I became an aunt for the first time when I was just 6 years old. Within ten years from then, I got that honour three more times. By the time my nephew and nieces came down to India for their schooling, I was already in college. It was great fun watching them grow and feeling myself grow young with them.
Looking back, I feel foolish at the way I used to compete with them to lick the cake mixing bowl clean. When amma made cake, all of us – nephew, nieces and me – used to hover over her in order to grab the big but light vessel in which she mixed the ingredients into the cake batter. We would wait for her to transfer the batter into the last baking dish and then pounce on the vessel which would have the remnants of the cake batter. Amma always did things on a large scale; so we were glad that there would be plenty to attack, particularly when she saw to it that she left enough in the vessel for her drooling daughter and grandchildren.
Once I beat them to it. The minute I saw that amma was done with the vessel, I snatched it and ran with it, into the five acre compound. My nephew and nieces followed me, screaming, yelling and waving. Seeing that I couldn’t shake them off my trail, I gave up and dropped myself down on the grass, and the four of us fell to attacking the vessel. Wipe with the index finger, lick the finger. Wipe- lick, wipe-lick. That was me. They went at it with the whole hand and took longer time running the tongue over the hand. The fastest got the most. So we licked frantically.
We must have been quite a sight- one grown up and three children seven downwards in age, squatting in the grass, desperately licking our hands as though our lives depended on it! Believe it or not, I was already a graduate by then!
Poor kids, they used to be at the receiving end of my creative bouts. These kids were so credulous and uncritical that I could weave tales around them and watch as they looked at me with complete fascination at whatever I churned out. More often than not, my tales bore just the bare minimum similarity to the original. The rest was the product of my imagination which was always sensitive to the mood of the listeners and adjusted itself to suit the requirements of the moment. The whole exercise was a learning experience on how to customize my imagination and narrative skills. Sometimes my imagination would go berserk, and encouraged by the breathless attention of the kids, I would plunge into the wild jungle of my fancy and be carried away by my ability to fabricate details.
I remember telling Mohan the story of William the Conqueror. My little nephew had large beautiful eyes which grew larger and larger as he listened to that bit about William chopping off the hands of those who reminded him of his modest lineage. By the time I came to the end of the gruesome maiming episode, Mohan’s face was all eyes, filled with horror and sorrow and bitter anger and helplessness. The little fellow then plunged into a tirade against William the Conqueror, gesticulating savagely. The outburst must have lasted ten minutes, after which the seven year old angry young man shifted gear to become a brilliant inventor of torture techniques, devised specifically to deal with the brutal William of Normandy.
“When I get hold of him I’ll - - - “, and he’d go off into the minutiae of how he would inflict the worst possible pain on the brutal king. His descriptions were complete with the nature of the knives used, the concentration of chilly powder meant for the wounds and eyes, the size of the pieces into which the Conqueror would be chopped live - - - - - . His fury stretched over days and weeks and I began to wonder if he was losing sleep over it, for each day he would come up with new ideas regarding tools, techniques and methods of torture!
Wonder if my dear nephew remembers William the Conqueror!
Then there were those days when I was quarantined with chicken pox and put on an oil free diet. The three of them, like little monkeys, would clamber on to the window. The youngest one, being imperious by nature, would insist on being hoisted first so that she won’t be left out. The kids would pass on through the window banana chips, banana fry (pazham pori, as they called it) and whatever goodies they managed to pilfer from the kitchen. How I used to look forward to their clandestine visits through the window in those days of isolation!
My nephews and nieces – what a lot of fun they were! Recently, when I saw them, all grown up, taking in their stride the responsibilities of adults, my mind slid back to the days when the three little kuttichathans (little devils) brought such fun into my youthful days.