“Whom do you like the most? Your father or your mother?”
As children many of us would have faced this question umpteen times. The answer most of us would say is grandmother or grandfather, mostly the former. They always pampered us, chided us for our little foibles and transported us to the world of wonders and magic with their anecdotes and stories.
A columnist, lawyer and a few teachers in Muscat schools share their childhood stories and what they learned from grandparents.
Rachel Maclver, columnist: “The lesson I learnt in life was one cannot live your life worrying about what other people think of you. Others will always have an opinion of you, a judgement slathered in envy, fear, pity or plain ignorance.”
Rachel recalls her grandmother who came from the big city and her only crime was to fall in love with a gardener from a small island.
She arrived with her big city suitcases and her silk scarf tied firmly around her permed head, to my grandfather’s rented cottage on the small Danish island of Thurø in 1932. Her leather suitcases were carried inside closely watched by the island’s kids who had never seen anything so fancy before. They thought the queen was visiting.
“In the 60 years I lived on the island I never quite managed to lose my city accent”, my grandmother admitted “and the islanders never stopped teasing me about it either!” Even after becoming a mother, a grandmother and even a great grandmother, our family was always referred to as: ‘The Newcomers’ as her ways were different.
On the island you would just slip on a pair of wooden clogs when going shopping. My grandmother would rather be struck by lightning than being spotted leaving the house without wearing lipstick. The kids would stare and giggle, the women would tut and shake their heads and the men would secretly feel a bit of heart flutter when she walked by. But my grandmother would pretend not to notice.
My grandmother just tightened her head scarf a little tighter and walked with her head held high. She loved my grandfather, and he loved her.
Faiz Mohmammad Khan, lawyer and husband of Sara Riaz Khan, visual artist, shares the dare devil stories of Princess Abida Sultan of Bhopal, her great aunt.
The lesson he learnt from this ‘achiever’ was from her diary which is documented in ‘Memoirs of a Rebel Princess’. What he remembers best was when she took him back to Bhopal to share family history and was the only time that he met his grandfather and great-grandmother as well.
Her paternal grandmother, Princess Abida Sultaan, was a wonderful storyteller with a great sense of humour. Wherever we met her, either in Malir, the home she built on the outskirts of Karachi when she moved to Pakistan or in London, she was full of fun and wisdom.
A self-described ‘rebel’, she defied all norms and would break any kind of tradition and was unstoppable.
My grandmother (respectfully called ‘huzoor’) was an excellent sportswoman, playing squash, football, tennis, polo and hockey. She never allowed her gender to stand in her way or stop her from doing things.
Inspired by news of Amy Johnson and Lindberg’s achievements, she became passionate about learning to fly. She learnt in secret at the Bombay and Calcutta flying clubs, as my great-grandfather had disapproved her from taking lessons. He thought it was too dangerous, and tracked her down and brought her back to Bhopal. However, she was determined to learn, as it was an exciting break from her daily routine. My grandmother eventually persuaded her father and continued with her lessons to become the second woman in South Asia to have a pilot’s licence.
Another story she told us about was becoming a professional stunt driver.
A senior teacher Department of English, ISG, Shubha Jose, recollects her incredible days of childhood with her grandparents. She reminisces about how they went out of their way to help a young pregnant woman who became an outcast due to leprosy, suffering near a bush. She was in labour and grandma offered help by tearing a portion of her mundu (traditional attire of Kerala) and kept her warm. After hours of pain, she gave birth to a boy which was handed to the Christian family after she passed away. Thus the Josephs were blessed with Hari who was always in tantrums with my grandma who hugged Hari and whimpered, “Don’t you dare leave me!”
“When I looked at Hari uncle, I saw him in tears but his eyes spoke volumes of immense love.”
Marifilis D’Souza, a kindergarten teacher in-charge at ISG, recalls her morals of not neglecting anyone who seeks help, or else one might lose them. She mentions the story the Crow called Cou and the Sparrow named Chiu. In the story, during heavy rains the crow seeks shelter at the home of the sparrow. The crow repeatedly knocks on the door but the sparrow was too busy feeding and taking care of her baby.
When the rains stopped, she went out in search of the crow, but couldn’t find him. The sparrow couldn’t see her friend anywhere and the crow never returned to the tree. The saddened sparrow realised that because of her negligence she had lost a true friend.
Ann Thomas, a secondary school English teacher, recalls the childhood summer vacation tales of her maternal grandmother in her ancestral home in Kerala. Her stories are still an antidote for her cousins as they continue to tread through life’s unpredictable terrains. Her tale of the two adventurous frogs has been an inspiration and continues to spur her during the midst of challenges.