Monday, April 27, 2020

W is for When Papaji Swore #AtoZChallenge


My grandfather's face was a map of many deep wrinkles. Like creases in a piece of cloth, the lines around his eyes would ride up when he smiled or laughed. But, the ones around his lips would gather around his mouth in a thin bundle when he told us off for climbing a tree or for running through his newly planted beds of radishes.

The creases on his forehead never showed when he was in his garden. 

While the rest of the household slept through hot, summer afternoons in Dehradun, Papaji kept himself busy: tending to his trees and leaves and branches and dozens of birds and bees. There was always something to do.

I used to find it difficult to partake in the enforced siesta too. So, I’d try my best to sneak out despite the threat of getting a good beating from my mother if she caught me outside in the heat. She often did. There were enough tell-tales in our house.

One such afternoon, I found my grandfather sitting under the canopy of his grapevine, bent over a piece of cloth, threading a needle.

“What’re you doing Papaji?” I asked.

Sill reya haan." (Stitching) He said without looking up.

His lips and mouth were twisting in sync with his fingers. He’d puncture a hole in the cloth and twist the needle, his lips would twist at the same time. As soon as the needle was through the stitch, his lips and the lines around them would relax. The sewing sequence continued.

He told me he was stitching covers.

“Covers...for what?

“Grapes.”

I thought he was trying to make me laugh with his silly jokes like he did sometimes. I was almost four years old -- old enough to know that grapes don’t wear any clothes.

Papaji had folded an old hessian sack and turned it into a cosy cushion to cover an upside down tin canister. He was sitting on this hand made garden stool; the pleats of his soil stained salwar falling on either side of the canister like big deflated balloons, when he nodded to confirm that he was being serious.

I planted myself on the cool soil next to him; my face turned up towards the lush vines watching the sun dabble with its leaves -- a dapple of bright here, a dash of dark there. 

How long I sat next to Papaji, I don’t know. Time, when you’re in a garden with your grandfather, melts like an ice-cream in the hot sun. It disappears too quickly. One minute you think you’ve got the entire afternoon spread out in front of you and the very next minute, you hear your mother calling you to get back inside to drink your glass of milk which you hate anyway.

“Count how many are ready.” Papaji stuffed a handful of the bags he’d sewn into my lap. I counted and told him.

“Arti….” We both heard my mother’s voice.

“Coming….” I replied but didn’t move.

“Go inside and quickly finish your milk. I’ll wait.”

I dashed in, gulped the vile liquid down and dashed back out in the blink of an eye. 

Papaji was muttering to himself: something about his vine’s poor performance that year.

“Pass me a bag when I ask you.” He instructed and adjusted a sturdy crate to use as a step ladder to reach the first bunch, the one I could barely see because it was the one hanging the highest.

I passed him the bag. He slid the cloth bag onto the bunch like pyjamas and wrapped a piece of twine around the top to keep it secure.

“There…” He exclaimed as he got off the crate. “Maiyavee chidiyaan… The effing birds.”

I didn’t know it then but  Papaji used to use an array of swear words, very often. Only later,  a few years later, when I first made the connection between the words he would use and the words we were never allowed to use, did I realise just how often he used to swear. Very often--almost every other sentence! He was a Punjabi, through and through. 

“Papaji….chapee lo.” The kitchen was issuing orders to him now—to come fetch his tea. 

He liked it sweet and hot and topped with a thick blob of malaai. (clotted cream)

Chal puttar pehle cha pee laan." (Let’s drink tea first) He said and scooped me up in his arms.

Two pink islands of soft, soft cheeks had emerged in his sea of wrinkles as he carried me to the house. He was smiling. His sweaty palms pushed the hair back from my forehead. I rested my head on his shoulder and watched the bags hanging from the vine recede into the cool garden shade. The effing birds had started chirping and twittering the evening in.
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A note about Papaji's use of swear words: It's funny how I can't imagine Papaji's speech without all those 'not-to-be-uttered-by-children' words. His speech without those words would not sound like his. Yet, taken out of context, the meaning of those words makes me blush even today!

A note about Covid 19:
A friend shared this short video and as I'm a firm believer of the immense powers of thoughts and positive vibes, I'm sharing it with you.
At times such as these, our collective thoughts of good health, healing and love can make a difference.

If today's post has jogged a memory from your childhood about words your elders used and you'd like to share, then I'd love to hear.
Please stay safe and healthy.

47 comments:

  1. Your memories with your Papaji are immense indeed. A reader can visualize it from your flow of words.
    I was amused reading Hot Afternoon in Dehradun - Doon has hot noons too? Cant believe. To someone from Chennai- Doon is 365 days -a hill station destination.

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    1. It does get hot in Doon Viyoma. Now, more so than in the 70s. So be prepared if you do visit in the summer months.

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  2. This use of swear words reminded me of a similar story. I often heard them from my grandfather...pahadis who always lived in pujab... And my introduction to their forbidden presence was a similar instance when I first used them. My grandfather made sure he never used them again.
    My faith in positive vibes is just as much. Also in the power of collective healing. Thank you Arti for that bit in the end.

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    1. Thank you for sharing Sonia and also for believing in the power of collective healing.

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  3. It's great to remember so many details about your grandfather. Fun post ;)
    W is for Women

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    1. Cheers Frederique. I have many and fond memories of him and his garden:)

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  4. After reading your childhood stories, we would love you to share pictures of your Papaji. And as usual, with your perfect picturesque writing I can see you sitting by Papaji and him holding you on his shoulders taking inside for his afternoon tea. How funny that some rituals of yesteryears never change. My dad still needs his afternoon tea no matter what. Also as far as I can remember I have never ever seen or heard my dadaji or dad using swearing words in front of us for anyone. It might sound sort or strange but they never did :).

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    1. My father never did! But Papaji--well:)
      Cheers Pinkz.

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  5. I could imagine the many lazy summer afternoons that were spent in your Papaji's company. I am surprised that you didn't pick up any of the swear words and start using them at a young age! Or is it the story was another day?
    Did the clothes for the grapes do the trick? How were the yields that year?

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    1. Actually, I turned out to be a real prude Shweta. Funny!
      The clothes did do the trick, but, the grapes were never very sweet. Papaji loved all his trees and vines irrespective of how tasty/not tasty their fruits were.

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  6. I loved your description of Papaji's wrinkles!
    I could imagine him in the garden, sewing that canopy and swearing at the birds. Ah, simpler, beautiful times of living in a huge family, being in the garden, siestas... :)

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  7. Aww... Your Papaji was surely the best. I could see him through your various stories. My dad kept swear words to the minimum when I was growing so even today, my knowledge of these is quite less. It has something to do with how some kids in the family freely use swear words in public without even realizing or understanding their meanings.

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    1. I know what you mean Srivalli.
      I turned out to be a prude. Even now, careless/lazy use of foul language by friends or colleagues puts me off, especially when there are other words that can be substituted to express the same emotions.
      Having said that, I have become more comfortable with using certain erstwhile "no-go" words as I've grown in years. There are situations where only that word fits:)

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  8. Hari Om
    Oh my... ours was very much a 'non-swear' family - so it was all the more shocking when the occasional misuse of language entered the space around us. Usually it was in relation to either mother or father not quite getting something right when busy with DIY; and would as often inlcude the damage to a finger or toe!

    Now in my dotage, I have noticed such words creeping in when talking to myself. Only myself mind. Not sure why. They were never there before. Is it an age thing then??????? YAM xx

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    1. DIY induced accidents almost warrant their use--don't they?

      Strangely, I am beginning to warm up to certain words as I'm getting older too. There is a certain energy in one or two I have started to use (in the confines of my home) which fits certain situations perfectly.
      I'm beginning to look a all words with more curiosity than before.

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  10. Wow Arti wrinkles never looked more beautiful!!It's strange as we have traveled this far with your Papaji & Beji, you hadn't mentioned about "Wrinkles" earlier. I am so happy you mentioned it here and HOW!!! My cousin and me used to hold one arm each of our Amuma's and play with her loose soft wrinkled dancing skin.
    Strangley even "Swear" words from grandparents don't seem so harsh, and yes it always existed. I have so many from my childhood dictionary, can't mention it all here!Khandaan ke naak ka sawaal hain after all!!
    My closest cousin and the only boy from our Khandaan, his father has a strange habit of using vegetables as a swear word. If he got angry he would say, Vendakkya ( Ladies Finger), azhuginna katrikya (Rotten Baigan) etc etc. When we would hear it, it would only amuse us and make us laugh than being scared. So one such day, when Amuma and me were staying with them, uncle got angry on my mischievous cousin & started calling him all sort of rotten vegetable. Amuma was observing all this,she called my aunt (my Buaa & her daughter)& told softly, "no wonder your kids don't eat vegetables, using the right word in the right place is essential ( i can teach him, tell him!!)" Ha! Ha! Ha!

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    1. I love this story Vidya and your Amuma's comment is sone pe suhaga--she had a wicked sense of humour. Didn't she?
      I may copy your uncle's technique next time I'm upset with the family:)

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  11. My father was a man of few words. If he got angry, he would make a profound statement with a tone that conveyed the emotion. That's it. However, I had an uncle who was very liberal with the words he used when he was angry.

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  12. Your Papaji's wrinkles and the grapes pajamas - you have lifted my heart today! While my family didn't swear much, my mother had a very sharp tongue. It was never nice being sliced by it.

    Thanks for sharing the Lipton video as well. I whole-heartedly believe in the power of our thoughts and our collective vision. May all beings be happy. May all being be safe. May all beings everywhere be free.

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    1. Thank you for your beautiful prayers Deborah.
      They bring me peace and fill me with hope.

      My mother's temper and tongue could do the 'slicing' you mention too. And she could pick words and idioms and phrases from Hindi, English, Punjabi and Sanskrit! So we got a real variety:)

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  13. Wonderfully descriptive and I could almost her his utterances!

    W is for ...

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  14. Such a heart warming one..I love the grapes payjamas..And this reminded me of my Nani..her sentences were peppered with so may swear words!!

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    1. Would love to hear more about you Nani Arti. She sounds fun:)

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  15. My dad and granddad are like saints. I have never heard them use any swear words. However, my uncle more than made up for it. He sweated at and still swears at every single thing and also cracks a string of 'toilet's jokes irrespective of who is around. A beautiful read as expected.

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    1. Why is it that every family has a champion 'teller of toilet jokes'? One or two of our older cousins loved to rile the family up by sharing such jokes during meal times!!
      Thank you for stopping by.

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  16. I think gardening made our papji's younger. Mine also lived a long life because his world was the garden. I agree with you love and gardens keep us healthy.
    I think our connection to each other is very important.
    Water

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    1. So true Moonie--I think this connection is what will save us and our planet in the end--if we choose to pay attention to it and its powers, that is.

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  17. Another lovely story Arti... I am almost feeling sad that this challenge has just two more letters to go...and I am going to miss all these stories that make me remind of some or the other nostalgic tale of my childhood...

    Like this one reminded me... Not of a swear word... But my grandpa used to love munching on something or the other all the time... He used to say his tummy made noises otherwise... Now we kids had some strict timings to follow wrt food... We weren't allowed to munch on any goodies just before meal times... So my grandpa used to use some short cut words for the goodies he wanted my grandma to fetch... So that we kids couldn't decode it and nag to have the same...!!

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    1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful memory of your grandpa dear Ira. I shall cherish it. His tummy's noises' excuse is classic:)

      I will miss this sharing once this challenge is over for sure. But, I'm grateful that despite the darkness of Covid19, this little ray of light (AtoZ) has brought so many wonderful blog buddies into my life.

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  18. It is funny how swearing is just a natural part of the way some people talk and for others it sounds so strange coming out of their mouth. Weekends In Maine

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  19. My paternal grandmother had grape vines. She made jelly. And one year there were so many caterpillars on them, they ate all the leaves. There were never any caps to keep the birds away though.

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    1. Thank you for sharing the story of caterpillars Kristin.

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  20. The bond you shared with your Papaji is so endearing. Your stories each night have helped keep my spirits up in the lockdown. I've believed in quantum physics and how thoughts literally matter for a long time.

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    1. Thank you for writing such a beautiful comment Jade. It gladdens my heart to think that stories from my childhood made you happy.

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  21. Isn't it funny how jarring it is when parents swear, and then you become an adult and realize how hard it must have been for adults not to swear more around kids?... :D

    The Multicolored Diary

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  22. "Two pink islands of soft, soft cheeks had emerged in his sea of wrinkles" so sweet and endearing...And how time flies. I am not sure if" Fitte Moo" is a swear word or not, my father said that very rarely, when he was really upset and it made my mother get very angry.. I never understood why...

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  23. Hi Arti, such a lovely story of grape payjamas, indeed the same we see over here when they cover Dates trees laden with fruits. I love to see the wrinkles on the face, these looks like the lines of wisdom.

    Regarding the swearing words, we are originally from Mathura, my parents moved to Kota many years before my birth. And Mathura is full of swearing words, I believe not even a single sentence can complete without a swearing word from a real Brajwasi. However, my father made a conscious effort to use less of swearing words in front of us. But its funny, when some relative from Mathura would visit us or we go to Mathura my father's vocabulary would make a 360 degree turn. But, I would like to say that a brajwasi language is so soft and melodious to hear, that a swearing word would look a perfect fit and would give a real glamour and authentic touch to the language. Love Nisha

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  24. Thank you Nisha for this snippet about Brajwasi language. I could never imagine that sweet Braj bhasha can even have swear words!
    You've opened my eyes today...and my ears:)

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