It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to tell you that I have some of the most eccentric uncles in my family; and that I have met them only at funerals.
He was nicknamed Teddie boy, or so I was told. A stout, clean-shaven man who wore full-sleeved shirts and Raymond trousers. Teddie boy – a family friend of ours, was born to a British man in the erstwhile colonial town of Cannanore. The town was marked by a few English families who spoke English with a slight Caribbean twang. Don’t get annoyed if you’ve heard someone saying that you are a “bloody damn chap”. It simply means that you are a gem of a person. In fact, I heard the words “damn” and “darn” for the first time from them.
It was quite amusing to meet Uncle Teddie for the first time at a funeral. He was standing right outside the church busily looking at the people passing by and murmuring to himself as though it was a cricket commentary. He was drunk out of his skull. When it was time for the burial, he asked dad for some “rubles.” To my 15-year-old self, it transpired that he had no one to take care of him. A moment later, I realised that he spends every hard-earned penny on liquor, which he calls “dancing juice”. As soon as dad gave him some money, Uncle Teddie disappeared from the scene and reappeared with a bottle of whiskey. In no time, English Country songs were heard in the backdrop while the priest was performing the last rites. I took a look at our hero and found him sitting under a tree, pouring down shots of whiskey and singing John Denver’s Country Roads at the top of his lungs.
When everyone was about to leave the cemetery, Uncle Teddie was frantically searching for his mobile phone. When someone tried calling his number, his phone was ringing inside the coffin. He was so drunk that his phone slipped from his pocket and fell smash dab into the coffin as he paid respects to the corpse. Yet he was unaware of what had happened. In a bit, he burst into melancholy, singing: “Coming home, coming home. Lord, I’m coming home” in his loudest voice. He had spent the whole evening there until one of my uncles brought him home.
One of his Facebook friends commented on a birthday photograph, “How young are you now?” He replied promptly, “53 going on 100.” Uncle never drank to be tipsy. He only drank to be hammered.
A day after my 16th birthday, I received a birthday card with a note inside. It read: “Hey young chap, it’s better late than “wiring” for the next year. Birthday, birthday, son.”
Every nook and corner of the town knew Teddie well and he knew every member of the family. On his way from school, he would habitually fill his pockets with fruits, pebbles, and Circassia seeds. At the sight of him, all the kids in town would sprint away as he was known to carry a sling and stones to aim at the broods. So none of the little brats would dare mess with him.
When Aunt Cathy from Switzerland starts talking, it feels like a sewing machine has been set to work. Perhaps her phone bill runs over pages and pages. Her parents are both quiet and reserved. From her parents, one would perhaps deduce that the elderly couple is dumb to the world and deaf to their daughter.
Aunt Cathy’s 7-year-old son, Kevin, is an oddball. He will teach you to get drunk with a few sips of an aerated and seemingly harmless drink like Sprite. When enough of Sprite has gone down his throat, he will hum love songs like “Lady, I’m your knight in shining armour and I love you…”, as he did at one of my uncles’ funeral. We all had a guilty laugh-out-loud moment.
Shreenu is doing her 12th grade. If one is asked to describe her in two words, it is: regularly irregular. Her accomplishment so far has been attending 10 days of classes in one year. I presume that this lass perhaps invented the word “class bunking”. That’s her in a nutshell. But there’s more to know.
She once asked her Chemistry teacher if she would die from consuming the salts in the lab. The answer to it spurred ideas in her brains. This happened a day before the exam.
After sundown, she walked into the lab like a cat. She stuck a thin wire and turned into the padlock. Without a creaking sound, she opened that age-old wooden door. A split second later, she headed straight to the sample salt collection rack and took handfuls of all the salts on display. Then she hurriedly went back to her hostel room and tasted all the salts. Even now she can tell one salt from another by merely tasting them. That’s the magic to her success in Chemistry Pracs. When her classmates analysed salts by reacting them with other chemicals, she simply tasted them.
I saw Uncle Alfred at a cousin’s wedding in Hyderabad. He is now in his 80’s. A product of his times, i.e. British India, he was raised to be a European which accounts for his strict orders and etiquette that is imposed on all of us. Even from his infant years, he had a ‘child- minder’, a maid to do the household chores, a washerwoman to wash the clothes, a butler to serve food, and many others including his parents to take care of him. He most likely did nothing on his own. I say this in no spirit of criticism.
A few years later, I bumped into him at one of my family members’ funeral. It was there that I noticed a thin, short man accompanying him wherever he went. At one point, I saw this man handing over a handkerchief to my Uncle Alfred. I was curious to know who this chap was. I discovered later that he is Uncle Alfred’s “assistant”. A man so tough that a powerful breath of yours can set him flying.
The consequence of disobeying a man like Uncle Alfred would mean death. One of his sons dared to disobey him once. Although his fate was predicted, I’m surprised to see him these days at our family gatherings. My uncle’s requests come to each of us as a stringent order, often like a stroke of the thunderbolt. Hence, none of us have ever disobeyed this gentleman yet. I think I should give it a try!