Will You Share With Me?
Will You Share With Me?
Sneha nudged her grandfather who had dozed off. But not much changed. So she vigorously shook her grandfather again, whispering into his ears, "what is today's story about, Dadu?"
Nanku bapuji wobbled a bit in his rocking armchair and said, "I'm awake, Pittu. I was trying to remember what happened next. Do you know I can remember very well when I close my eyes?" Sneha pulled her beanbag closer and rested her face on her hands. She fixed her gaze on Bapuji. The little girl had turned red, wrapped her arms around herself, and looked out of the window to make her displeasure evident enough.
Bapuji rubbed his eyes and sat up straight to focus on his promise of a story every afternoon. Sneha stays up with him while her parents Jignesh and Kavya work in different rooms. And he has been engaging her with stories from his childhood, stories of his village where he had grown up.
The 9year old would almost gobble up every word Nanku bapuji said. As he would narrate the stories, she would freeze and could well replace the statue of their colony statue with her deep, intent look, and immersed little body. She would giggle and clap whenever her grandfather said, 'I was a little boy,…or As a little boy…'.
"Let's start the story. Pittu, who is Dhaval kaka to your father?"
"He is my father's brother. Your son," Sneha retorted impatiently.
"Right, my father had brothers too. I had many kakas. One day Manas kaka returned home with his family. So tired he was, that he crashed onto our portico. All the family members had been waiting for him anxiously. And we children peeped out of the hall, turn by turn." Bapuji narrated.
"We children…how many children were there Dadu?" She pitched in.
"Ten of us."
"And how many adults were there? 20?" Sneha asked with her eyes wide open in astonishment.
"Nah. In all, 17 of us, 7 adults and 10 children".
"Hmmm…" she gaped at Bapuji trying to process the new information.
"That evening was humid, with spells of a breeze once in a while. To add on, there was load-shedding and the feeble light of the kerosene lantern fought the darkness. It fairly lit up the space. Despite the lowly lit portico, we could see the silhouette of the well-built body of kaka. My father held the lamp closer to him as my third kaki got some homemade ghari and water for the guests.
We children sat on our floor mattresses that had been laid out like in a dormitory in our hall. Our mouths shut but our ears and eyes were wide open to catch any information that we could while the adults talked. Manas kaka had five kids, who also joined us in the hall after freshening up."
"So you became 15 from 10". Sneha did her quick math and settled the figure in her head.
"Hmm…The next morning Rajan kaka arrived with kaki and three children. Same day by evening remaining two kakas arrived home. It was not only our house, but in all the houses of our row, people had guests and family members returning." Bapuji recounted.
"How many children did they have? It must have been so much fun to be with so many cousins. Hai na dadu?" Her eyes sparkled as she spoke.
"Indeed it was Pittu. My other uncles did not have kids. So we were 18 kids all together under one roof. We rejoiced, we did our wiggly dance in joy. This was special because without any festival there was a get-together. My dadi and dadu were also relieved that all her sons & daughters-in-law were home…"
Before Bapuji could finish his sentence, Sneha again cut in, "why did they return then without a festival?"
"That year the cities were gripped by deadly influenza and people were falling sick all over. So everyone felt safer back home."
"The next two weeks flew by. We used to play hopscotch, cricket, football, hide and seek and innumerable games that we discovered. As all schools had shut down in the district, we had lots of time to play. If at all we were to study, we used to read storybooks. I was very happy for all my cousins being close, no studies, no school, and no scolding. It would have been too tiring for adults to scold so many of us. We also invented a new sign language so that no adult could understand what we said." Bapuji narrated.
Sneha clapped and jumped, her eyes shone brightly as he stopped. "I also want a big family get-together." To keep the momentum going she shook her grandfather's hand again signalling him to continue.
"We had the biggest house on the block in Utran but over the next fortnight, our house seemed to shrink itself. We could…"
"Accha Dadu, how big was your home? Was it as big as our flat with four bedrooms?" Sneha asked squinting her eyes.
"Hahaha…my home was not a flat. We lived in the railway quarter for the station master which was airy and spacious by nature. We had 3 bedrooms and two big halls."
Nanku Babuji sipped a little water and continued, "With even such big halls, the whole family could not dine together. Barely half of all heads could be accommodated. The bedrooms had loads of bags that the guests had brought with them, piled against the walls. The rooms felt much smaller compared to normal days. With 30 mouths to feed, my mother and two kakis worked tirelessly in the kitchen doing cleaning, chopping, cooking etc.
I shared my toys, my kites to let others fly turn by turn, and listened to others' stories until I got bored of it. We would play board games like Ludo together till one of us cheated and everyone fought over it. The sheen of the new language vanished as quickly as it appeared with no one new to fool around." Bapuji recounted his memories with a deep sigh.
"Mazaa toh aya hoga aapko", Sneha asked.
"Yes, Pittu. We did have a lot of fun for some time. That was all we could have.
The situation outside was growing worse day by day. Influenza had been sweeping through the bigger cities while in smaller towns lesser people got infected. Business, shops got hampered. So we all shared what we had and adults focussed on getting food rations. The food grains at home were diminishing faster than we could fill.
At one point in time, people stopped stepping out. So we had to live frugally. We would get one chapati and pickles each for lunch and two scoops of rice with dal or vegetables for dinner. That was it. No sweet. No extras. Breakfast would be either puffed rice or a ghari or a khakhra. My father was the only one who could go to work every day and so he would get two chapatis. My kakas too went out to look for a job, at the risk of catching the flu. A full meal had become the need of that hour."
"Did you not feel hungry all day? What did you do then?" Pittu interrupted.
"Yes, I did. I would run to the kitchen, eat a piece of jaggery and gulp down a glass of water. The only thing we had in plenty was water as we had a well behind our house." He replied.
"Then what happened Dadu?"
"Things would be strewn all over the house. My two kakis were responsible for cleaning the home and washing clothes. They would keep cleaning and washing all day long until they got tired or there was a scarcity of soap and detergents.
After a time, the toilets smelled musty all day. The road outside our home overflowed with stinking garbage, cow dung, and the appalling houseflies. The enjoyment of having this gala get-together weaned off. I used to get upset so many times a day that I lost count.
I was only as old as you. I became thin. I got sick of sharing my toys, clothes, rooms. I did not want to share anymore. I wanted a full meal of my choice, my cosy and peaceful corner to play in, my full bed, my clean home. I did not want to fight to use the toilet. I hated to do nothing all day." he responded.
The unpleasantness and pain of the childhood experience were evident by the stillness of his body, eyes lost out of the window searching for something and head bent in retrospection. "1957 was sort of a bad year for all of us," Bapuji mumbled under his breath.
"Hmmm, like 2020. This is a very bad year too," saying this, Sneha folded her palms in gratitude.
"Why did you do that?" Bapuji asked Sneha.
"We thank God for good things na. So I thanked Him for not giving me such a big family", Sneha's guileless comprehension made him laugh aloud.