Today’s Gripe: The Songbird’s Story

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Color coordinated: Photo: Vicky W.Follow / Flickr

By T Sher Singh | Opinion |

We called her Bua ji. Aunt. All of us at home, regardless of whether we were older or younger than her. She was our next-door neighbour, the second of three wives of “Mohd. Siddiqui, Esq., Barrister”, as the sign on his front door proclaimed. Being our aunt, ostensibly my father’s sister, allowed her to visit us, a non-Muslim household, without a burqa.

Their backdoor was adjacent to ours. Which meant that, during waking hours, early to late, she was more at our place than hers. Her husband’s oldest wife ran their household, the youngest entertained him … and Bua ji had all the time in the world. There were no children in their household.

She simply became family. When I was a couple of years old, Bua ji was a comfort to my mom who had, not much earlier, lost two sons, both in infancy. When two of my sisters came along, my mother’s hands were full and Bua ji lightened her load by taking over my needs because, I’m told, I was a handfull.

I can’t think of a time in my childhood without her around. My father would disappear into the labyrinth of his auto-parts store, and soon thereafter, we’d hear a muffled voice from behind the back-door: ”O … Sher-e-ki-Maa!” she would call – “O Sher‘s mother! May I come in?”

As I grew up into a toddler, it also became routine for her to sing me lullabies to put me to bed. And then, tell me bed-time stories. She had a treasure-lode of them. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how widely read she was. Her tales were exotic and let my imagination wander with no boundaries.

Her repertoire came not only from the Arabian Nights but from Sufis like Sheikh Shaadi, Hafiz and Rumi, and a whole library of Persian texts. There were hilarious stories of Sheikh Chilli and Nasruddin Hodja and classic interchanges between Akbar and Birbal. Strange, but she had also partaken of Indic texts. She flung open the doors to the fables from the Panchtantra and the myths from the Mahabharat and Ramayan.

She knew no English, but soon as I was reading Hindi, she brought in copies of the children‘s periodical, “Chanda Mama”, to which I remained addicted for years.

Thereafter, we ventured into new territory. She began to weave epics of her own and each became a joint creation between us, her imagination fed by my constant barrage of questions and puzzlements. Each night introduced me to new creatures, good and evil, ogres and giants, gnomes and elves, birds and beasts, kings and queens, princes and princesses … One recurring thread, I recall vividly, was spun around the adventures of a parrot in the gilded cage of a palace in a country far away from the bird’s native land. I’ve never forgotten how she irrigated my imagination and planted the love of words and ploughed and furrowed them into a hive of creativity.

After we moved to Canada, I made it a point to visit her on my first trip to India. Widowed and living alone, it was the last time I saw her. She died shortly thereafter.

T. Sher Singh is a writer, editor and publisher at sikhchic.com. The Sikh media portal, now undergoing a major overhaul to bring it up-to-date with the latest gadgets, aims to be up by Spring.

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