Labbu's birthday

Today is my father's birthday and I am continuing my effort to write something about him as I decided to in 2008 and then managed to in 2009 and here I am now, writing in 2010, but at the 11th hour as he would have said :).

When my father was small he had very fat cheeks. His cheeks were so fat that if you slapped one cheek the other used to wobble. So his two older sisters loved to call him over and then slap him, and laugh to see the other cheek wobble. This exemplifies the love of Punjabi women, as many will know. They really did love him, as I saw over the years - he was the apple of their eye - and accordingly they had their own petname for him: Labbu - from Laabh, a blessing luckily gotten.

In all my years with him I never heard anyone actually call him that, although my aunt in Bombay would sometimes lovingly say: he is my favourite, I used to call him Labbu.

My father always laughed and loved to tell this story of cheek slapping. He loved telling stories of his childhood which was evidently a happy one - despite the hardships of Partition - and a very energetic one, full of going here and there with friends, trying to imitate Fearless Nadia by plundering the sofa for springs, learning to swim in the Yamuna, eating 6 boiled eggs at a time and getting up to every kind of mischief.

When he was sick we had to spend many days in the hospital for his chemo and he would tell me stories I'd heard many times before about his early years in Lahore. I always liked hugging my father but those months I did it a lot and often squeezed his cheeks, no longer fat, and soon I took to calling him Labbu-chand.

In this last year, there has been an addition to Labbu chand's family - my sister had a baby, I acquired a niece whom I call Kishmish and she has fat cheeks. Like me, she loves to listen to stories. Since she was two months old she's recognised the cadence of storytelling and always becomes rapt - her father makes up funny stories for her and now, at seven months, she has even begun to gurgle at them. Like my father - her grandfather - she loves being hugged and kissed. I hug and kiss her as much as I can. Sometimes I tell her stories too about a naughty little boy called Labbu, always getting up to mischief, always getting into trouble, but never reforming, running around the streets of Anarkali bazaar, somewhere near the Neela Gumbad, playing with Akhtar, the boy whose father owns the trunk shop on the ground floor, eating finger sticks from Moqam din and Sons bakery.

This being my father's birthday month I have started writing a story in which a little girl with fat cheeks escapes into the past with her grandfather and meets him when he is a boy with fat cheeks and then they proceed to be naughty together.

To remember is very painful, but the thought of forgetting even more so.

For Kishmish, who never lost Labbu, I hope he will be the happy remembrance of a little bit that went into making her. For me the story is like giving Kishmish a hug and a kiss on behalf of Labbu who would have been the best Nana a girl can have, a hugging and kissing and making you feel special kind of grandpa.

This is the first part of the story. I'll post more when it's written out.


Kishmish had fat cheeks. Really really fat cheeks, that looked like clouds. Everybody loved to pinch them. They would say, oh so cute, and bend down and pinch both cheeks hard. Kishmish would glare, but did that stop them? No it didn’t.

Kishmish lived on the 7th floor of a tall building. From the balcony she could see pigeons and crows, huts and shops, divali lights and construction dust, far away a hill, and hundreds of cars on the roads.

One day Amma was taking Kishmish down in the lift so she could play. The aunty from the 6th floor got on. Oh how cute you look in that frock Kishmish, said aunty and pulled Kishmish’s cheeks. Kishmish glared at her. But did the 6th floor aunty stop? No she did not.

Then the didi from the 4th floor got on. She had a purple iPod and yellow nailpolish. Kishmishhhhhh! she screamed. You’re so cute! She pinched both of Kishmish’s cheeks. Kishmish glared at her. But did she stop? No she did not.

On the ground floor as Kishmish ran out of the an uncle she did not know, smiled at her. Kishmish smiled back. Then he bent down and pinched her cheeks. What a cute little girl! he said. Kishmish glared at him and glared at him. But did he stop? No he did not. In fact he started to pull her cheeks some more. This was too much for Kishmish. She screwed up her face. But he kept on. So Kishmish kicked him and he let go! Oh, that felt pretty good.

The uncle yelped.

Amma turned around and glared at Kishmish. Kishmish! That was very bad. Why did you kick that uncle?

Kishmish looked away glumly. Amma waited.

Kishmish said nothing - would Amma understand if Kishmish said he had pulled her cheeks? No she would not. She would say, oh the uncle likes you and you behave like this?

Fine, Amma said. No playing for you. Get back in the lift.

And so Amma and Kishmish came home. Amma put on her computer and started to talk to her friend on gmail chat.

That’s not fair! Kishmish said, you are playing with your friend on the computer!

I did not kick anybody Amma said, so I can. And I am not playing, I am working.

Kishmish went into the balcony. Nana was sitting there trimming his moustache in the sun. A shiny black crow was cawing loudly from the roof. Oh, Nana said, listen to that crow, looks like we’re going to have some guests. Kishmish did not answer. Nana laughed when he saw her face. Nana never pulled Kishmish’s cheeks – he only laughed at her always.

Nana! Don’t laugh at me! Kishmish said.

Oh Nana said, you are sulking are you?

No yelled Kishmish. I am not sulking.

OK Nana said, and went back to looking at his moochhi in the mirror.

I am bored! Kishmish said. I want to go and play.

Who can stop you from playing, Nana asked. Play!

No, I want to play with someone!

Ok, you can play with me, Nana said.

No! You are too old! You can’t run and play.

Hmm, Nana said. Maybe. Maybe not.

What if… we went to a place where I’m not old. Then we could play together.

Kishmish looked interested.

Where is that place?

Nana put the mirror and the scissors down. It’s called Anarkali Bazaar he said.

Now look in my eye, the blue one. Nana had one blue eye and one brown one. He could not see from the blue eye.

Kishmish came and looked into the eye closely, frowning.

Do you know what’s behind the eye? Nana asked.

What? Kishmish asked, her eyes big and round.

It’s the Neela Gumbad!

Kishmish peered and squinted and then yes! behind Nana's blue eye she could see a big old building, like one she'd never seen before, with a round domed roof of deep, beckoning blue. There were people around it, selling things on carts, going about in rickshaws or walking.

Do you want to go there? Nana asked. Kishmish nodded, a bit excited but a bit scared too.

So then let’s go, Nana said, to the Neela Gumbad, the Neela Gumbad, the Neela Gumbad. And in a minute they were there, standing inside a round building with a big blue dome. Next to her was Nana. He was 5 years old like her and he had the FATTEST cheeks, much fatter than hers! And both his eyes were brown. He did look different, but it was definitely Nana.

Come on Nana said. And the two of them ran out of the Neela Gumbad and into Anarkali bazaar!



Space Bar said…
What a lovely story!

and...'And I am not playing, I am working.' *snort*
hansatin said…
i love it. i love the kicking of the uncle, i am awed by the neela gumbad in nana's eye.. i am waiting to see how kishmish will see how her nana copes when people pulls His cheeks.
very very very lovely!
parotechnics said…
thank you space bar, hansa! that's most encouraging cos I've never written a kid's story before and I worry it might be only good enough for distracting kishmish into eating rava and boiled apples!
Shikha said…
Such a beautiful thought. To link the Nana and grandchild together! A grandchild that nana will never play with except in such a fantasy. Thank you Paro, for being such a wonderful daughter. Your father was always proud of you, and justifiably so. Even Sunita Aunty mentioned this after the havan. I would like to send her this link in tribute to her comment.
Banno said…
It's a beautiful, fun story. I want to be little Kishmish, and hear more, even if it means eating rava and boiled apples. Such lovely illustrations the lines will make, Nana's blue and brown eyes, the blue dome, the aunty's purple iPod. Lovely!
Anonymous said…
Oh Tinkle ...... This is beautiful! I guess it runs in the family. I have shared a few stories with Rohan & Ruhie about Munni & Labbu in Anrkali Bazaar.
.....Stories that Munni had told me when I was a little kid.
Love You!
parotechnics said…
Thanks Ma, and Batul for encouragement! Super you have to tell me the stories too in case there's any I don't know!
ajay noronha said…
o so lovely!...made my morning smile widely...keep writing n posting...we're waiting :)

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