Saturday, July 20, 2013

My foot ,Gauche!!!



Use "a" before a word beginning with a consonant or the sound of a consonant. Use "an" before a word beginning with a vowel or the sound of a vowel. The “Madhama” said , perhaps the fifth time  that day, squinting her eyes through the reading glass perched on her nose and with a strain of exasperation she did not think was worthy of an effort to mask. The middle aged Anglican Indian spinster known in local parlance as “madhama” closed the ‘Wren & Martin’, pushed her chair back, stood up and straightened her skirt, tucked at her shirt before asking her pupil, the pure blooded young Indian woman to do the exercise in sentence construction with the words she had noted for her. Then with a noticeable imperious about turn she walked back into the house. Shadow the dachshund scampered behind her from underneath the table. True to its name! The boy was skeptical about the dog and was certain that it has all the trappings of its mistress.

He had been through this exercise daily in the grammar class at the convent across the street. And precisely because of that he was not too keen to sit by the table while the young woman labored at the exercise dictated by the Anglo Indian mam. He moved out further in the verandah of the colonial building that was now the residence of this white woman. He began to observe with awe - visually the artifacts and the furniture there. Surely this woman must be rich to have such a big bungalow and this clean drive way with mahogany trees giving perfect canopy .The May sun was a matter on the road outside and the world outside. In here it was pleasant as the trees would not let the hot rays of the sun scorch the ground below and inside the house the old antique GEC ceiling fans revolved gently, he felt figuratively than purposefully. The grandfather clock in the living room struck four and it brought him back from his thoughts chasing up the unknown hillocks. 

Hickory Dickory Dock,
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down!
Hickory Dickory Dock….”

He sang in hushed voice swaying his hand aimlessly.

It was a routine now for a month. He accompanied his young aunt daily to the white woman’s bungalow. It was after lunch that they set forth on the thirty odd minutes’ walk in the summer sun. Past the junction that served as a flea market till noon every day- the foul smell of fish, rotten-fish still hung in the air like unseen fog and bickering, cantankerous  women still exclaim in brassy voices of what happened in the business hours in the morning, while packing up their unsold wares for the following day. Black restless crows would hop and fly around targeting tidbits and entrails of fish and junk left around. Then past the convent school where he went before the summer recess. The window of his class room STD – IV C on the third floor of the building towards the road side and he would daily notice was not shut close.  She would hold him close to her while they walked and hold the “Singapore “umbrella above her, taking much care that he was safe from the unfriendly sun.

He was eight.
He often overheard conversations at home because the elders thought it was not significant if a little boy like he was privy to the discussions they held. What he sometimes overheard told him that his aunt was sent there- to her father’s ,by her husband who wanted her to undergo a crash course in spoken and written English; to understand the etiquettes of the elite society; to make her a cultivated woman. He did not understand the nuances of the conversations. But he was sure that she went to the Anglo-Indian white woman so that she would teach her English and social behaviour- what important and big  people called  'respectable' (sic). 

He heard someone comment that his aunt’s husband who was a “big man” in a “big city” was peeved by what he saw as her gauche and lack of etiquettes  in social gatherings. She once told her mother, that he called her ‘a dumb and insipid doll’ who cannot exhibit civilised and cultured conduct. She did not know to shake hands and reciprocate with hugs and kisses when an important person approached her. She had no idea of how a hostess should conduct about at a dinner for the elite clan of her spouse’s acquaintances…. . Her naiveté and lack finesse was glaring and damaging .Her salutation was just a coy smile and a “namaste”. Absolutely uncivilized and gauche!

The big man in the big city wanted to civilise her.


10 comments:

Meera Sundararajan said...

Ah...!! A period story or some larger issue? We Indians still hold those anglicized customs in high regard. Ofcourse they are now part of our day today behavior ( given the dissolution of the cultural divide).

Arun Meethale Chirakkal said...

I could see the old colonial bungalow, the 'madahamm' and the restless boy wandering around. Beautifully told. You might have read it, but in case... http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/lila-wife-of-anthropologist-verrier-elwin-passes-away/article4933079.ece

adithyasaravana said...

Nice post. Brings forth vivid imagery..
To think about this.. I too feel uneasy at times when I eat with fingers , in a good restaurant. . I have that way , even for fried rice.

rudraprayaga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rudraprayaga said...

A reality is fictionalized.Alluring. True. Indians think that speaking fluent English and following Anglican customs and manners give them the look of culture especially in high society.We also have our own ways and paths in civilization.Why to step into others'path. Language is of course a binding factor but Indian ones are second to none.

SuKupedia ™ :) :) said...

Completely loved your description of the bungalow and the streets Anil.. I could imagine it :) ..

and this story is such a common thing even today among educated middle class families who move abroad... it's a pity...to see their eagerness to embrace some other culture and abolish their own in the name of backwardness...

BK Chowla, said...

ANGREZI is still our status symbol.It is so because we are still living with colonial mind set.
Please,for God sake,let us come out of master and Subject relationship.

Ashwini C N said...

I see so many such people who give importance to being all civilized when what is more important is the character of a person.

anilkurup said...

@ Meera Sundarajan,

Yes it is a period story, but still relevant .

@ Arun meethale chirakkal,

Thanks Arun, the building still stands and is now used as a school.
Yes I read the article you mentioned. Strange but unique.

@ adityasaravanan,
Thank. It is our conditioning that gives the fingers the edge over spoons and other culinary paraphernalia.
The westerners eat crab after an elaborate process with cutting pliers and nut crackers.

@ rudraprayag,
Yes a bit of fiction and reality. The fact more often is Indians are more English than the English ,often resulting in faux pas moments.

@Sukupedia,

Thanks for the comments. Yes the fad has not gone away yet.


@ BK.Chowla

You are absolutely right. A false vanity and vain.

@ Ashwini C.N

Indeed .

Haddock said...

That photograph has made my day. Got to see Wren & Martin after so many years.