We have very specific names for our relatives, which make it clear how one is related to another and from which side of the family they belong to. For instance, paternal grandparents are Daada (male) and Daadi (female). So the moment a child refers to someone as Daada or Daadi, everyone knows it’s a son’s child. And when the terms Nana or Nani are used, you know it’s a daughter’s child. There is no confusion about any relationship unlike the common terms uncle and aunt or grandma, grandpa, brother-in-law, sister-in-law etc. To come back to my father becoming a nana or nanaji, as the kids called him (the 'ji' is suffixed as a sign of respect) and a few memories of the kids’ interactions with a man, who had been a strict disciplinarian as a father, and had grown more reserved and serious with the years. Everyone was still in awe of this man, who although mellowed with age, yet held a commanding demeanour and a sarcastic sense of humour. My sons learnt to talk rather early so their interaction with nanaji began early too. By this time Daddy had already transitioned to the grandparent level, courtesy my elder sister’s son.
Daddy used all his sarcastic humour on the kids, who just loved it. They were quick to retort and he would have his laugh. They often got into little kiddie fights with him, and when we’d hear “Dirty fella, I’m not talking to you,” we knew we would witness a wonderful, funny incident soon.
One day Daddy had a bit of a falling out with my sister’s son Chiku aged three and a half.
“Go away, I’m not talking to you, dirty fella,” says nanaji to the scowling boy. Both walk off to their rooms; the grey haired one hiding a broad grin and the younger one certainly miffed.
A few minutes later a chubby face peeks into nanaji’s room, he is ignored. The second and third attempt to reconcile is also ignored. The fourth time he comes with a bunch of grapes as a peace offering. Nanaji refuses to accept it, closes his eyes and appears to have fallen asleep.
Chiku stands and stares at him for a while. Then he decides it’s too much. He plucks two grapes off the bunch and before nanaji can say “dirty f...” the grapes are stuffed into his nostrils and Chiku scampers out like a grinning monkey.
Thankfully the grapes weren’t far in and were snorted out easily! And nanaji was in splits. We saw them sitting together and eating the rest of the grapes soon after.
Daddy would sit in the back verandah or in the back lawn and write when the weather was cooler. On one such day, nanaji had an encounter with another three and half year old named Tintin; Elder son of yours truly. Nanaji was immersed in his study and writing while Tintin played with his toys. Nanaji had an old, in fact very old, Bible which he loved and in which he had written many notes, on pages specially inserted into the binding. It had a thick, hard leather cover which had faded and cracked over the years. It was open and lying face down on a table beside him. Tintin sauntered over and looked at it. Apparently he didn't like the look of it. He screwed up his little arrogant nose and asked what book it was. Nanaji answered him without stopping his work. A few moments later he needed to refer to something in the Book and well, it wasn’t on the table. He looked around and what do you think he saw?
“You dirty fella, what are you doing?” he said and jumped out of the chair to rescue his precious Bible from a washing.
Tintin had decided that nanaji shouldn’t have a dirty Bible and had dunked it into a tub full of water, that was kept for the two small tortoises naniji had bought for him. He was just getting to the washing part when it was retrieved by nanaji.
“What are you doing, you dirty fella? Why did you put it in the water?”
“It was dirty so I was washing it,” replied the “dirty fella” blissfully unaware of the damage he could have caused. Nanaji found the explanation quite plausible, and though he was worried about the Bible, he couldn’t stop laughing. Once again thankfully, except for some pages getting smudged with ink and a loss of notes, the Bible was dried out. Well the cover looked more thumped than it did before!
Nanaji got a lesson in etiquette and right practice from yet another of his dirty fellas, when he came on a holiday to Rajasthan. This time it was Viny, not quite three yet. The days passed off fast and nanaji and the boys had a rollicking time. Then it was time to leave. Our littlest one was over eager to help; push and tug bags to the waiting taxi. Everyone was mightily impressed by the offer of help, as all the bags were too big and too heavy anyway for him to even budge a centimetre, yet he was lending the proverbial helping hand. He hung around nanaji, who once again saw through all the show, and was wanting to get his last laugh before leaving.
It was time to leave and nanaji got into the taxi. He didn’t close the door, but kept making small talk with his “dirty fellas.” We tried to hurry him but he kept stalling. Finally, what he was waiting for happened. Afraid that it would be too late, Viny took the initiative to inform his nanaji about Rajasthani customs.
“Nanaji,” he said seriously, “jab koi jaata hai na, woh kuch de kar jaata hai.” (Nanaji, when someone leaves he gives something and goes.”
Nanaji was thrilled, he had got his laughs. He dug into his pockets and handed both the boys some money. It was customary in those days for elder relatives to give the kids some money before they left. Needless to describe the glee with which the cash was handed over to mother dear, as Viny rattled off all that he would buy with it, including a car. I didn’t spoil his joy by telling him that he would fall a bit short of cash for a car.
Just for the record, he was thinking of buying a real life size car...LOL