Print Edition - 2018-09-22  |  On Saturday

Cream Biscuits, Coca-Cola and a Dose of thorough Spanking

  • When I think of the early eighties, of the years before I turned ten, I remember a delicious chaos
- Smriti Ravindra

Sep 22, 2018-

I am sure my childhood was not as amusing as my recollection makes it out to be, but even so, when I think of the early eighties, of the years before I turned ten, I remember a delicious chaos. Streets were not yet crowded with vehicles, parents had not yet learnt to be afraid of every stranger walking the roads, and most nine-year-olds ambled to school without a chaperone or a care in the world.  Bread was white and generously buttered, access to cream biscuits was so limited that devouring several packets, when and if one got the chance, passed for good judgment. Some mothers, mine included, were convinced that Coca Cola could do wonders for the digestive system—what else could one attribute those burps to?—and drinking that delicious liquid out of ordinary steel tumblers while watching Chitrahaar was a family-bonding activity. A dose of thorough spanking for crimes committed and imagined was a requirement for a child’s moral upbringing, and served as a yardstick for good parenting.

Now, as a twenty-first century parent, I create all sorts of balance for my child—a balanced diet, a balance between work and play, a balance between freedom and safety, a balance between television and books, a balance between hard work and leisure—it’s exhausting and stressful, and sometimes I catch myself looking back and marveling at the ease and the political incorrectness with which parents raised children way back then.  It was not just me.  My friends were also being raised similarly.  So were all my cousins.  My husband and I often exchange notes about who got spanked, why, and how, by their mothers during their childhood and it is a matter of great pride for us to win the spanking contest.  I got spanked this way and that way, we like to tell each other, but you got spanked only this way.  Shame on you!  There was a carelessness in that parenting, a non-thinking, non-philosophising that leaves me envious.  My mother never over thought my existence, and I never over thought hers and yet we were deeply a part of one another’s world.

One incident comes to me as I think of the mad incorrectness of the time.  My mother loved gardening and for a few years we sported one of the best vegetable patches in the neighbourhood.  There were others too, like our neighbours, Thapa Uncle and Doctor Uncle, who had beautiful gardens, but also had gardeners who tended to their roses and brinjals, while Ma did all her gardening herself. She tilled and sowed and fertilised and the vegetables and fruits that came from her labour were always plump, always sweet. A fantastic abundance came from the soil and this abundance Ma packed into small packets and gifted to her friends.  A bag of beans, corn ears and plums for Bhandary Aunty, a bag for Thapa Uncle, some guavas for Sunna’s parents.  A bag for Doctor Uncle. A bag for this one.  A bag for that. And so it was that Bhandary Aunty and Thapa Uncle and Sunna’s parents sent over little tokens of appreciation in return for the gifts they received.  And so it was that the neighbourhood came together with these exchanges.  And so it was that one day Doctor Uncle, who was a shy man and rarely engaged directly with the neighbourhood, sent over for our consumption a cucumber so large it must have weighed at least eight kilograms if not more.  

A little boy not older than I was then—eight maybe, maybe nine— carried the cucumber to our house.  I cannot imagine how he managed to ring the door bell because when I opened the door for him, all I saw was a tiny thing with large, panic-filled eyes.  Instantly I felt a tickle in my stomach and a desire to burst into a laugh, but I held back.  Ma took the cucumber off the boy and nodded at him.

“Sit in the kitchen, Little Rat,” she said to the boy, “and I will make you some tea.”

She sat him down on the mat in the kitchen.  I jumped up to the cooking counter and carefully studied the boy.  What a wasp he was! So thin-waisted and large eyed.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“Gadahwa,” the wasp squeaked.

Ma, who was pouring milk into a pan, turned around.

“What, now?” I asked, convinced I had heard incorrectly.

“Gadahwa,” the boy repeated.

And so the little tickle I had held within myself just a few minutes earlier bubbled over like warm cream and I burst into a laugh.

“Gadahwa?” I asked jumping off the counter.  “Your name is Gadahwa?”

“Stop it Ismirti!” Ma scolded, “or I will give you a hammering.”

But I could not stop.

The boy stared at the floor.

Then Ma started to laugh too.  “Never mind Gadahwaji.  Never mind,” she said, trying to control herself.  “This Ismirti is a donkey and nothing else.  Here is a cup of tea for you and a cup for me.  Nothing at all for this donkey Ismirti,” she laughed.  “And all the biscuits are yours!”

We laughed, while the poor boy slurped his tea; laughed, while he stuffed his mouth with so many biscuits; laughed, when he finally ran away.

Later, after my brother, Dipen, returned from wherever he was away at, Ma told him about little Gadahwa.

“How can a person literally be named Donkey?” she asked, wiping her eyes.  She mimicked a mother holding a newborn baby in her arms and crooned, “Ah, you are such a lovely, my little flower of Rose, I shall therefore name you Donkey!  There, there, my Donkey, have some milk!” she guffawed.

Dipen laughed too, though he could not bring himself to approve of our behaviour.  “You are hideous,” he said, trying hard to remain stern.

But Gadahwa’s absence from our kitchen and consequent return to his own garden of gigantic vegetables did nothing to solve the problem of the cucumber on our counter.  The beastly thing was larger than my head combined with my brother’s head, and it was clearly not meant for salad.  A monster so large needed pickling, and cucumber pickle was one dish Ma had no appetite for.  “They smell like Hajmola farts!” she complained every time she was offered cucumber pickle, and so the mutant sat upon our kitchen counter like an ancient, reprimanding rock, and Ma sighed.

“What will we do with this madness now?” she asked, then after a little thought decided to send “the thing” over to Thapa Uncle’s house.

“Give the thing to Thapa Uncle,” she instructed, then she narrowed her eyes and added, “Tell him the thing is from our garden only.  Don’t tell him anything about Doctor Uncle.  Just say Ma sent it, understand?”

Understood.

And so Dipen and I set off.  Because the vegetable was so large and because Dipen was older than I was  by four years, it was obviously my brother who carried it like a pot over his head, and I had nothing to do other than trot beside him making horse sounds until Dipen glowered and threated to first kill me, then slap me blue.  “Neelai padchhas!” he growled, but with the mutant cucumber sitting on his head Dipen was about as dangerous to me as were the distant mountains, and so I continued to trot, gallop, neigh, and in general, annoy my brother.

And perhaps it was because I had harrowed him so tirelessly with my equestrian talents during our short trip to and from Thapa Uncle’s house that Dipen told on me when we got home.

“You know what Smriti did?” he asked the moment he saw Ma.

“What?  Did she again go and fall down somewhere?”

“No,” I said and pinched my brother, and before he could respond to the pinch added, “It happened by mistake, Ma.  By mistake only everything came out.”

Ma frowned.  “What came out?”

“By mistake, God promise, Ma,” I swore.

“What came out Dipen?”

“The moment Thapa Uncle opened the door,” my brother answered, “Smriti told him that Doctor Uncle had sent the cucumber for us but because you think cucumber pickle smells like Hajmola farts you wanted nothing to do with it, and you wanted Thapa uncle to take the cucumber.  And then she said, actually the cucumber is from Doctor Uncle’s garden and he sent a boy named Gadahwa to deliver it to our house but Ma told us to tell you the cucumber is from our garden only.  Then she said she was telling Thapa Uncle all this because it was wrong to lie.”

I stared at my brother in disbelief.  Then a terrible panic paralysed me as I watched Ma’s eyes grow larger than the accursed cucumber and her nostrils flare like fire.  I knew I needed to run away from home, to never return, to vanish forever, but I could not move.  I was paralysed.

“Is that so, Your Truthful Highness?” Ma asked.

I could not shake my head.  I was paralysed.

And it was only when Ma removed her slipper and swatted me like a mosquito that I began to wail.  And it was almost a whole week after the incident before I spoke to Dipen again.

And not once in all of this did I doubt my mother’s absolute devotion to me or my belief in the goodness of truth.

Published: 22-09-2018 07:32

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