Chandrika R Krishnan
I came across a quote by Tom Stoppard recently that read: If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.
Today, I felt like tweaking the quote, ‘If you carry your childhood where you learnt to laugh, you have the strength to bear the adversities that rain down on you.’
There is something about the older generation with their stoicism that keeps you centered, but my childhood was mostly a big laughter zone, particularly when my father’s side of the family congregated. And what a congregation that was!
Be it births or funerals, be it a simple gathering or a wedding, the words and laughs ricocheted off the walls. Everything was loud. The talk, the laugh, the disagreements and of course the forgiveness too!
I was at the funeral of my Periappa (my father’s elder brother) and while performing the last rites, I remember chuckling through my tears. A few weeks prior to his demise, my father informed me that he was once again admitted in hospital and things weren’t looking good. When I called him to enquire about him and he said heartily, “Hey, I am a holy man and people are coming to see me and I am having a whale of a time!”
Puzzled, I remember asking him, “Holy?”
I heard him say cheerfully that his body was riddled with outlets made for the various tubes and as he had a penchant for making pun with words, he coined his own word holey!
Though, I chuckled at an inappropriate moment, no one looked at me amiss for there was a sudden burst of laughter as people recollected his jokes. His apartment was filled to the brim with his own and acquired relatives and despite the solemnity of the occasion there was regaling of jokes and laughter as this great man lying motionless created one ‘big laughter zone’ wherever he was.
At the time of his making pun with the word hole, he was aware that he was fast losing the battle to cancer that had spread all over his body. He had to have his leg amputated the previous year. All his relatives poured in when they heard the news that doctors had given him just a week’s time on this planet. Yet, he made his loved ones laugh one last time.
An elderly family doctor had been in to visit my uncle ten days prior. After his visit the relative asked my uncle what the doctor had to say…. “He asked for my prescriptions to follow the medication…” was his reply. He lived a full life. A renowned bridge player and a retired employee of Bharat Petroleum (erst-while Burma Shell), he was the life and soul of any gathering. My uncle was in his forties when the doctors found a small tumour in his leg very worrying and he was asked to have it operated upon. My father (his younger brother) rushed from Hyderabad to be by his side at the time of the operation. The doctors were explaining to my father the situation, when my father commented, “By tomorrow, we will know where we stand.” To which my uncle quipped, “Or if I stand at all…”
The operation was getting delayed because his pulse rate was rather irregular. A pretty Goan nurse while checking once more commented to my uncle, “Be calm or else your pulse rate will never come to normal.” My handsome uncle replied, “ how will it come to normal when you hold my hand… ask that bearded man to take it and my pulse rate will be more than normal,” much to the nurse’s delight! Who knows, if he was still alive, he might be called out for being sexist à la Shashi Tharoor.
On the day of his surgery, his surgeon tut-tutted and removed a small hair that the ward-boy had missed out while preparing my uncle for his operation. My uncle half groggy after his anesthesia commented dryly,” I have the world’s most expensive barber! “The surgeon saw to it that he was present when my uncle came back to his consciousness to smile down at him and comment, “The world’s most expensive barber is looking down at you.”
Even simple things like the collecting of blood samples for various tests weren’t spared by my uncle. After one such visit by a junior doctor, my father walking in just to see the white coated man leaving my uncle’s room wanted to know what the doctor wanted….
Quick was the reply, “He is after my blood!” By God’s grace he survived the fright and his leg was saved. He was the soul of the hospital and when he was discharged; the story goes that the nurses gave him a small token gift for being “a wonderful patient.” Such was his famous one-liners that kept the whole gathering in splits. His wife, a simple woman was devoted to him, and he to her. . He was a versatile man who could mingle with people from all age groups. Small children loved him and adults of course loved discussing Carnatic music, politics, cricket and almost all things under the sun with him.
When he visited me in Lucknow post my marriage, he asked my husband to bring in a video cassette of a movie, which my husband felt was a big bore. My husband procured it for him knowing very well that it was at my behest but warned my uncle that it was not well-received. It was much before the Google days when reviews were available at the swipe of our thumb.
After his return from office he asked my uncle how went the movie. To which my uncle said, “It was good and would have been better if we were all cats!” The movie was one of those art films where it was mostly shot in the dark!
His leg was always his Achilles heel. Subsequent surgery left him with a noticeable limp. Whenever we visited our parents with our children, he made it a point to spend a day or more with us. One fine day he had walked over to my parent’s house during one of our visits, when we asked him if we need to fetch an auto rickshaw for his return journey, his reply;
“No need, I have a walking stick on one hand and a talking stick on the other!” It remains a must- repeat joke among the next generation too.
We continue to live with the memory of his famous witticisms and that would be our legacy to our children. We all hope to emulate this person’s take on life. He never took out his frustrations on others. He knew how to see only the bright side of his life and almost took a child-like pleasure in most things.
When my father’s side of the family meets, it is always an occasion to celebrate with boisterousness and wit. A man living beyond hundred was being commiserated by others, when a cousin remarked that the reason for the troubled American economy was this man’s survival. He said that after retiring from the American Consulate, his handsome pension ensured that all the four sons vied with one another to make sure that their father continued to live, giving him the best possible medical care!
As I was reading through this, I realized that it is far difficult to look at the bright side when the clouds are stormy. Yet, my uncle and most of his cousins do that. We remember him for his jokes rather than remember him for the battle he fought over cancer. He made it his life’s mission to bring on a smile to another. It was so with many others in my father’s family including my father.
Humour makes us look at life with a different perspective and we all try to cultivate it and hope the legacy passes down generations.
[Banner Image by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash]
Chandrika R Krishnan, a Bengaluru-based writer and educationist who likes all things beginning with a ‘T’ – talking, teaching, tales, and tea.
A people person and a born observer, she weaves fiction and dispenses ‘gyaan’ alike to the unsuspecting audience. Her 350 + articles and stories (both in print and online media) are mostly eclectic and experiential. She is a published author, and her collection of flash fiction was published recently titled- vignettes- a slice of life. Her stories feature in many anthologies.
You can read her articles @ https://chandrikarkrishnan.com/
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A wonderfully humorous yet poignant take on life…