Another of the granddad’s stories.
In a small town there lived a rich merchant. He had two employees – one, a highly educated one and the other uneducated, perhaps even illiterate.
However, the ding was that the uneducated one drew a much higher salary than the educated one. Now, like all educated folks out there, he felt bad about it. Initially, like a nice educated person, he tried to keep it to himself but then, the angst took over him. He confronted the merchant.
The merchant listened to him and said, “I’ll answer this at the right time.” The educated employee left.
Then one day, a cart passed by the merchant’s door. Merchant called the educated guy and asked him to see what was in the cart. The man left, asked the cart rider and came back, “Sir, he is carrying cotton.”
The merchant said, “Ok. Where is he taking it?”
The educated employee left, the cart had travelled farther by some distance so he went up to him and asked and again came back. “Sir, he is going to Sumerpur.”
“Ok,” said the merchant, “is it for sale?”
The educated guy went out again. The cart had gone further away, so he ran to the cart and asked him and came back.
“Yes sir, it is for sale.”
The educated guy looked at the merchant and then bolted out the door, ran again to the cart that had almost reached the next village and then came back, panting for breath. “Ten Rupees for the entire cart.”
The merchant thought for a while, and said, “Will he give it for seven?”
The educated guy ran again. The cart had crossed the next village. After an hour, he came back. “Sir, the best he will do is eight.”
The merchant thought for a moment and then said, “Never mind.”
After a while another cart passed by. The merchant called his uneducated employee and asked him, “See what is in there.”
The uneducated guy went out and came back, “Sir, he is carrying wheat. He is going to Gopalpur market to sell it. He says it is twelve Rupees for the entire cart but he will give it here for eight.”
The merchant looked at the educated guy and said, “Now you know why I pay him the higher salary?”
This story again was left without clear interpretations. With so much focus on education at my granddad’s place, I knew the message was not anti-education. This story, again, I have heard many times from granddad and mom.
Interpretations, again, to the grown ups.
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This is a story my maternal granddad told me years ago, and it was repeated to me quite a few times by mom as well, once, when as a little boy, I asked her if ghosts are real.
The story goes like this. A man was building a thatched roof for his house. Now, thatched roofs, chhappar in Hindi, are roofs made of dry grass, long strands of which are tied together on a criss cross skeleton of bamboo staffs tied together, held in place through strings. The stuff used is the long grass and bamboo readily available in villages and even the rope used is made by winding together these long blades of grass. (You hardly see chhappars these days).
So, while he was tying grass blades for his chhappar, a sly snake bit our man and slid away somewhere. The tough rustic village guy that our man was, he looked at the wound, winced and dismissed it as a thorn prick and went on building his roof. Finished, he jumped off, hoisted the roof on wooden pillars and lived happily. For a year.
Now, chhappars take all the harsh sun and rain but last some 3-4 years, so next year, it needed repairs. Our man climbed up and saw that one of the strings tying those grass blades together wasn’t a string but a dead snake. His eyebrows curled up as he paused for a second. And then, something hit his chest. He remembered. His jaw dropped, eyes opened wide, mouth dried up and heartbeats raced off. That goddamned thorn prick was not a thorn prick. This bloody snake had bit me! All the horrible images jumped in his mind and within minutes, he had a heart failure and died.
Mom’s answer to the ghost question was that ghosts are people seeing something totally normal and taking it to be dangerous, deadly supernatural, projecting their internal fears on it. Of course, it did not help me back then, especially as 7 year old about to go pissing at night in a toilet located outside the house with a mazaar just across the door under a huge neem tree. Or perhaps it did, but not for more than a couple trips.
Also, they never gave me a cut and dried interpretation, they left it to me. Will do the same now. To each, his own. Interpretation. Peace ho!
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1983. Me in class 2. Dad and me. Off to meet mom. Three legs to the journey – Shahjahanpur to Lucknow, Lucknow to Gonda and Gonda to Siddharthanagar (then called Naugarh). We in the middle, Gonda station (or was it Lucknow?). At a puri sabzi stall on the platform. Both eating.
And suddenly, a pack of dogs, 3-4 of them come sniffing (yes, dogs roamed railway stations back then, both Lucknow and Gonda were big stations, that notwithstanding). I cry to Dad. SOS. “Papa, kutte.” Something like that.
He keeps eating. No response. I rush from one side of his leg to the other. I try to hide behind him but the dogs come from the other side. I thought he hadn’t heard. So, I cry out louder. He still doesn’t listen. And it dawns. He is listening. Just not doing anything.
I, scared for my life, scurried here and there, around his legs, holding on to his pants, trying to save myself and my puri sabzi from the dogs. That moment stayed. I don’t remember how I managed to ward them off. Infact, I am sure I didn’t do that – there was no cinematic moment where the hidden tiger in me eventually woke up and roared. Most likely, he eventually stepped in and shooed them away. I know this because I continued fearing the dogs till much later and that combativeness didn’t sprout in me for a long time. That’s not the point.
But that moment – of me frantically crying for help, doing all my little hands and legs could do to save myself and my dad, standing next to me just eating his stuff – unperturbed, nonchalant, chilled out – that never left me.
First reaction was – this is unfair. You are tall, they can’t reach you. And you expect your level of ‘bravery’ from me? The beasts will chomp on my face in just a while.
But even at that tender age, even with that initial resentment (how could you just leave me to fight the dogs on my own?), and even with my continued fear of dogs – it felt good. That he trusted me to be able to fight my own fight.
We never talked about it. Am sure he doesn’t even remember it. I know for sure he never studied psychology books on parenting. But it impacted me deeply. He trusted me to fight my own battles. Howsoever little I was. That somehow got embedded deep within. This when the money shot – “Come dogs, me the little warrior will kick your lily asses now” – never happened.
He trusted me. He thought I could fight and beat those dogs. I couldn’t, but that didn’t matter. He felt I could.
It was instinctive for him, but it was too fucking smart. Guess the best form of protecting – no matter who it is. Step back. Let them go out in the world. Let them explore. Make mistakes. Mess with danger. Just be within range. Step in only when the shit really hits the fan.
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It wipes off sweat from its forehead. The wasp. Sitting in her home on a tree trunk. Power goes. Fan stops,TV too. Irritated, she comes out.
Bright, hot sun all around. And then, she sees a patch of shade. She quickly flies there, looks up. A dark cloud, covering the sun. She smiles. She looks at the cloud the way you look at very few people. Then, she feels a sudden urge to reach out and tell the cloud it comforted her. So, she flies up. Up and up. But the cloud is too far. She cries out, “Cloud. Oyi, cloud.” But the cloud is too far. Doesn’t hear. She tries to fly further up but her little wings won’t carry her. Disheartened, she descends.
Just then, the cloud sees her. Something about her draws him to her. He comes down. Down and down. So down, he reaches little Pintu’s terrace. Pintu, standing on the terrace gets all wet. Clouds are water vapours, after all.
So, cloud comes down. Wasp sees him. Smiles. “Thank you cloud,” she says, surprised at the tear in her eyes.
“Why cry?” asks the cloud.
“I tried talking to you but you were too far.” she says.
“Oh, no worries,” cloud says, “My friends are air and water. Say anything to the air and it will take your message to me. I will say it to the water and it will bring my message to you.”
The wasp smiles and then, makes a sad face. “But my friends are butterflies. They can’t fly up to you.”
Cloud too goes sad. The butterfly comes along. “What happened?” she asks the wasp.
“You are my friend, but you can’t take my message to the cloud.” says wasp and makes a sad face again.
“You worried for this?” the butterfly asks, then says, “Flowers are my friend. And their friend is fragrance. So, you tell me your message. I will give it to the flower and the fragrance will take it to the cloud.”
The wasp smiles. She hugs the butterfly. “Careful,” says the butterfly, smiling, “careful with the sting.” They both laugh.The cloud too smiles.
So, the cloud now sends his messages through the water and the wasp sends her messages through air and fragrance.
(Photo courtesy: pexels.com)
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Class VIII. Or was it VII?
Mathematics period. The Mathematics Teacher in class. (Do note the capitalisations – it’s not without a reason, but that for a later post). Some copies being distributed so everyone on their feet moving about – between the teacher’s desk and their own.
I sit with X. X has gone to get his copy. His notebook lying on the desk. I sense an opportunity.
Now, this X is a friend. But is also the guy who beats me 9 times out of 10 in Mathematics. Big deal? Big fucking deal. And he beats me 9 times out of 10 in overall score. Yes, till he didn’t leave the school, both of us would be either first or second in class – me being second, you guessed it, 9 times out of 10.
So, the moment X leaves, I pull out my fountain pen and write, “X chor hai” on his notebook. An act of pure spite. A kiddish way to get back at a competitor you can’t defeat. Also, I wrote with my left hand, so that handwriting could not be matched.
X returns. Sees his notebook, complaints to The Mathematics Teacher.
Now, I had a curious dynamic with The Mathematics Teacher too. Good words from her meant way more than good words from any other teacher. Perhaps because she was so tough to please. Perhaps because dad always glorified maths as this super cool subject every self-respecting human should excel at. Also because she always took great pains to answer all my questions – and my questions too arose from an interesting place. Somehow, I had heavily bought into the idea that all I needed to do to become a famous mathematician was to falsify any of the theorems taught in school. So, any new theorem or method taught, I would think of conditions when it would not hold. And that popped several questions in my head. And I would stand up and ask. And she would answer them. Am sure most of those questions would be pretty absurd. But she never seemed irritated and never discouraged any questions.
But I digress.
So, X goes to The Mathematics Teacher. She looks at the notebook and says, “Everyone bring their pens here. Check whose ink colour is this.”
And my heart sinks, the ground crashes beneath my feet. Why ink colour? Why?
“Ma’am, shouldn’t we match the handwriting?” I protest, not knowing that I had just given away.
“No,” she says, “Handwriting can be changed.”
So, the ink colours were matched. And it was mine. She just said, “Why do you say that? What has he stolen of yours?” and then let it go.
I now remember I used to write in Blue-Black ink by Chelpark – it had a distinct hue. Perhaps that prompted her to match ink colours. Or she would have done that anyway- no way for me to know.
But that’s how, yet another battle ended – between her, the defender of all ancient mathematics theorems and I, the challenger, only desirous of breaking in any one of them. The result, the same as always – me trudging away with my tail between my legs.
(Photo courtesy: Nicole Honeywill, Unsplash.com)
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