“Tell your children some good family stories and you’ll be remembered for generations. Be the story and you will live forever.”...........Joy Clarkson
As I trawled through my memory for stories, incidents and anecdotes that I could add to my collection of “paans & giloris” for Khaandaan Ka Paandaan, my gift to my grandchildren, I wondered about my need to recount here little snippets and snapshots of our family life. I believe it is very important to know, if not all then, most of the people and nuts one’s family tree is full of. But what’s more important is to know how they lived and what ingredients were stirred into their lives that produced characters and lives so varied and diverse that one wouldn’t even know they were related if the family tree didn’t join them. It also helps to know which ancestor to blame for all the quirks you have! I enjoyed listening to the yarns about my parents and older siblings. I also learned a few things; some ‘what to do’ things, some ‘what not to do’ and quite a bit of ‘left to do’ stuff. So was this the reason I was going down memory lane? I mulled a while and the outcome was the quote which opens this chapter.
The Royal Indian Navy and the WRINS
Daddy decided to join the Navy as a sailor to fight the War. He was only seventeen when he made this momentous decision, but more on that later. The British were ruling India so the Naval Force in India was called the Royal Indian Navy. The women’s division was known as the Women’s Royal Indian Navy Services, and the recruits to this wing were generally referred to as WRINS. Having earned his commission in the UK, Daddy returned to India. He was in the signals division, posted at Bombay, now known as Mumbai. He bossed over some WRINS who were stenographers and made up his department. I am referring only to this group in his office because they are important to the development of this narrative.
Daddy was a youth from rural Punjab, with an excellent physique and handsome face. Tall and dark, he fitted the bill to be a Barbara Cartland hero...”tall, dark and handsome.” Needless to say he was much sought after by women including those in his office. He was quite aware of the effect he had on them and enjoyed the attention they lavished on him. The drawer in his table would always be filled with chocolates; just one of the bribes to ensure they didn’t get a rough day at work. No matter how many times I heard this story I never failed to marvel at the stupidity of these WRINS. Why on earth were they giving Daddy chocolates! They should have been receiving them from him!
“Ab woh laa kar rakhte the meri drawer mein , toh main kha leta tha. Unko bola thodi na tha ke mujhe chocolate achchi lagti hai,” he would laugh off my childish contempt.
“Of course you used to ask them to get you chocolates. And when they wouldn’t you’d get angry.” Mummy would be quick to correct him. The jealousy apparently still lurked within.
Daddy would grin and refute that with a silent nod of his head. This was the cue for someone to ask if everyone without exception gave in to this extortion. And of course one of us would oblige.
“Oh no, everyone wouldn’t. There was this small Burmese who refused to comply,” he’d say, his eyes twinkling. We’d all turn to look at Mummy who’d be blushing and smiling shyly; another cue for more questions which we would supply.
“Why didn’t you bring chocolates?”
“Did you get a rough day at work?”
“Didn’t you like Daddy?”
“How many girlfriends did he have?”
“Were you jealous?”
The same old questions were repeated; the same old answers were given. But the interest was always fresh on both sides of the table. Just as Mum and Dad retained the timeless joy of their courtship even though they had been married for “donkey’s years,” we listened and marvelled at the love that had bound these two very different people, with renewed interest. For every wrinkle, every grey hair that was added with the passage of time, made it more amazing that the story could still evoke the same feelings that youthful romance had embedded in their hearts forever.
I’m not even remotely suggesting that life was Utopia for them. They had their squabbles and bitter fights. As I mentioned earlier they were poles apart in all things. And that’s what makes it unbelievable. My father doted on my mother even though she drove him mad at times...most times. And she remained forever jealous and possessive of him till she died.
Theirs might not be an ideal love story as love stories go, but it had all the ingredients of which legendary romances are made. Boss and steno, rich-poor divide, North-South chasm, Urban-rural culture chasm, language barriers, (mom was a Burmese brought up in a city in the South, and knew only South Indian languages and English) whirlwind courtship, parental objection, elopement, alienation; they did it all and survived all the tests. I’m talking about a long time back. They were married in July, 1947 in a small conservative town in Punjab.
I still smile when I picture Daddy teasing ma, obviously savouring those long gone moments. He’d look lovingly at Mummy who’d be as shy as a new bride as she smiled and glanced at him with apparent adulation. Yes, they sure had something special between them.
“Paans & Giloris......... Paan is betel leaf with areca nut and other things added to it. Chewing paan is an age-old practice and is deeply rooted in India.Gilori is also a small paan.
Khaandaan ka..........the family's
Paandaan..........The container used to keep the betel leaf and other condiments used to make the paan.
“Ab woh laa kar rakhte the meri drawer mein , toh main kha leta tha. Unko bola thodi na tha ke mujhe chocolate achchi lagti hai,”.........."They would put the chocolates in my drawer and I used to eat them. I never told them I liked chocolates."