A l..o..n..g day with Akshu
Akshu, my grandson, having moved from New Jersey to Mumbai, India, just has been told that the family has moved to India, may be, according to him, on a short trip, like they used to go to Florida etc. while in US. He, being just two and a half year old, has no idea as to where exactly he, his dad and mom have come and for what reason. All the same he is delighted and happy to be with his Ammuma, Babu Thatha, Bombay Thatha and thathi ( that is how he calls and refers to all his grand parents). And. For us, with no chance and no intention and old age adding to our problems, to be able to travel all the way to New Jersey, (though these days a straight, nin-stop flight is available), his arrival in Mumbai was somewhat like an unexpected gift from God.
Having physically seen us, and having recognized, without any difficulty, the thatha and thathi, so easily, with his sharp observation and equally sharp memory, he was also so eager to see us more frequently; and his arrival at our house was an event full of joy and happiness for both of us. While he made three trips so far to our home, the longest was on a Sunday recently.
To welcome him and make him feel ‘at home’ (though he easily adjusts to every situation), in consultation with Vinod, our son, we thought of what could be the ideal lunch for him, which he could enjoy, and soon came to the conclusion that a pulav, made, of course, with good basmati rice, with mutter, carrot and onion, could be the most ideal choice – we all naturally wanted him to relish something that we prepare.
While Akshu normally eats his pulav, without any vegetable along with that, we had to think of something for the rest of us and settled on Aloo with tomato which, all of us like.
And, the previous day, my wife, Thangam and myself were busy with making the gulab jamun, which, we had already known from Vinod, is one of Akshu’s favorite sweets (which he eats also in New Jersey, where, we are told, these are available from Patel stores). The gulab jamun preparation turned out to be easy job, with me offering to make the rounded balls of the ready-made mix (in which job, with some pride I can say, that I excel and naturally my wife leaves this part of the preparation to me). I made the balls, all of uniform size, about which I usually boast, numbering forty odd. For a moment we wondered whether we have made more quantity than we all could consume. Meanwhile, my wife, Thangam, had already made the sugar syrup to which we added the last few ‘strings’ of ‘kesar’ we had. And suddenly, we felt the aroma spreading. Having completed the syrup, my wife concentrated on ‘golden brown frying’ the rolled balls, controlling the flame, now and then, to ensure that the balls are not overheated. This job also was over soon, and all the fried balls were now put into the syrup, with my wife urging me to ‘test’ her skill and ‘wow’, the whole thing turned out to be yummy.
Vinod had gone to Ghatkopar the previous night to stay with his wife, Maya, and Akshu, who were with his in-laws. On Sunday morning, we eagerly waited for Akshu’s arrival with his dad and Maya, and had already confirmed about the approximate ETA.
At about 12.00 noon, I opened the doors of our house and waited for their arrival, eagerly watching the red light indication of the movement of the lift, for it to be off on reaching the seventh floor (where we stay).
And, what an excitement to me and Thangam, on seeing all of them, with Maya holding Akshu, and he ready to jump into our hands – first mine and then my wife. Grand children are a delight and for us, it is after fourteen long years that we got the chance to ‘play’ with a small child – aged little over two and a half years; more than a decade ago, we had all the delight with Aditya, my wife’s sister’s grandson, whom we treated as our own grand child and he, on his part, treated us as ‘grand parents’, though we were Chithi and Chithappa for him.
Having held Akshu, both myself and Thangam didn’t exactly know what to do, for some time except talk to him, and enjoy his prattles, for a few minutes, before we ‘settled’.
I first took him to the swamy kovil (gods temple) in our house and pointing out each God and Goddess, explained to him the names of all of them, some of which he could easily identify and also tell about, having seen similar idols at Ghatkopar.
Myself and Thangam had stuck to our timings for lunch, as we normally do, finishing it much before Vinod, Maya and Akshu started. In fact, with my ulcer problem, my eyes are always on the clock, as far as eating food is concerned.
We wanted to know whether Akshu was ready for his lunch. On his reply to this in the affirmative, a small plate containing the pulav was given to him, fed though spoon by Maya. It was a delight to watch him enjoying one of his favorite meals, noticing the green peas and picking them up occasionally, since he likes apparently, the peas more than the rice. In between, to encourage him to finish whatever little was contained in the plate, I had to promise him about giving a toy, if he ‘successfully’ finished the entire contents. Encouraged by this ‘award’, he almost finished eating soon. And, he looked for the promised ‘award’ – the toy telephone pad, with music and pictures rolling on the screen. The sight of this toy, immediately made him think of his ‘leap pad’, the children’s computer, so.to say, which we had gifted him on his last birthday, and made him utter, ‘ithu leap pad thane’ (‘oh it is like my leap pad!’).
Soon Maya and Vinod also finished their lunch, my self and Thangam keeping busy with Akshu and his utterances. Now that he had had his lunch, he started jumping on the Diwan bed, gleefully, followed by songs ‘kajrare, ga re ga re….., Bol bol bachan, chalona…. (of which I had heard only the first one, while all being new to my wife – we had lost touch with Hindi channels on TV, with our shifting to Mumbai as our retirement haven). And, hearing him sing, one could say that, if there is a realty show for singers of his age, he would easily pass the audition test.
We asked Vinod whether we could serve gulab jamun for all. He agreed, while, of course, Maya wanted to feed Akshu first, gulab jamun being one of his favorite
sweets. Meantime, my wife was heating up the jamuns. And, when it was reasonably hot for Akshu to eat, she brought a katori with one gulab jamun and enough sugary syrup. Akshu started eating, nodding his head with a smile in his face in reply to our question, ‘gulab jamun nanna irukkaa?. He also uttered, ‘nanna irukku. After he finished the jamun ball, and in between, Maya was giving only the syrup, and Akshu was quick to react, ‘ennnai nanna irukku’ (mistaking the syrup for oil). After we corrected him,he also said, ‘thathee syrup nanna irukku, neeyum eduthukko.’ We all broke into laughter!
We all chatted together for some time. Finding Akshu totally free, with nothing else to do, having given a full rendition already of all the songs in his ‘rich’ repertoire (that is what we thought, for a boy of his age – just two and a half years completed), I attempted to make a bird, out of a square paper, folded diagonally thrice, to get the required shape, when opened and arranged (it is an art I had learnt long ago) with wings on sides, a neck with a sharp nose, and a neat tail, by pulling which repeatedly, one can make the bird fly. Akshu, while delighted initially, did not seem to appreciate much the efforts put in by me.
As another attraction for him. I brought out one of the balloons, stored in my cupboard and asked Vinod to ‘fill in’ the required amount of ‘gas’, at he same time, cautioning him not to overdo to see the balloon burst with a bang. Suddenly, the image of Dhoni appeared on the outer surface of the full blown, yellow balloon about which I tried to explain to Akshu, little realizing that it was too early for him to enter the arena of cricket, which, to some extent at least, is. muddled with ‘fixing’ of all kinds, thereby losing its charm. Akshu was excited, of course, and huddled it close to his chest, his new possession.
Occasionally, he checked his baggy, half trouser, putting his fingers into its pockets to ensure that his coins, given by Babu thatha were safe inside and proudly flaunted one of the pieces to show case his ‘money power’, since in one of the pockets on the other side he had a ten rupee note too.
Time was now two past ten, stealing away some part of my daily, compulsory siesta to which I am habituated and I suddenly said to him, ‘thatha thoonga porein’. And, Vinod, Maya and Akshu also made a retreat to their bed room, though they wanted to spend the time only talking, with Akshu also joining them.
I had only a brief nap, compared to the normal quota, but the tea also should not be delayed, I thought, to invigorate me to be able to spend more time with Akshu. So we had tea around 3.30 p.m. By that time, Akshu had gone to sleep. And, right at that time, Thangam attended an incoming call from Shanti, her younger brother’s wife (who, had come for a brief vacation in Mumbai, with HARI, her husband and their elder daughter, Sneha – all wanting to be together along with their younger daughter, Supriya, who lives alone for her studies in Mumbai. The call was to enquire whether Akshu had come. They had invited Ramakrishnan, Thangam’s brother and Lalitha Manni (his wife) for lunch with them, who were more eager to see Akshu, before their planned departure for Kizhakkancherry, near Palghat a few days later. Thangam confirmed Akshu’s arrival and welcomed them to our house.
Meantime, Shankar, my nephew, his wife, Jayashree and their son Aditya had also gone to HARI-Shanti’s house.
Though Shanti informed that they would come to us in about half an hour, they actually landed at our house around 5.45 p.m. We welcomed Ramakrishnan, Lalitha Manni Shanti, HARI, Supriya, Sneha, Shankar, Jayashree, Aditya and suddenly I was trying to find space for all of them to be seated. The house was full and the hall could not accommodate all. With all the dining chairs used, still finding not enough space, Jayashree and Sneha opted to sit on the floor, cross-legged (though with some discomfort), thus solving my problem. All of a sudden, Akshu was woken up by Maya
and she came holding him, still half asleep, half open-eyed, hair disheveled, dress crumpled. For a while, he was perplexed to find the ‘crowd’ assembled in the hall. With lots of cajoling and coxing, he came to normal without replying to calls of his name by each one, wanting to have him speak. All he did was offering them a somewhat reluctant, somewhat hesitant, tight-lipped smile and we had to go on telling all the relatives about what all he did in the morning, and why he was so shy now.
Meantime, my wife started serving the gulab jamuns to all, (we had still enough stock left), but most of the guests could not relish to the full extent, since Shanti had offered all of them, the payasam.
Soon there were gossips on various topics, with Ramakrishnan, HARI and Vinod getting involved in a heated debate on the rupees’s fall, each one wanting to be heard on their points and offering their own solution, blaming, at the same time the stiffened stand taken by Subba Rao, mauling the ‘maun-keeping’ Manmohan Singh and making fun of the occasional pep chats of Chidu for the situation, and perhaps, each one vying for the coveted post of Governor, RBI, trying to grab from Rajan Raghuraman the post already offered to him. For a moment, I thought this was a live TV channel debate – without a moderator, who could have ensured some smoothness, bringing down the decibel level to a reasonable limit.
In the meantime, I quietly slipped into the kitchen, and took a biscuit, which had lost its crispiness, due to the weather, for the short evening snack, so that, a little later I could swallow three tables, which I pulled from my ‘survival kit’.
I patiently watched the debate without really bothering about what all they said though I had seen various newspapers giving different reasons starting with dollar appreciation, higher GDP growth of America, FIIs withdrawing from India, oil imports costing more, decline in our own GDP growth, huge current account deficit, what they call CAD, (these being the most common reasons cited by all), and host of other reasons, analyzing the situation in their own way, making everyone really MAD, without perhaps worrying that the common man is most worried about escalation in the price of onion, bringing tears in their eyes, without even purchasing onions, and some one saying jokingly in face book that Manappuram Finance is now offering loans for purchase of onions, particularly since most of the poor people found it beyond their means to afford even this simple ‘luxury.’ Throughout this debate, Sneha and Supriya, though keeping quiet, were eager and ready to jump to the ring, if the topic suddenly turned to focus on NaMo.
And, the ladies among the guests all started to cover up their ears with their hands and getting bored, suggesting for a change in topic from politics and economics, still feeling that even Akshu could offer them some solace by getting ‘normal’ and at least beginning to recognize each one, to some extent, and giving a little more wide smile, rather than hiding from every one’s gaze, clutching to Maya’s shoulders more firmly.
To divert everyone’s attention and transporting them to a lighter mood, I asked Shankar, who was all the time just enjoying the debate and keeping cool, to narrate the ‘vaazhakka’ (raw banana) joke and he immediately obliged. He was having in his lunch box, given with great care by his mother, Radhai, almost daily, on a continuous basis, only raw kela sabji with chappathi. Since he used to have lunch regularly with one of his close colleagues, the latter had been observing him eating only the raw kela sabji, and one day dared to ask him, ‘have you got any disease because of which you are eating daily only kela sabji?’ which was rather an unexpected embarrassment for Shankar.
No wonder, every one had a big laugh enjoying, particularly, his own style of narration of the incident. He had not bothered to mention this even to Radhai, and when this incident was narrated to her sometime earlier, she only chided him for not disclosing this to her.
This was the most apt and well formatted indication for the group to think of winding up, a fitting finale, with only every one saying ‘bye’ to Akshu and all of us. The time as almost nearing 8.00 p.m.
We had now to think of Akshu’s dinner. Maya suggested that he could have chappathi. And, soon, a small chappathi was rolled out by me, ‘for further necessary action’ (as they mark papers in Government) by my wife. And, Akshu, completed eating it slowly, saying ‘nanna irukku’. A little later, we have him a ‘kutti pazham’, the small elaichi kela, half of which only he could eat. We all, then managed with adai-dosai, kela and milk.
By now it was 10.00 p.m. Vinod felt they should leave for Ghatkopar soon. While Maya asked for a trash bag to throw away the used diaper, seeing the bag, it struck to Akshu’s mind that he too would need a bag for carrying his toys. We then said that we would give him a different bag. On my giving a fairly large size bag, he started picking up each one of his newly acquired belongings – the telepad, a rubber ball, the paper bird, a drum like broken part of an old toy, the three coins lying on he Diwan bed, finding only two of them and suddenly remembering to look for the third coin underneath the bed, for which we helped him. Suddenly finding the balloon near the door, he wanted that also to be carried. But Vinod, having seen earlier one more unblown balloon lying in my cupboard, told him, ‘Appa vere balloon tharen, ange poyittu phoo pannikkalam.’ He was happy with that idea.
Akshu, Maya and Vinod then started on their journey back to Ghatkopar. We all exchanged lots of ‘bye bye’s and we waited near the door to hear Akshu repeating, thatha thathee bye’ the sound of which gradually faded, as the lift doors closed.
What a grand day it was, we thought. Thus ended a long day with Akshu at our house.
Epilogue: we got a call after about 45 minutes from Vinod about their safe landing at Ghatkopar. Akshu became drowsy, a few minutes after getting into the auto, but on alighting from auto he reminded Vinod, ‘Appa, née balloon phoo panni tha.’