Two letters

In October I found an unusual white envelope in my letterbox. Our address, written with a pencil, was spelled out in block letters by an unsteady hand. The sender’s address, pencilled in a similar but smaller script at the top left corner, solved the puzzle: it was my nine-year old nephew in the US. In his hands, Heidelberger Strasse had become Heidelburger strasse, a charming little slip that brought to mind his insatiable appetite for fast food. Opening the letter I found – on an A4 size printed page with his handwritten words in the beginning, next to the salutation, and at the closing, signing off with “love…” – a request to help him with a project at school.

Dear Perappa,

This fall, as a fourth grader at xxx Preparatory school, I will be studying my background and my family. As part of our project we are writing to relatives to find out what their lives were like when they were our age.

My letters will be part of my Ethnic Pride family scrapbook.

Please write back and tell me about your earlier years. Where were you born? Who were your family members? What are your memories of school? Games? Toys? Pets? Chores? Vacations?

Please write back by November 26th. Thank you for your help with my project.


Your nephew R.

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The ground beneath my feet

[This began as a comment in response to Beth’s reflections on using our hands. Soon I realized there were a bundle of memories waiting to emerge, and inspired by Dave’s response I decided to write one myself.]

Growing up in India, I spent a lot of time barefoot. School prescribed a uniform that included black leather shoes, but back home I spent the rest of my day wearing nothing on my feet. I wasn’t conscious of this: it was a way of life. The weather – hot and dry most of the year – may have been a reason, but it had more to do with habits that result from watching people around us. These people – our relatives, friends, and neighbours – put on footwear only when they left home, on an errand, for a social event, for work; at home they went barefoot.

I played cricket on a street near home, an unpaved stretch that would turn squishy with mud during the monsoon, and although I wore slippers out of home I took them off during play: it was easier to run barefoot. Sometimes a sharp stone cut my foot, or, when I went searching for the ball in a plot that hadn’t been weeded, a few thorns pricked my soles, but these were part of the game, minor episodes that were soon eclipsed by an action in the match, like a boundary or a wicket. When I returned home with a bruise or a cut I displayed it proudly – it perhaps gave me a sign that I was growing up, capable of bearing pain; then, ignoring all my protests, my mother sat me down and patiently smeared an ointment – Betnovate or Neosporin – on and around the wound, advising me to be more careful next time.

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Remembering Grandpa

And so it is with our own past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.

Marcel Proust  (Swann’s way)

It is one week since I received news of Grandpa’s demise, and in this period I have tried, for the most part unsuccessfully, to recreate moments I spent with him during my childhood.  All that remains is a collection of hazy images that lack the depth of more recent memories, and a few incidents which, for unclear reasons, I can recollect as if they happened yesterday.  Continue reading “Remembering Grandpa”