Saturday, July 25, 2009


The following incident is one of my most distinctive memories from childhood, involving one of my favorite grandpas - and you'll see for yourself how he earned that status for himself in just a bit. Growing up, there seemed to be an awful lot of grandpas going around. Grandmas too, but this one is about Grandpa K. In India, family is really close-knit and it doesn't matter if you're the brother of a grandparent or the cousin of an Aunt to whom you're related only by marriage... it's all family and you call them by the names applicable to them. We have names for every possible computation of 'relativity' that you could think of.

Grandpa K was the real brother of my real grandmother - Grandma M, my father's mother.

Grandpa K was a lawyer and it is a universal fact that if that's your profession, no matter where you live, you make enough money to be happy. And so he was. As was his wife. They were so happy, that it made them semi-progressive... his wife was the only grandma I knew in my large family who would drink her booze, enjoy it and ask for more. Not that that made her an alcoholic or anything. Of course, everyone knew and at weddings and other social gatherings, glasses covered with white napkin around them would make their way mysteriously into her hands... the logic being that if the glass is covered and you can't see through, you really couldn't be sure what she was drinking. But everyone knew. Even I did. And I was only 6.

Anyway, to return to Grandpa K, he had a peculiar habit. And before I was incorporated into the ritual, I thought he might just be evil and sadistic based on all that I could make out of it.

He would line up all the young ones, based on seniority, and then walk down the line giving everyone a loud whack on the face. And then he'd chortle. I knew one day my turn would come and I tried to keep my distance from him as long I could help it. But sure enough, on one of our visits to his house, when the only kids in the vicinity were my elder sister and me, it became rather hard to turn invisible.

'Aha,' he said, sighting us.

'Tee hee,' giggled my sister, who was usually too dignified to be caught giggling.

'Frown', thought I.

'I know exactly what you both are here for,' went on Grandpa K, smiling beatifically. And then he lined us up... even though it was just the two of us. Then he muttered something that sounded like black magic and down came his right hand on my sister's cheek... and she squealed with laughter. And placed her hand over her cheek - because it had to smart, right?

Then Grandpa K moved over to me. Muttered the unintelligible stuff again while I braced myself for what must obviously be a right of passage into adulthood where pain must become equivalent to pleasure. Down came his right hand on my cheek... I closed my eyes in anticipation and winced. His hand landed on my cheek and I could feel something knobby on the point of contact. Great, he has warts to add to the humiliation!

But wait, the stuff is moving... and of my own volition, I find that my hand has moved under his hand and is now cupped around... candy!


That was his thing apparently. He had a jar full of colored candy, different flavor, sparkly wrapping... the promise of endless delight. He'd hide a handful in his pocket, and reload the ammunition after every 'slap' he placed on our young, innocent faces. The slaps were nothing more than a pat on the cheek - but he'd add sound effects which made it seem like they were forceful and must hurt beyond doubt.

Oh the things grown ups do to win the gratitude of young children!

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