Indian Tales: Grandma’s Gift

This story goes back thirty years but so are the power of memories. They last longer than the thought of what you had for dinner last night. Summer holidays start with great hope during the school years. From the time the bags are packed, to the time the train is boarded and the destination is reached, there is excitement in every nerve of the body. However, soon as the summer heat picks up and the deadly routine of just yet another day sets in, even the holidays start feeling long and boring. You wish for change even when you swore just a few days back that summer holidays must be there forever in a kid’s life. Thus, starts the journey of deceiving our own minds that we carry on as we age even as adults!
This one particular day was different though. My grandmother, my mom’s mother, had been building up the surprise for a few days. She was the most hardworking woman I had ever seen, always busy doing some work or the other, never stopping to rest until darkness set in the village. Prathipadu is a tiny village in Guntur district. Getting there was easy as red buses offered services from the town to the village with good frequency.
“What gift do you want me to buy for you?” she asked me in private.
It was my birthday a few months back and she wanted to gift me with something I liked. My grandmother never gifted me anything until then and the excitement was palpable. What do I say?
My mom warned not to ask for anything expensive. I didn’t know what I could get to have in the village. Maybe I could ask for a bunch of glass marbles to play with? I was never good at playing that game, unlike my uncle, but I loved the colors and random designs of these marbles. I wanted to collect as many of them as possible although my mom declared that we wouldn’t be taking it back to Madras, the city where we lived in. Maybe I could ask for the calendar cards that had photographs of Hindu Gods. The size of a playing card, it had the elaborate picture of a Hindu God on one side, with a tiny print of the English calendar on the other side. It was the latest craze even in the village and everyone had their personal collection to boast of. Gold and silver rings or chains were out of question. My grandparents lived a humble life and weren’t rich by any standard. When I couldn’t figure what to ask for, I froze and my thoughts wandered.
My grandmother was anyways not too curious to know what I really wanted. She already had something planned in her mind. It helped. I didn’t know what to say either. She instructed me to take bath and get ready. She wanted to take me to the place where the gift would be bought. Taking baths regularly during holidays was as difficult as waking up before ten in the morning. I loved waking up early though. But, taking a bath was a different story. After a quick bath, I put on a shirt and shorts and stood ready at the door with my slippers on.
My grandmother was prepared too. Tying a few bundles of money at the end of her saree, she carefully kept it out of sight and we proceeded to leave. She held my hand as we walked on the street perfumed with a coating of fresh cow dung mixed with water and sprayed all over. It was meant to keep the streets fresh. Once you get used to the smell, you actually start enjoying it. I wasn’t sure where she was taking me but I followed her lead. For the first time, she took me beyond the four streets nearby her house that I was usually allowed to play in. We went to the edge of the village that adjoined the main road that connected to the towns. My curiosity grew and I was eager to see my gift. A lot of tiny shops adorned the busy road on both sides. I could see clothes, utensils, plastic ware and many other things that the shops in the inner streets of the villages didn’t offer. This could be my day!
She tugged me sideways as I paced my steps forward. We took a left towards a utensil store. It could be a quick chat with the shopkeeper who seemed to know her. It wasn’t to be. She planned to buy something for me in the utensil shop. I frowned. I had no idea what I wanted but I was sure I didn’t want a stainless-steel utensil as a birthday gift. I played along as I knew it wasn’t turning out to be great! She asked the shopkeeper what kind of a gift would suit me. The shopkeeper started pulling up tiny plates and glasses to fit my size. That was not exciting either. But my grandmother wasn’t satisfied. She wanted to gift me something that she liked. She asked for more options to be shown. I lost interest by then and starting watching the traffic pass us by on the road. One particular plate caught my grandmother’s attention. She immediately asked the shop keeper to pull it up for her. She examined it from all sides for the slightest scratch or dent. She loved it! She turned around and asked me if I liked it too.
It was a stainless-steel plate made in the shape of a banana leaf. It had the imitation of the leaf’s veins and was cute to look. I, in fact, liked it very much. I never saw any plate before that in the shape of a banana leaf. Most of the plates were either circles or rectangles. This was different. It would stand out from the crowd. Yes, I wanted it! I nodded my head in agreement. Immediately after that began the laborious art of Indian bargaining. She was an expert at that and used her energy reserves to full effect. I got tired but was now admiring my plate from far. Many bargaining efforts end up as a no-sale. I didn’t want that disappointment. I tugged my grandmother and nudged her to buy it. She complied as she could see the eagerness in the face of her first grandson. She dropped her demands with the shopkeeper. She then asked him that my name be imprinted on the plate at the back. I never saw a name being carved on a steel plate before. Lo and behold, the village shopkeeper had an electric machine that did the trick. I watched carefully as my name was etched in Telugu. I loved my plate even more. She got it packed in newspaper and off we went.
My grandmother didn’t express her love for her grandchildren the way the typical Indian grandma did. There were no long, wet kisses and big, squeezy hugs from her. She kept her distance while admiring her grand kids from far. She always talked about us with others but not much with us. She must have had her own stories of love and hate. But that day I realized that she loved me and was eager to express that love through the efforts she made to buy me a gift. I still keep the plate with me to this day. It has traveled along with me to all parts of India and the US, too. It stays in my prayer room at home. Memories built with the simplest of acts and the most obscure of gifts last longer! I had mine to keep. God bless her departed soul!


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