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A beautiful story that wonderfully talks about the relationship grandchildren and grandparents share; told through the eyes of a child.
As the car turned into the street where Ajji lived , Ananya perked up. She waved hello to Ramu, the stray dog who had lunch at Ajji’s house every day, and counted all the trees they drove by. She had a name for every one of them – and for the fat white and yellow cat who fought with Ramu during lunchtime.
This summer, Ananya and Tushar spent Tuesdays and Thursdays at Ajji’s house. Ananya was going to 2nd standard, and for the last two years Amma had sent her and Tushar, who would be in 5th standard now, to summer camp. This year, Ananya had heard Amma tell her other mummy friends that there was no camp around which offered “value for money”. Ananya was not sure what this meant – didn’t money have its own value? So they stayed at home, had play dates or went to Ajji’s house. This far, Ananya had enjoyed the holidays– especially the time spent at Ajji’s house.
As Appa got out of the car and hugged them, Thaatha was waiting for them at the blue and white rusty metal gate. Thaatha and Ajji were always very serious, and rarely joked. But they were never unkind.
On Tuesdays, after they got off the car, Ananya and Tushar walked around the garden with Thaatha.
On Tuesdays, after they got off the car, Ananya and Tushar walked around the garden with Thaatha. On these mornings, the cook’s husband Muniyappa came to work with the plants. Often, Thaatha worked with him, and the children did too – getting themselves completely dirty. Thaatha spoke endlessly to Tushar about Monocots and Dicots and other plant stuff as they pored over roots and leaves. Ananya just liked to dig, and that’s what she did.
On such days, they would have to run into the bathroom at the back of house, and Ajji would bring down a change of clothes. After cleaning up, they lolled around in front of the TV till lunchtime. At home though, their summer schedule was not the same. After breakfast, she and Tushar had to go down to the play area in their apartment complex and do forty-five minutes of warm-up and exercises –like P.E Sir had taught them. Amma said it was important to start the day with fresh air and exercise.
Then, they would work on activities Amma had downloaded from Mensa and other websites – math, word-building, puzzles and everything. There was also holiday homework. Amma said if they didn’t work regularly, their brains would rust through the summer. Ananya imagined her brain – like on the chart in her classroom but only hers was blue, white and rusted like Ajji’s metal gate. That was interesting.
Amma also said they had to eat balanced meals. Until they studied the food pyramid in 1st standard, Ananya had always imagined Amma or their cook balancing food on the weighing scales Amma used while baking. Unlike Amma, Ajji didn’t like to go into the kitchen. But these holidays she had promised the children that the cook would make Poori-Palya for lunch on Tuesdays.
Amma said Poori and Potato Palya was not a healthy, balanced meal.
Amma said Poori and Potato Palya was not a healthy, balanced meal. Every Saturday morning, Amma and Appa went to the organic food store to shop according to a meal plan which was tacked under the Merlion magnet on the fridge. When Amma complained about how expensive organic groceries were, Ajji pointed out that she had lived long enough eating what was sold in Shanmugam Provision Stores.
Thaatha and Ajji napped after lunch. Ananya and Tushar loved these calm afternoons. Some days, she and Tushar would put their feet up against the wall. Lying on the floor in Amma’s old room, they would read the Amar Chitra Katha Amma , her brother and sister had collected over the years. There were other comics too – Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur. There was also Enid Blyton, and Tushar read some of the Hardy Boys.
At home, Amma said they were wasting their time reading the Geronimo Stiltons Appa got them. She said they should read authors who expanded their imagination. The books Amma read to them were boring, and Ananya didn’t understand most of them. Some of them weren’t even from this century.
Some days at Ajji’s house, when they didn’t want to read in the afternoon, she and Tushar opened the old, green trunk which had all of Amma’s, Avinash Uncle’s and Archana Aunty’s photo albums and their best work and medals from school. Ananya would practice the beautiful cursive writing from the essays Amma had got A+ for – and together she and Tushar would try to copy Avinash Uncle’s paintings. After a bit, they would get lost in their own world, creating picture stories with fairies and outer space and other super things, using the big sheets of drawing paper Ajji always kept in the room.
After their nap, Ajji worked on her laptop and Thaatha played Scrabble or Snakes & Ladders with them. The Snakes & Ladders board was an old tin one Thaatha had got from Bombay when Amma was in school. Thaatha had never worked in an office, but Appa had told Ananya he had been a business man and used to travel often. Ajji used to work in a bank. Appa told Ananya they had now retired. So, old people stopped working when they got tired. Ananya liked that.
The cook’s two grandchildren, Shekar and Lakshmi, often came with her in the evenings and Thaatha and Ajji took all the four kids to a nearby park. But if Thaatha and Ajji’s friends came home around this time, they all had Bonda and coffee together. Ananya and Tushar would then listen to the grey- haired adults talk. Sometimes, the conversation would start off with “You remember when”, and they would tell funny stories like when one of Thaatha’s friends was chased around the colony by a new watchman early one morning, because he had stepped out to pick guavas from the overhanging branches of a tree growing in his own compound.
It was nice to see Thaatha and Ajji laugh.
It was nice to see Thaatha and Ajji laugh. But most times when their friends visited, someone would say “Did you read the paper today?” , and they would talk gravely of global warming , corruption and other big people’s stuff. Ananya caught a word here and there, but it mostly washed over her. After a bit she would wander off to look for Shekar and Lakshmi. Tushar sometimes stayed back to listen.
When they had guests at home, Amma would quickly herd all the children into Tushar’s room. There the kids would munch on nachos and chips, and talk about stuff they did at school or the vacations they had been on. Then they would make up games or watch TV. It was fun, and they got to eat junk food. But they were not allowed to sit with the adults. Amma said they were not ready for adult talk and that it was more important for them interact with their peers. Ananya wondered who these peers were and what sort of acting they did.
Amma said all kinds of difficult things. She said unstructured play was important for their all-round development. So they had to go down to the building play area five evenings a week during school days, whether they wanted to or not. Once when they were at Ajji’s place for dinner, she and Tushar were reading books as the adults ate. They could overhear what was being said, and Amma had sounded very worried about all the different schools of parenting thought. This had left Ananya completely confused. Parents went to school? Why? Tiger Mom? Who was that? Her mother didn’t look like a tiger.
And then Thaatha had said “All this is not necessary, Anupama. You just have to let you children be, and they will find their way. This is what we did with the three of you, and hasn’t it worked?” This worried Ananya – she only knew the way to the small shop outside her building. But Tushar said what Thaatha meant was that they had to become independent when they grew up.
Anyway, Amma now went to an office, and Appa said she helped many people with their work. Avinash Uncle was an architect, and once Tushar had showed Ananya a picture of him in a magazine, standing in front of a strange-shaped building he had built from his pictures. Archana Aunty was studying in a big college in Singapore. When they had gone there on holiday, she had only had the time to meet them in her college canteen, and bought them big glass mugs of ice-cold chocolate milk. Appa had said that what she was studying was very difficult and took a long time to finish. Ananya had immediately decided she wouldn’t study that much.
One night after the new school year started, Ananya heard Amma and Appa talking about her and Tushar when they thought they were asleep.
One night after the new school year started, Ananya heard Amma and Appa talking about her and Tushar when they thought they were asleep. They had been to the parent-teacher meetings at school that day and had had to listen to complaints like always. Tushar’s English teacher had said he didn’t participate in class. Tushar had told the teacher himself a few days earlier that he was anyway going to be an ecologist and needed to study only Science. Ananya’s class teacher was very upset that this intelligent child spent all her time dreaming and looking out of the classroom window.
Amma was telling Appa, “I’m telling you Mahesh – my anxiety levels are through the roof. I have no idea what to do now”. Appa laughed and said, “Haha, maybe one of us should quit and become a full-time parent”.
Ananya was not very sure she understood this. Would Appa or Amma not go to office– like on the days they worked from home? Is that what a ‘full-time’ parent did? That would be difficult. She wouldn’t be able to cheat and get extra TV time, or skip homework like she did now and then. Some evenings, Ajji and Thaatha came home after school and they knew all of Tushar and Ananya’s little secrets. But they never got upset with them. They said children would be children.
So what were Ajji and Thaatha? Grandparents? Maybe they were half-time parents?
Cover Image via Shutterstock
Freelance writer and editor - avidly interested in food, books and people. Is there anything else
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