I was in a self congratulatory mood, while maneuvering my baggage trolley towards the visitor’s lounge in the JFK airport. I patted my bright red suit case, swollen with home-grown guavas, sitaphal and murukkus for Arjun, my grandson. I was happy that I had not paid any heed to my daughter’s repeated warnings against the ‘sniffer ‘dogs at the airport and the fine that would be imposed, if I was caught with eatables. I triumphantly looked at my husband who spent all his waking hours on the long flight making me feel guilty of a terrible crime, hardly realizing that, for me, the whole ‘illegal operation’ was like balm to soothe my regrets over having missed the pleasure of feeding my grandson these special ,‘Chennai’ items.
I could not help shedding tears of joy at the sight of my waiting grandson, clutching a bouquet of white roses. I bent, tried to pick him up but he wriggled out of my arms, grinned, showing his toothless front gum and said, “C’mon Ammomma, I’m almost 7, too heavy for you.”When I showered him with kisses, he, of course returned my kisses self-consciously and gave me the bouquet he had made of white roses, picked from his garden.
Strapped in his separate seat (How I wished I were in Chennai, where I could keep him on my lap during the long drive home!), Arjun sat next to me and chatted continuously about his class teacher Miss. Wheeler., how she had selected him for a play, how she trained him to dance to the song ‘staying alive’ for his graduation, how she chose him to have breakfast with Mayor etc.
Though I was awestruck by the way my little grandson had grown in the past year and was all ears catching up with his achievements, I wanted to draw his attention to the eatables, I had smuggled in for him. So, I
said, “Acchu, I brought Sitaphal for you.” He looked confused and asked ‘what’s that?” I replied, “It’s custard apple, a fruit from my backyard, which you will never, NEVER get in New York.”
He emitted an indifferent, ‘aw’ and said, “Don’t interrupt me Ammoomma, listen just listen.”So, I listened about Mrs. Joyce, his piano Teacher, Sensei, who taught him Karate lessons, his baby-sitter Eva, his friends, Robert, Aaron, Tiffany and Juliet, all the time wondering when he was going to ask me about the ‘Indian cookies (That’s what he called ‘murukkus’ last year) monkeys, squirrels, crows and chameleons that had fascinated him as his Ammoomma’s daily visitors in Chennai home. When he did not ask, I thought he was just too busy narrating his New York life to ask about Chennai and I could rekindle his interest in Chennai, later.
The next morning, I was honored by my grandson’s insisting that I should ‘fix’ his breakfast. When I took out eggs from the fridge, he said, “Make sure you eat cholesterol -free eggbeaters, cholostrol is bad for your heart. Look on the side of the carton, the nutritional facts are written, read it before you make eggs for Appooppa and you, okay?”
I was all admiration for my little grandson, who could give me advice on eggs. Then, I asked him whether he wanted scrambled eggs or an omlette, he knitted his eye brows as though thinking over a serious problem and then answered brightly, “I prefer sunny side up.”I had to reluctantly confide in him that I did not know how to make it. He laughed showing half an inch wide gap where his two front teeth should have been and said, “C’mon Ammoomma it’s so simple, I’ll draw a picture and show you.”He then ran upstairs, came back with a paper and crayons and drew the picture of a white circle with a small, bright yellow circle in the middle, which I could easily identify as a ‘bull’s eye’. Admiring the smart, young fellow, I carefully removed the black seeds from sitaphal and tried to feed him. Amused, he said, “Don’t feed me Ammoomma, I’m not a baby, I’m a second grader now.” He then ate half a spoonful (Be careful about eating with your hands, there will be bacteria, “he warned me) of the sitaphal and grimaced, “I don’t like the taste of this messy fruit.”
Disappointed thoroughly by this totally unexpected rejection, I made him try guavas, which too met with the fate of sitaphal. As though reading my thoughts, Acchu hugged me and said diplomatically, “Refrigerate them Ammomma, I may eat later.”
He, of course enjoyed the crunchy, ‘Indian cookies’, appreciatively nodding his head and telling in between bites ,”Very nice, very nice “ which almost made up for his rejection of my home-grown fruits.
Later, I tried to resume teaching Acchhu my mother -tongue, Malayalam. As my son-in-law does not speak Malayalam, my daughter speaks only in English at home. So, my grandson could pick up Malayalam only during my annual visits to New York. The first word, I taught him was ‘Ammoomma’, Malayalam for ‘grandma’ and I was simply thrilled when he started calling me Ammoomma. That was five years ago and from then on every year he picked up many words, mostly names of animals and birds. Last year, I taught him ‘Kakke, kakke, koodevide’, a song describing how a cunning crow snatched away ‘Neyyappam’from a child’s hands. We were delighted when he sang the song with a perfect accent and appropriate expressions. Encouraged, I had plans of teaching him more Malayalam songs this year. But, the moment I started my song, ‘Kakkakum poochakum kalyanam’, he laughed and said, ‘Don’t sing that Ammoomma, it’s funny. Miss. Wheeler sings so well and teaches us good songs. Now, I’ll sing, you listen.”Then, he sang a couple of songs, one from the play he had acted in, another, a patriotic song with all the names of 42 American Presidents in the right order. It was amazing to hear him sing so well, remembering all the President’s names and descriptions. I was of course proud of my grandson but felt slightly upset that he found my Malayalam song, ‘funny’.
Next morning, smartly dressed in his school uniform, Acchhu said ‘good bye’ with a hurried kiss and a ‘see you later’. I realized with a tinge of sadness that that he no longer needed my help in putting on his socks and shoes, leave alone shirt and pants. I suppose, I should have been happy to see my confident, self-sufficient and grown grandson, but I was not.
I remembered the days when Arjun wobbled around holding my hand and repeating after me Malayalam words, Kakka, Poocha,kuruvi . I missed his childhood days, when he had rushed into my arms instead of going with is baby-sitter. I missed the days when he patiently answered my question, ‘How many grandson has Ammoomma got?’ with ‘only one’, charmingly stressing ‘only’ followed by his musical laughter.
“Arjun cannot remain a baby all the time for your sake, you must be proud of your smart, intelligent, grandson”, my inner voice reprimanded me.
I felt insanely jealous, when Arjun constantly referred to his class teacher Miss wheeler. He told me how she chose him as the “Lunch Monitor’,how Miss. Wheeler trained him to dance for his graduation, how Miss. Wheeler recommended his name for lunch with Mayor, how Miss. Wheeler selected him to act in a play with the older Theatre major students, Miss. Wheeler this , Miss .Wheeler that. It was maddening and I had to grudgingly admit that Miss. Wheeler successfully wheeled away my position in my grandson’s heart. The young and smart Miss. Wheeler, a good story teller who could sing and dance well had relegated me to a person no better than a pair of arms for mundane items: packing his lunch box, making is favorite ‘Neyyappams’,feeding, dressing him up and helping with his home work. May be he thought better of me when I hugged him during our customary recital of Rudyard Kipling’s “We be of one blood, you and I” before his ‘good night’ kiss.
One evening, a handsome, emerald-eyed Aaron, Acchhu’s classmate and neighbor dropped in and Acchhu dragged me and introduced me to Aaron, “Meet my a, a, no, no, ,eh grandma, mom’s mom, she’s an Indian, speaks Indian’. (My English till today is referred as ‘Indian’)Aaron hesitated for a moment and shook my hands firmly, whispering, which, I guessed was, “Nice to meet you”.
I was shocked when Aaron called my daughter by her first name Sherry. But, Sherry explained that in the USA kids calling their friends mothers and even grandmothers by their first names was the norm. I was saved from the embarrassment of Aaron calling me by my name as it’s very difficult, for an American to pronounce ‘Sreedevi’ and after spending quite a few Saturdays with Acchhu , Aaron too started calling me ’Ammoomma’.
Initially, Acchhu doubted my competency for helping him with his home-work, as I said ‘full stop’ instead of period, pronounced opportunity as operchunity not opertunity, lieutenant as leftanent not lyootenant ,advertisements not commercials , petrol not gas ,oh! the list was endless. But, later, the ‘American young man’ accepted me as his homework –supervisor.
Luckily, Acchhu’s three months’ vacation coincided with my stay and I was determined to regain my lost status, visa –vise Miss. Wheeler. I
I knew my grandson loved me very much .So, the vacation provided me with the golden opportunity not only to keep Miss. Wheeler at bay but also to woo my grandson back to me. Soon, I was his companion at play along with his friend Aaron.Arjun taught me his video games and ‘Simon says’ and I introduced him to ‘Dumcharades’,we played ‘Sreedevi Restaurant’ where I was the owner, cook and bearer. I cooked and served the ‘young men ‘their favorite dishes and earned their fake dollars as well as a place in their hearts too. (Huh! the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, no matter how young he is.)
When I complained of back-ache, my imaginative grandson invented the game of ‘Arjun Krishna massage parlor’ and gave me his ‘movie star special massage ‘for free. (Once, when he was not in a mood to massage, he said smartly, “Sorry, lady, this’s not ‘Arjun Krishna Massage parlor’, this’s ‘ArjunKrishna Dry Cleaners”)
Both Arjun and Aaron enjoyed my stories of Lord Krishna and the Ramayana, though I had to clear their doubts on several issues (Did Ravana need 10 mortins for his head-ache? How could Hanuman burn the whole of Lanka with his lit tail etc). When they wanted scary stories, I had to switch to Dracula and Vampire stories every single day, that too in an ‘Americanized’ accent. But, I was amply rewarded by hugs and kisses at the end of the story. Sure, I had a tough time in stretching my imagination to a breaking point to give fresh vampire story every day. When I watched Malayalam movies, he even picked up some songs from the commercials. In short, we enjoyed each other’s company and for me, it was pure ecstasy.
After a couple of weeks, I was almost sure that I managed to beat my strong rival ,Miss. Wheeler.But, what finally pushed me to the undisputed No. 1 position ,is the sudden and most unexpected ‘Tooth Fairy’ incident.
Acchhu was excited about his shaking molar tooth. He told me when he lost two of his front teeth he got toys of his choice from them. All he had to do, was to wrap up the fallen teeth and kept them under his pillow, when he went to sleep. The Tooth Fairy came at night and replaced them with the toys, he wanted. This time he was counting on the shaking tooth to get the rare ‘Yogi oh’ card. So, to speed up the process tooth’s falling, I tied a thread around the slightly loose tooth and pulled it gently and loosened it every night. Acchu was delighted at the result of his ‘genius’ Ammoomma’s efforts.
But, unfortunately, one morning when he got up, he found a gap in the place of his shaking molar tooth. He was devastated and then his smartest and cleverest Ammomma hit upon the brilliant idea of writing a letter to the ‘Tooth Fairy’. As instructed, my grandson wrote
Dear Tooth Fairy,
Tooth lost, but please grant my wish, I enclose my Ammomma’s recommendation.
Then, I wrote a strongly worded recommendation letter to the Tooth Fairy and we put that in the envelope and kept under Acchhu’s pillow at night. The next morning, lo and behold, there it was, a glittering, rare Egyptian God card, in an ink blue velvety pouch in lieu of our letter to the Tooth Fairy.
When I was showered with kisses, I told Acchhu that every ‘unasked ‘kiss (The kiss he gives me without my asking for it, is turned into 100dollars in my bank account by the ‘Money fairy’ in India. In no time my generous to a fault grandson, not only made me a billionaire but also learnt to email on his own so that he could continue the cash flow by sending email kisses and phone kisses.
Now, I’m the World’s Richest Grandma ever !