice? Anti Virus?”. She laughed and squished me, she had no idea what I was talking about.
And then I remembered her family name, which was the A. What did the V stand for? Vendetta? Turns out V is the word in her language for “Doctor”. Yes, Doctor. Can you imagine having a profession be IN your name? Broseph exploded in a geekgasm – “OMG, You’re the doctor’s granddaughter. Henceforth you shall be called Susan!”
I’m going now to see about the legalities of changing name. I’m thinking of something – exotic. How about, Dragon Slayer? I’m open to suggestions!
My dad used to tell us bed time stories. That was the time when my sister and I got our own room (separate from the parents) for the first time and we no longer had to all sleep on the same bed. It was trouble at first cause we couldn’t fall asleep without listening to our father either singing off-key or cracking French jokes. Jokes that we never understood but we laughed at anyway cause of his ridiculous dramatization of EVERYTHING – including knock-knock jokes. It was the beginning of a tradition.
We couldn’t afford expensive “children’s books” that he could read from so he made stories up, sometimes remembering old stories his mother used to tell him for the small duration that he was home. Most of the time though, he would mix and match stories he heard while in Spain or Philippines or Canada or New York. Through all this though, one thing was constant – Charles Dickens. His were the only stories that remained unchanged and growing up, we didn’t fear the Bogeyman or monsters under our bed. We feared Fagin. We befriended the Artful Dodgers even when the rest of our classmates shunned them. If someone was being stingy, we wouldn’t make racist comments about that certain community like most of us Indians do, we’d just say “Don’t be a Scrooge”. And much later, we tried to rescue the Charlottes of the world, have adventures like Mr. Nickleby and we fell madly in love with the Oliver Twists.
By the time we were teens, the storytelling shifted to the dining table and the stories changed to how my dad tried to seduce my mum by twirling his moustache. The moustache is long gone and we’ve all grown up in our own ways but every now and then we’re glued together by those stories we heard so long ago written by a man who would’ve been 200 today.
And as a subconscious tribute, we still giggle when we read the name Charlotte and think of how dad used to pronounce it as Char-lot-tay. We still say things like “He’s such a scrooge!” and we still think back in pride of how we were the only 10 year olds in perhaps the whole of Bangalore who knew and abused the word “bourgeois”.