Nani Arranges Mother Goose Ensembles At Local Kirtan Mandli
Like a lot of people my age, my parents too packed us off to my maternal grandparents' for our summer vacations. We resented it, because while my classmates had photos of Goa or Bombay or Shimla or 'Whichever US Univ Dad was teaching at', we, 8 times out of 10 were visiting the boondocks (interior Awadh) and had no exotic tales (or so we thought) to relate.
Nani (maternal grandmother) awaited our summer vacations 10 times more eagerly than we did. We were Nani's little showpieces, with multilingual skills (Hindi, Bengali, English and a smattering of German heavily embellished when we faltered), musical abilities (Ha!), dancing talent and various other skills that Nani couldnt wait to show off.
Nani would announce months in advance, our royal arrivals and departures. Every single day, some rural lady would come to gawk and mark attendance in Nani's Court, at us little precocious princelings and princesslings.
This royal appearance would consist of us being first scrubbed from head to toe, being dressed in frocks/ skirts/ dresses or pants/ jumpers (Indian clothes did not hold much favour with Nani who thought them ganwaar and old fashioned), having our hair brushed till it shone (I always suffered because I had hair below my waist and the agony of having it brushed and plaited into neat braids, I will never forget), and putting on socks and shoes in the hottest months of UP. Then after we were suitably attired and checked by martinet Nani, we would be made to sit side by side in Nani's receiving rooms. Only then would the rural (and sometimes not rural) guest be allowed to feast their eyes on us. Our praises would be sung to high heavens. Our beauty would be compared to Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga depending on the mood and our virtues would be extolled to no end.
Then hot tea or Brahmi Sherbet (I will not care to explain this, for fear that I will start howling and wailing without stopping) or Bael Sherbet or Phalsa Sherbet or Aam Panna or Shikanji or some similar tasty drink would be served with hot pakodas or matthris (Like only women in my family are capable of making and I do not exaggerate when I say this) or some hot snack and ladoos, kachri (rice flour wafers), different kinds of papads, sev, biscuits, halwa and the fruits of the season (more often than not, dassehri or langdas from our orchards) would be served. If the visitor had strained circumstances, a big fat pack of food was prepared to take home. After the heavy nashta, cold water from our wells would be served (I am not maudlin when I say this, but I have never drunk tastier water than the water from our wells and tube wells. Was it the ghaghra -Sarayu river- or what, I dont know). After cold water was gulped down in 1 litre big brass tumblers, it was a signal to the guest that it was time to bid a fond farewell and Nani would start relating what a busy person she was. The guest would then stuff money in our hands (ranging from 2 Rupees to 100-500 Rupees, depending on the socio-economic background) and we would get Nani's signals to touch the guests feet regardless of social stature. The guest would then comment on how well- brought-up we were and depart.
Once a week, Nani would assemble a kirtan mandli, consisting of all the ladies in the village, who would assemble and sing kirtans (hymns) very very tunelessly. Nani had also included folk songs which she would improvise according to the situation. This was also Nani's way of gathering info about the goings-on in the village and was the perfect way of her getting the opportunity to poke her nose in business that most certainly wasnt hers. During our vacations, she would drag us to her kirtan groups and her mandate was that we perform at the events. The performance had to be new and unique and preferably should not be repeated. I, my siblings and my cousin sisters would rack our brains and come up with stuff. So, the good ladies of Ganeshpur were exposed to cultural oddities such as Mother Goose's Bobby Shaftoe, Cobbler Cobbler, The Crooked Sixpence, For Want of a Nail, Little Tom Tucker etc. and also stuff like 500 Miles, O Captain My Captain, Daffodils, Ave Maria, Rabindrasangeet and Nazrul giti, all the chota khayals I sang horribly, I have a dream, Fernando, Brown Girl in the Ring and my sister and my odissi and kathak awful awful recitations. My odissi recital (it was way beyond awful, was a dashavtar piece that I was forced into at school - difference was I did all the parts at Nani's) proved to be the crowd stealer and was mentioned for many years to come. I still chuckle at the memories and how Nani would force junta to form an audience to appreciate her gifted, talented granddaughters and grandsons.
Once we reached our teens, we rebelled and refused to perform. That was the end. Had I known or realised the powerful love behind Nani's orders, I would have danced till my feet dropped off, whenever she wanted me too and sung till I lost my voice. I now know what an amazing powerful force my Nani was and I hope I have even a tenth of the lifeforce she had, and a fraction of the strength she showed till the last breath she took.