The Grand Side of Cool
What stories do you see when you look at the creases on the faces of your grandparents? Do they merely smell of Vicks to you or can you easily bring alive the adolescents they once were, laughing fully, bursting with mischief? Like most teenagers, it had never occurred to us that our seemingly serious and 'bhodro' grandparents could have their own stories of pranks, courage and even dating!
So, one afternoon when all the relatives decided to put their heads together to share old stories, one particular story caught my ears - a story about how a distant grandfather, who along with his friends, was caught spying on the pretty girls next door through a hole in the wall. And I realised: our grandparents are a lot more than meet the eyes.
So I asked around for stories about other grandparents, and some quite surprising stories managed to surface. "I did not know the weirdest thing about my grandparents until a few years back. When my grandmother was in the sixth grade and my grandfather was is the 10th grade, they fell in love, eloped and got married! Then my grandma even proceeded to finish her studies, with a gold medal in mathematics! This highly unprecedented bit of news totally changed how I look at them now!" says Harisha, a medical student. She says that she had no idea that their story carried this far back. "According to my Nani, back in those days all they did was write each other long love letters."
While talking about this, I also happened to find someone whose grandmother was of the opposite nature. This person's grandma's parents wanted to marry her grandmother off at the age of ten, and one night, with help from her sister, she ran away from home to escape being married. A little girl from a village! Needless to say, they did not bother or dare to try to marry her off again until she was at least sixteen. 'My grandmother fills me with inspiration and courage. I always remember her story if ever I feel like I am being wronged, and I find the courage to fight back." says Nina, the proud granddaughter.
Speaking of inspirational grandparents, they seem to be everywhere. Fayaz believes that his grandmother is the bravest woman he knows and shares her story. "My grandfather went to the liberation war, leaving my grandmother who was only 27 behind with her ten years old son. She says she worried about him every night, but still managed to smuggle medical supplies and food to the freedom fighters, stored their arms and distributed their letters, never snapping, even after her husband was killed."
Though they were just children, I have talked to grandparents who joined rallies against the British in the years before the India gained independence from the British. Instead of sitting at home cowering, they took to the streets, true rebel style. "At that time, we did not know so much political history. We understood that our country was boycotting the British, and we caught on to the spirit quickly," says a grandfather who took part in the protests as a child.
It is obvious that because our relationships with our grandparents are usually too formal, we miss out on a lot of interesting stories about how their life used to be. Sometimes, they match strides with us and master the art of texting from a touch phone. After all these decades, one can confidently say that a crazy badminton playing grandfather who mooned the police from the back of a bike is still the epitome of coolness.
We'd always looked at each other across our front lawns. It was a narrow street so we were never that far apart. We weren't tall enough then, the first year or so, the windowsill coming up to the bridges of our noses. It was always the same time every weekday: around one in the afternoon, when our mums would leave us in the nursery to get the housework done. But we'd always find a way to sneak out of the room, climbing out of highchairs and cots, our mums too busy with the chores, the noise of the belching washing machine or the howl of the vacuum cleaner muffling the creaks of the doors of our rooms, the floors of our houses. That's how we'd end up by that windowsill, one head towards the sun, one away, our noses pushing against the sill, our dark eyes perching over to make contact.
The first time was when we were three, three and a half maybe. We could barely walk, our feet still trying to understand the concept of this new ability we had discovered in ourselves. Toddlers, our parents and uncles and grown-ups would call us, but then, we didn't know what that meant. How we toddled over to that window ledge in our squeaky Barbie and GI Joe shoes, accidentally catching each other's eyes at that perfect moment in time. We just stood there for the longest while, until we were abruptly taken away by the frantic arms of our mothers. They had no idea why we suddenly started to cry and soiled our nappies.
Every day after that, we'd be there, measuring our heights by the edges of windows and the distances of our foreheads from the panes, and by how much closer we seemed to get with each passing month, each passing year. The street would seem to have shrunk every now and then and we weren't able to figure out why until years later, when we were so much older, so much wiser.
Weekends were the worst, when our parents stayed with us for the entire day, our angry pouts aimed at the absence of their working hours. They would take us to prettier places to eat or to parks with rides that made the wind whistle in our ears. Sometimes, they'd take us to other people's houses or leave us at day care centres where they tried in vain to cheer us up. We could never understand why our mums and dads weren't friends, why they wouldn't go over to their neighbour's house.
It was when we had just started to be able to kiss the sill did we meet. It was in the backyard next door, where the owners had thrown a party. Everything seemed to sizzle; there were barbecue stands that seemed to reach out to the sky and spit oil across its face, only to drop down and land back into its gaping mouth. It was the most unexpected thing, to see each other across all that green under the sun, within the noise of sputtering speech. We'd never seen below the little skateboarding ramp just above the lip and below the nose, and it took us a while to piece them together, the forehead, the nose, the eyes, the hair, the elfish bit of the ears. But we didn't do anything, we just stayed there, holding on to the hems of our mums' dresses, making eye contact and immediately looking away every time.
We had been able to rest our chins on the banister for about two months when we properly united. Another party, another backyard. Everyone from the neighbourhood was there. Even then, we were scared to approach one another, but our parents moved closer and closer together, until finally we were close enough to not be able to avoid making eye contact. They sent us off to play together, while grown-ups talked of grown-up things. It was awkward at first; we didn't know what to do. We kept looking at the ground and the skies. There were other kids around as well, but we ignored them. We don't know how it happened, but it did. We started talking about our favourite cartoons and games, our favourite cereal. Before we knew it, we were holding hands. It was so soft; the palm against the palm, the buzz of conversation and children's screaming drowning our excitement.
Our parents started to arrange playdates, and we couldn't be any happier. In our rooms, left alone, we would giggle and scream and talk about Power Rangers. We pecked each other on the lips once and it was the most horrifyingly wonderful moment of our lives. We didn't do it that often; it scared us.
It doesn't scare us now. We may be eleven years old, but we know everything. We've thought of everything for the road: snacks for when we get hungry, water and Coke for when we get thirsty, some money stolen from our parents' wallet for bus fare and other expenses, a detailed map of the city in case we get lost and spinach, so that we're stronger than ever, so strong that no one will be able to stop us. We need a witness, so we got one of our friends from the neighbourhood to come along with us.
We'll wait 'til the dawn's out and go. The darkness still scares us a bit, but not enough to prevent us from going. We'll be leaving the place where our lives rose soon, and we're not sure what exactly we're going to do when we get there, but we think that we know, the road where it goes.
By S. N. Rasul
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