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The Polka Dotted Scarf

By: Geetanjali Jha
© 2006 by Geetanjali Jha.

I remember opening up his big wooden wardrobe and burying my nose into his handkerchiefs. His clothes always had a pleasant, sweet, and mystical smellÖnot just his clothes, his closets, his bed; his entire room was infused with that intoxicating smell.

Maybe it emanated from the special homemade lotion, he used. He mixed glycerin with rosewater with a couple of other things and his magic potion was ready. He claimed it was the purest thing one could use to keep their skin young and supple. I remember him passing on list of contents to my mother, she never tried making it. He was very fair skinned, of which I think he was vain. He looked his age but had good, healthy skin as a consequence of the homemade lotion he used every night. He was a bit rotund, but somehow that went with his cheerful persona. I wonder if he is my favorite grandparent, maybeÖ but I sure am his favorite grandchild, or so I would like to believe. My brother calls him babaji; I occasionally call him nanaji, as we typically call our motherís father nanaji and paternal grandfather babaji.

I have known babaji as a spirited person who never let his worries come to the dinner table, he always had a joke or two ready if domestic tension aroused. Also, I have never seen anyone eating oranges with such an extraordinary speed. He divides an orange into four and gulps it down, though I have my doubts but if he does chew , he does it at an amazing speed, almost invisible to the naked eye.

In contrast with other people his age, he has real hobbies. Gardening is one of his hobbies; people say he has what they call a Ďgreen handí. He is capable of growing roses as big as cauliflowers and we dare not touch a single petal. I remember he would come from work everyday and sit with plants with tools in his hands, unearthing the mud near the plants, adding water and some special mixture to it. He would also try to adapt modern techniques of gardening, I often heard of him using terms like grafting, cropping, etc. All this brought sweat to his brows but he said this is his way to unwind.

He had another unwinding ritual; after lunch, all the adults in the house would gather to play cards. Though, money was not involved, the competition used to be fierce. Devious methods were used to score against each other. I donít recall the regular double dealers, except that my father was always one of the accused. My father not being an expert in the game, did try to spice it up. My father would always pair up with my grandmother and my mother with babaji. Long sessions of cards during hot sultry summer months were a regular phenomena, it gave us kids a chance to watch television to our hearts content. Sometimes, we too would try to learn cards games and play alongside. Babajiís side drawers had number of old, battered card packs, which were passed on to us.

The game of cards was incomplete without paan. Everyone in the house, except for my father and the kids were experts in making paan. My nani used to make countless number of perfect triangular paans in the morning which were generally consumed by the evening. She kept laid the paan leaves on an old newspaper and then the paan would be kept in a pandibba, a container used exclusively to keep paan. Paan was an integral part of the household. There was a paan rack in the house where an assortment of colourful fragrant ingredients were kept, in quaint small containers. We, at times, used to sneak up to get some shelled cardamom from the rack.

Another thing I recall of him is that he knows how to tie a scarf around his neck very well. He would often wear a polka dotted scarf. He used to wear that scarf so often that I begin to believe that he probably just had one. He had a friend from college in Delhi, he would often wear that scarf to his place. I guess it reminded him of his youthful days.

Babaji used to sit in vajrasan after meals, though he didnít have a digestion problem, nor did it help him in any other way. He used to sit on the floor after dinner, watching news on television, with his legs locked under him. He was quite a yoga fan; I think he had a book on yoga which he consulted from time to time. He did yoga in the mornings, during my exams when I would get up early to revise, I would see him in odd yoga positions. He stopped doing yoga once his knee trouble began, I doubt if he would still be able to perform yoga.

At times, he would go out for his evening stroll and buy fresh fruits on his way back home. Mango was his favorite fruit and buttered toast his favorite snack. He hated spicy food and Dev Anandís antics. He loved watching comedies and talking about his college days in Delhi.

I donít know much about the more important aspects of babaji life; I donít know what he wanted in life, his problems, his experiencesÖ. I wonder if I know little about him or just little but significant things about him.

Still when I think of him, an intoxicating smell surrounds me and I wish I could once more bury my nose in his handkerchiefs.

Geetanjali Jha.

A human rights student, journalist and mother of an active two-year-old, Geetanjali loves penning her thoughts and expressing them through words. She has written a lof of articles for school, college and newspapers but this is her first memoir.

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