Monday, April 16, 2012

The VERY LONG untold story of my never-ending memories plus a few dozen things about the way you laugh

One of my more macabre memories from my childhood (that I never hesitate to narrate) is this.

I was in the 10th standard. I must have been 15. I was walking my two dogs on their leashes made of steel -- we used to have alsatians/ german shepherds -- in this place called Wellington in the Nilgiris (which, much to my utter gratitude, I got to visit last week) when I came across my mother and a friend of hers, with whom she used to play tennis at least a couple of times a week. This friend of my mother used to wear those really broad visors (sun shade thingies), had a very shrill pitch and a thin, high laugh. She was a certain south east asian national. Her husband was, too. A certain percentage of the population were foreigners. This was and is an army station, a military college. My father was an 'instructor'. Shrill's husband was a 'student' of my father. Father taught there for many years, effectively a Mr-Chips-style class teacher. Shrill's husband, as was the norm, attended, a 10 maybe 12- month course.

Anyway, Shrill and my mother would play tennis. Not too many women then, in that teensy army station would play tennis. Not that there was anything stopping my mother or Shrill from playing with men, they did, too. But something about, I don't know -- mixed doubles? playing a partner at your level? Whatever.

The macabre bit is this. My mother and Shrill, walking uphill, returning from tennis, waved to me as I was walking the dogs, taking a break, it's possible, from studying for my board exams. We all kind of stopped mid-hill to chat and Shrill said something about how "back home" dogs are considered very healthy. To eat. And she said, pointing to my poor furries on the steel leash, how loaded dogs were with VITAMINS. For however else, in whichever manner, I embellish this memory, I know she said VITAMINS. My dogs, had VITAMINS. Crazy shrill wanted my poor pooches on a plate.

Everyone in my family knows this story. When we talk of dogs, this comes up, and we all laugh - shrilly.

Anyway. Cut to fifteen years later. My mother is in Delhi. She still plays tennis. My father no longer teaches at a military college. The shrills have long fallen out of touch. Mr Shrill, presumably, isn't a student anymore.

At a mela last year - a fete, a slender thing still favouring visors, apparently spotted my mother 300 miles across a field, walked up to her and there was much shrieking out of recognition. Hurrah! Tennis buds reunite. My mother, I vaguely remember, had rung me, most excited, asking if I remember the crazies who wanted to roast our beloveds, Dog 1 and Dog 2. My ears perked up. I had to let go of my usual humdrum response when she calls. But OF COURSE I remember the canine-ables! WHY, I ask. Oh, I just met her, she said. Ohh! Really? Wow. And so it goes.

And so it also is, that 15 years down, everyone's in Delhi. The student -- Mr Shrill has been posted by his government to Delhi. He's with the embassy. And he's had to pick up Hindi. My father, I can see, is endlessly tickled by this.

This morning, as I was heading out of the house to go hang with Princess, my best girl friend here from Bombay - plan was to have lunch, buy shoes and 'be loose' -- my mother was picking up her car keys. I asked which direction she was headed in. I wanted a ride to the metro station. I wanted to not drive at all for reasons of fractured finances. She was going to buy kathal -  jackfruit, for the crazy vitamins who, surprise! surprise!, besides a friend of my father (who I love and have mentioned before), were coming to dinner. And since we wouldn't serve dog, jackfruit would be a good substitute, a nice poor man's meat. I hope you're home for dinner, mommy says to me. Yea yea, I say. When we get off the lift, an old couple is resting near the stairs with their family. I don't understand why my mother is saying, what's the occasion? And then I see the orange garlands of marigold around their neck. They've just had a small puja for the coupe's 70th wedding anniversary. My mother gushes, offers multiple congratulations and says, may we all get there. This sticks with me.

I get dropped off. I see Bhawna plant nursery. I cross the road. I walk to the Sikanderpur metro station. I get on the train. I get off at a station midway. I read my book at the platform. I wait for Princess. Princess apologises for being late even though she is only slightly late and ever apologetic for keeping me waiting. She looks so pretty in her hibiscus-red top. We go on to the malls, hang. She buys shoes and treats me to lunch - thin crust chicken pizza and rosemary potatoes at that Spaghetti Kitchen place. We do our thing. We talk about the world and it's aunt. She gives me a phrase that I love and so I adopt -- for hapless Delhi girls with jarring diction in straight fits and long hair and identical over the top clothes: "the untolds". They're overdressed because they weren't told where they were going. The joke of the untolds. We stretch it to us, tinker with context, double over and, it's possible, become one of them. The story of the untolds. Bwahaha.

I get back home in good time. My mother's yelling for me to take out the nice ice cream glasses, asking if I want to do the desert, which is essentially a poorly-disguised order. Doing the desert means  swirling hersheys chocolate on the inside of the nice glasses, balling vanilla icecream, 2 scoops each, into them and bunging them into the freezer. She yells for me from the kitchen, SHALL I PUT A BISCUIT THING INTO THEM? I yell back, NO, SPRINKLE SOME COFFEE OR BOURNVITA OR SOMETHING OVER. Ooh, she says.

Ooh it is.

The doorbell rings. The chinks are here. I had asked my father when he was assembling the liquor bottles and asking me if i'll have wine later if his former student is an ass. And my father said na na, he's a sweet chap, speaks fluent Hindi. And so I'm not surprised when he, Mr Shrill says 'namaste' to me and asks how I am and says that I am a sundar mahila -- a pretty woman, and I say shukriya. I thank him. But I am, by then, I think, in total low tolerance fashion, a little irritated at being reduced to a local who can speak the tongue. Stop practising your Hindi on me. Enough people can speak it. I will NOT smile or act impressed. But I play along. He's a guest. A 'sweet chap'. I play along to him asking me aapka bhai kaisa hai, and I reply in Hindi, my brother is fine. He asks me woh kahaan hai, and I tell him where he is. I know he's never heard of the place and now I've reached my that's-it moment and I refuse to give him geographical co ordinates of mera bhai kahan hai. Fuck that. But then I hear him laugh and it tickles me. It's a slow motion laugh. A little like that of a diminutive friend, a once-boss who would go: hA-hA-hA. Three times. This one goes huuh--huuh--huuh. It's a lazy laugh. But the tempos overlap. I cave. I smile. I go so far as to very, very mildly take his trip. And now HE plays along.

Ni-ice. I can do this. Huuh-huuh-huuh. I am the coyote. You're the mutley. Huuh-huuh-huuh. I'm cracking up now. My mother's got a cloud over her head with three dots in it and a wtf.

Meanwhile my father's friend, his visiting-for-only-a-short-while friend rings the door bell. I love this friend of my fathers. He's super entertaining, too. And smart. And nice. And just so affectioante! I love him so much that I repeat that fact and treat him almost with the same irreverence I gift my father. I open the door and mock-snarl a why are you ringing the bell, can't you walk straight in? And he kisses my cheek and gives me a hug and says he didn't expect me home. I love that a couple of weeks ago, when he came over -- he came over the day he landed, in fact -- he said something about how he doesn't care what whisky he drinks for he hasn't forgotten his roots and what they started with. And I want to hug him. I see so much alcohol snobbery that this attitude warms my insides like no malt could.

I take in the evening. The smatterings of Hindi, the heavy smoked voices, the huuh-huuh-huuhs, the tennis tittering, the anecdotes of suspicious governments, our culture and your culture -- not a word about healthy dogs. I see Shrill loving the chanas - the chickpeas. Shrill and my mother discuss how the treadmills fucks up your knees. They don't say fucks up - 'bad for'. Shrill can speak some amount of Hindi too. I'm amused at many levels. At the criss cross dialogues. At the chanas-the chikpeas being loved, at the embassy offcial airing his opinion of certain Paki generals. At my father correcting a misconception that culturally Pakistan and India are the same. And the example he states is that he met a guy from across the border who told my father, why my daughter got married so late, she was 21! And my father grins. He collects in his own way samples of people's minds. I asked him, my father ie, whether he dropped the bomb of his own, gasp, unmarried daughter, and he smiled a smile that implied a, darling child, have i ever made you a guinea pig? and I smiled a smile, an all encompassing, yea yea, you're the best.

It was a funny evening. The global in the local. The chanas, the chinks and the huuh huuh huuhs. And the feeling I had was, that the only person who would have enjoyed this more than me was my brother. And as I was thinking that, all esp elves kick into action and my phone rings. It's on vibrate. But it's still he, the sibling, who four drinks down -- myI guessed, he laughed -- has called to "remininise" about this one time and that other time and how he's begun to see himself as a philosopher. I laugh and he feels hurt that I laugh. But I tell him no no, please don't be and HEY! I just saw a shooting star! He says, right now?? Andhell, yes, right now, outside the window! And we both feel pleased. And I I tell him, as if to make up for my cruel laugh, how I am -- mostly. And I try to be not a smart ass about it. And he tells me to not go about chucking jobs for the heck of it. And to send him my last week's Wellington pictures. And how some regimental old timer came to visit him in his room and saw a picture he's framed big on his wall, of him and I, my brother and me, as kids; and old timer apparently said sweet things about it. And me. That makes me smile.

I remember the picture. It's taken, again, in Wellington. My hair is in a fountain. I'm wearing a white frock and smiling the widest smile a kid in a white frock with a fountain could smile. My brother looks like an idiot. He's dopey with two missing front teeth and I have my arm around him. As in chunks of our shared narrative, our childhood, in that photo, too, I am in control. And he knows it. The younger one as the older one. My sister, the bullshitter. It's good to revisit the details of a photograph I know so well in my mind and go over them across a phone call. Yea, yea, I know the one you're talking about. At my description of it, at my exact show-offish see-see! I remember! boast, he laughs. Aware though as I am of how ridiculous an achievement it is, I feel proud as I always have, that I can make my brother laugh. Heeyaa-Heeeyaa-Hyeeeah. Idiot. Heh.

The chinks leave. I say bye like a good child. Polite. Not at all sarcastic. I left that side of me behind and I think I employ it now only on the rare occasion.

When my parents go out to see off the chinks, I tell Pushy uncle, you know they wanted to eat our dogs. And he laughs. And tells me, don't be silly. I say, I'm serious. I use the vitamin line. We both laugh, hhehhaha--hhehhaha--hhehhaha.

And an hour later, when Pushy Uncle gets up to leave, I feel a twinge. I keep thinking I won't see him again. Are you going to visit me in Seattle, he asks me in his loud booming whisky smoke voice. And I begin to say.. mm. My mother to the seeming rescue. "Inshallah", she says. And Pushy uncle winces and tells my mother, ugh, I hate it when people say that. Screw the arabs, he says. He doesn't understand what allah has to do with..a. a meeting at 10.30 a.m on a Monday morning.

Ok, I say. No inshallah. So then, maybe?

And so it is they all pack up and I 'repair' to my room, swatting mosquitos, hopping from one youtube melody to the next, sipping water, cleaning my face, correcting my sighs and hoping this week is better. Not that you could tell from a ramble that weighed a kilo, could you? Huuuh-huuuh-huuuh.


Anonymous said...

You use terms like "Chinks", and "Paki" and then presumably feel bad when someone dislikes "Inshallah" and says "screw the Arabs"? The irony is delicious.

This post says more about your intolerance, bigotry and negativity than about any of the other protagonists. You must not have many friends seeing as it sucks to be you.

Nimpipi said...

Presumably? No, I don't feel bad at all. Slight off the mark ness on your part. But who am I to stop you from misreading deliciously ironic blogs of friendless bigots steeped in their own negativity. Maybe next post I can really lash out at the, who's left?, jews? sikhs? Anonymous commentors?

Anonymous said...

Deliciously ironic is taking self-delusion a little too far, no?

And "She is a certain south east asian national"? Really? *snort*. Maybe that self-awareness should be directed towards grammar once in a while.



Nimpipi said...

This will shock you. But of the however few friends I have, one is a, gasp, chink who is also way too used to prejudice in delhi. I crack horribly inappropriate jokes with her all the time, about chinks. And she rips apart punjabis all the time. And it's light hearted, all done in a spirit of irreverence. So spare me the righteous tone and misplaced reprimands. Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

"Some of my best friends are black!"

But what would I know?


Humourless chink.

Anonymous said...

Y killed it this post..after a long time the talent saw t light of day !!

Since I am soft n a bit beered right now.. I'll divulge a tome tht will mk yr balance days on this planet far far more awesome..n fame,pelf and men will b yrs for flogging.. Thinking,slow n fast-Kahneman.
(But not giggly,cafe read ;) )

Since y abide by tags.. n will be impressed with Kahneman(not kidding).. here's t well earned liberty ;).. in the last post y're t taller chick ?(yes stared carefully).. hot(tho getting a bit handley arnd hips ;).. but don't get a turd in sync with Bernie in "If it flies,floats or fucks.. rent it".. def not yr type.:)

..but I get regularly stoked by t whole writing/pics/aura of nimpipi

The tag closes here..*dont* post this ->

Pringle Man said...

I don't know if I've mentioned this before here, but I'm ALWAYS the dessert incharge. Which is pretty much cut the cake/brownie into slices, put the icecream into a bowl and then put both in those icecream cups and take it around. Then everyone says no-nooo, toooo much, and I take the whole lot back and halve the proportions.

: )

Nimpipi said...

anon2: how could I *not* post that comment. Not everyday I get tomed and pelfed. To my balance days of blogging on this planet being as entertaining, glug chug.

P.m: :)you might have mentioned being gift-wrapping lackey but desert incharge is also super! Isn't it fun when they say no no too much, so then you halve, and then they go for seconds? :D

Sugar said...

yes the sibling relationship :) its beautiful, ain't it?

sometimes i wish i were the younger one :)

Sanchari said...

Yes, but the small things always make it better.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

Wow! What a shit storm in your comments section! It's like watching a professional wrestling match.

I put off reading this because of your VERY LONG warning. I finally decided I'd read half this morning and the balance on my way home. Started reading and, of course, as could have been predicted, got sucked into writing and kept going until the end. You have serious skills, my lovely. Racist jabs and all. Wink-wink. Yes, go to Seattle. Bring an umbrella.

Nimpipi said...

Sugar:sometimes I wish I had curly hair. Grass greener that side logic. And whenever I wish I were the older one, even though that never happens, I just act like I am :D

sanchari: you speak the truth, woman.

Ub: didn't take me for a fighter cock, did you? :) also, you're a doll. You left me a similarly flattering comment on the old post I linked to in which I talked about my father's friend and which was also VERY LONG. XX

Anonymous said...

..end of r little secret.Flippant,shallow birds remember pelf but gloss over Danny's Denouement..meh

But like t new frequency in posting n is that too much R&L gurgaon in yr mail?


Anonymous said...





"Curry muncher".

"Sand Nigger".