My existence in the extended family I’ve been writing about in the last three posts is due to only one person’s being member of that family: my father. All my life, my friends and acquaintances have been telling repeatedly me how handsome he is/was, not always explicitly mentioning the contrast they intended to and implied, and I won’t insert my image beside his image above to add you to the long list of contrastors (my usage). UTN 3129 was the number of his Vijay Super and all my friends had the number by heart. This served two purposes. They could inform me when he was around and they could stay at a safe distance too. We used to maintain a safe distance from the fathers of our friends, on principle. I remember those occasions when familiarity with the family bred risk for friends. To save them required inexhaustible resourcefulness, elaborate planning and intense efforts – that too, with no guarantees.
A similar kind of policy was in force among us cousins and siblings too. I remember how the three brothers and two sisters of my father, along with their spouses and children, used to come to five by sixty one in various vacations and on various occasions. There never was any shortage of space, not exactly spatially, but in hearts. Despite the danger that the long stretch of time that separates the child’s experience and the adult’s reminiscence may alter the real colour of the world (that the Indian philosophy calls maya: illusion), I believe that I do remember it clearly how we used to keep to our own small world.
There used to be a couple of places where we, the children of the family, used to assemble at different times of the day. Mornings, late afternoons and early evenings saw us on our parapeted flat roof. The wall behind the potted plants in the image above used to double as one long stool for us. During the hours of furious sun rays, we used to stay indoors: either in the front room at the ground floor or Lal Chabutra: the red coloured terrace in the first storey. The space between the two drawers of the huge wooden almirah in the room attached to it used to double as a make shift swing for us. The drawers had interesting things and we were not allowed to open them.
The prohibition had made their contents mysterious and coveted for us. Another thing more coveted was my grandfather’s huge Bhagwatpuran that he used to keep safely in the wall almirah. He would carefully drape it in red cloth reserved for such purposes after having read it and then place it safely in the almirah. That used to increase our covetousness. No, we could never lay our hands on it. It remained safe in his life time. After him, when the almirah was opened, termites had completely destroyed it. I could never read even one page from it: not then, neither afterwards from any other copy. The two books my grandfather owned, that I remember having read, are Adhaytm Ramayan and Valmiki Ramayan they’ll become the subject of the next post.
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