Every time my folks and I visit Uncle M, he welcomes us inside, towards his ancient round table, and asks us, “What would you like to drink?” Despite all the commotion I had been making for water, on our way to Uncle M’s house, my mother says, “We just had coffee and came, don’t trouble yourself”. I give her a look from across the table, indirectly asking her, “What’s your issue in life, woman?”
Thankfully, when it comes to formality, everyone in my family is in for a competition. Who is more formal is always the ultimate question. Uncle M would ask D, my cousin brother, to get us the usual: Jeera water and snacks. I think the maid at Uncle M’s place had a luxurious life because it was always D who was instructed to do all the work.
I have nothing against Jeera water. But the one which is served at Uncle M’s place is something else.
I once asked him why it tasted different and he told me it was because it had a secret ingredient. Usually statements like these make me curious. But in this case I had no intention of finding out what this secret ingredient was. It tasted like warm piss. I once asked my dad about this and he told me it was probably cow piss and that it was good for health. I stared at him and he burst out laughing. My dad does this frequently. He says something really weird and then acts all serious. And then he starts giggling. I once tried this trick on him when I got my sixth grade report card. After several minutes I was the only one giggling. I guess that trick only works in certain situations. How was I to know?
None of the men in my family are normal. It is one of those contexts in which one feels pretty cool to say, “It runs in the family, bruv.”
I did my 11th and 12th standard in Kerala. And the relative closest to my place was Papa’s brother, Uncle T. I would go to uncle T’s place every week to meet my cousins A&A and Aunt Molly. Almost every cousin of mine, if siblings, have their names starting with the same letter.
Every alternate weekend we would all go for a movie at the Maharani Theatre. On those special weekends I would hear Uncle T follow my cousin brother C inside their house shouting, “Oh God, it is stupid to run to the washroom to spike your hair right before stepping out for a movie. You think people come there to watch you or the film?”
Fully aware that it is best to not engage in a debate, my cousin would reply with a question such as, “Appa, don’t you think I should look good when I’m walking around with you?” Looking pitiful, he said, “I want my son to look human and not like a cow”
Uncle J is a math professor but I believe he would have been a successful comedian. Maybe in his next life. He firmly believes that there will be one. “Why couldn’t we go to Yuvarani theatre instead?” my cousin asked.
“Will the extra 20 rupees for each ticket magically appear from your pocket, kind sir? 20 rupees for each ticket would mean 20×5 which equals 100 rupees”, he replied, looking disgusted. “And then your sister over here would want popcorn, for that’s the only reason she comes along to watch a film. The last time, we went she wanted ‘Carmalai popcorn’ instead of the salty one.”
Uncle T then proceeded to explain why there shouldn’t exist a 50-rupee difference just because one is salty and the other sweet. “If one were to pay for the tickets and then for the snacks do you realise how much it would all add up to be? And now they’ve started taking a parking fee too. That would be 120×6 + 20×3 + …” The man grabbed every opportunity he got to vomit mathematical calculations at people who aren’t very fond of it. I walked out to get my shoe while my cousin tried convincing him that it isn’t called Carmalai Popcorn.
All of my uncles claim to be very practical individuals. When it comes to reasoning, the conviction with which they speak and their ability to alter one’s decision, is worthy of appreciation. In situations when my uncles (Papa’s elder brothers) prove my dad wrong regarding a certain topic, my dad always tells me that it’s a good thing I didn’t acquire any of their traits. But I always wished I could be like them when it came to influencing people. But I feel I’m much better than they are. At least that’s what they’ve told me. My mom says I should believe them because she feels, unlike me, they aren’t frauds who say things just to please you.
My grandparents were very energetic people, I suppose. Mumma has five brothers and four sisters and Papa- five brothers and two sisters. I left my hometown when I was 5. I hated the idea but my dad convinced me that it was for the best. He promised me a lot of things if I would stop with the fake crying. I was only five, but I was a fraud.
I stayed in Bahrain until I completed standard 10. The only relatives I had here were Uncle J and his family. One day, I was told about how Uncle J became who he is today. My mom did the first part of the dramatic narration. “Our Chachan had passed away. J was only 19. He went to the Gulf at the age of 19. Just imagine. At the age of 19, all alone” Then she took a step towards uncle J, hold his arm and ask, “How did you do it J?” Her intention probably would have been to motivate me. But all I could think of was how I, a 15-year-old, would manage if my mom was to go paranoid.
Later that day, after lunch I was handed his business card, which read ‘V&V Advertising’. He told me it was named after his two sons. His children were the most important thing in his life. He gave them everything they asked for. Whatever my cousins did, even if they got the weirdest haircut in town, even if they back answered or despised Uncle J’s decisions. Uncle J would just smile.
Situations like these often make me wonder why my mother- his sibling, doesn’t seem to possess such important qualities. As I sat holding the card I wondered how amusing a coincidence it was to own a company called V&V and then within the next five or six years have exactly two sons and name them that way.
It isn’t just those uncles who have more than one child who have such unique relationships with their sons. I should probably tell you about Uncle A. The reason for his not-so-close relationship with his son is because of a cow.
Uncle A loved his cow more than his son. I once went straight up and asked him, “You seem to love Rosie more than Jerry”. Rosie was his favourite cow. Jerry was my 15 year old cousin. “Do you know how many litres of milk Rosie produces?” uncle A asked me. When it came to cows (and snakes) the only thing I knew was to identify if any of the people around me could be addressed as one.
Uncle A sat down, like he was going to tell me about how bravely his grandfather had fought in the WW2. He told me, “Rosie here gives me 15 litres of Milk daily. Jerry on the other hand drinks half the milk and spends half his day at the gym. You see the contrast”. I nodded thinking to myself, “How does a person love one more than the other based on milk production.” I narrated the entire incident to my dad and told him that it was a good thing he had no interest in dairy farming. He told me that even if we did buy one, I would be his favourite cow.”
Rahul Gabriel Roy
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- Rosie Gives 15 Litres of Milk Everyday, What Do You Do? - 18th January 2017