Friday, April 15, 2016

Grand Storytelling

A gentleman once boarded a crowded bus on a wintry morning, traveling with his wife, and two cauliflowers. Freshly plucked, he had bought them from the grocer near the Howrah Station for an excellent deal. A pair of huge cauliflowers with ripe florets weighed down his arms while he stood in the crowd. With her tiny frame, his wife had somehow managed to find a seat in the bus. However, he kept standing, making small talk with his fellow passengers, like he always did. 

For the rest of the ride, he held on to the bus rails with one hand, beaming and recounting to the fellow passengers how he had struck gold by managing to find these cauliflowers for ten rupees only. The fellow passengers nodded with interest. As the rickety bus continued to navigate the cobbled streets of Howrah, the gentleman continued to chatter, telling people about the wedding ceremony at home. His nephew was getting married soon, and the cauliflowers would be cooked for lunch by the women in the family. The three brothers lived together in a big house, with their wife, sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. The daughters and sons-in-laws were visiting too. Caterers were not in vogue back then, and the women in the household cooked together for every ritual before the wedding, although there would be a designated group of thakurs (cooks) hired for the main wedding spread. 

The fellow passengers listened with feigned interest as the chatty gentleman talked. When the stop arrived, the gentleman and his wife got off the bus. And so did one of the fellow passengers. Without preamble, the passenger shoved a ten rupee bill in the gentleman's hand, grabbed the cauliflowers, and vanished in the crowd. Just like that. The gentleman looked at the ten rupee bill, too confused to react quickly. Didn't he just carry the heavy produce all the way in a crowded bus, so that his family could cook it for lunch?

His wife misunderstood what happened, thinking that her husband just handed the cauliflowers as a good Samaritan. She bickered. He lost his temper, his ego already bruised. He argued back. And like children after a fight, he just started walking faster, using long steps. The house was a good fifteen-minute walk from the bus stop, and her four feet ten inches were no match for his six feet one inch frame. Not used to walking alone on the busy streets, she was hurt and confused, and wiped tears as she walked as fast as she could, trying to catch up with her husband. Still angry, he soon disappeared into the crowd. 

She crossed the dhopa'r maath (washerman's field), the narrow bylanes, and the pond, taking the final left to enter the corridor to the house. A movement caught her eye, and she turned to find her husband strategically hiding himself behind a tree, so that he could watch her walk back safely without her knowing it. She ignored him and entered the house, bursting into tears, managing to summarize the basic details of the event as she wiped tears. The brothers, sisters-in-law, nephew and nieces scolded him for acting childishly, while he stood there all grumpy until his anger melted. They did not eat cauliflowers that day, but still had a good lunch. 

My grandma just recounted this autobiographical story back from the nineties, for the umpteenth time. I have heard this story many times now, but still ask her to recount it. This is because I love my grandma's knack for storytelling. And once she did, I summarized it here. This is an ordinary, commonplace, inconsequential story from one day of my grandparents' life. Nothing life-changing, nothing spiritually awakening. But I still love it. I think that grandmas are the best storytellers, giving you a glimpse of a world where you either did not exist, or were too different to relate to. I have many friends here who grew up in different countries all over the world. I am curious about the stories all your grandmas told. And while I hope that you share some, I will try to document my share of stories, from my grandma's point of view.


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