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4 th Instalment

Madan tells about his grandfather

When Madan visited me in Kalimpong he told me the stories of his childhood. I asked and asked, and he brought his mountain village Merangdi in Nepal to life through his simple stories, his gestures, the expressions on his face. The story about his grandfather fascinated me the most. It goes like that:

Nepal Mai 2014 Grandfather was the owner of the village house in which he lived with pride and contentment. He was 84 years. Well, he told Madan that he was 84, and since a good number of years he told the elderly people of Merangdi he was “plus minus eighty”. Visitors he informed that, in fact, he was 75. His family he told in confidence that he increased or decreased his age to have some fun. Oh, only 75…., some would say; oh, already 84, and still so fit, others would exclaim, and grandfather then produced his characteristic chuckle.

He enjoyed the peace and quiet of his house. When the first rays of the sun touched the balcony which ran on two sides of the upper floor, he would sit exactly on that spot and enjoy them. He folded his hands and made himself as comfortable as possible on his wooden bench. Grandfather moved along the length of the balcony with the sun, closing his eyes to feel the warmth of the sun more intensely. From time to time he searched with his hands beside him to find out whether his little dog was still lying next to his mench enjoying the sun as much as he did.

Grandfather was almost blind. His tiny eyes were bloodshot and empty. He could see only large objects like shadows, and he sensed when night had descended on the mountains. Even so grandfather knew exactly where he was. His whole life he had spent in that house and in Merangdi. Never had he left the village. He “saw” every stone and every bush. Slowly he moved around in the house and its neighbourhood with a knotty stick, but he never faltered or tripped.

When Madan was a small boy, grandfather would sometimes call him and show him the mountains. First he asked, “Madan, are there any clouds moving along the horizon?” When Madan said “no, baje”, he asked again, “Are you sure everything is clear?” When Madan said “yes, baje”, grandfather ordered Madan to stand exactly in front of him. Grandfather placed his left hand on Madan’s thin shoulder, and his right hand he held in front of Madan. Pointing, he said, “Look there!” He named the mountain and asked Madan to describe it. “Yes”, grandfather said and confirmed the name. “Beside it, this way…”, grandfather moved his finger a tiny bit to the right, “there is another peak, it is snow-clad, I have never seen it without ice, its name is….”, and grandfather asked Madan to describe it and repeat the name.

Nepal Mai 2014 Grandfather even made little botanical excursions with Madan. It was grandfather who introduced Madan to the plum-tree across the potato-field. From that day the plum-tree was Madan’s friend.
“Remember, baje? That was long ago, many years!” Madan would remind his grandfather.
“What are you saying!” his grandfather objected. “We met the plum-tree for the first time one month ago.”

From his blind grandfather Madan learned how to make sure when a maize cob was ripe and ready to be eaten. He taught the boy how to avoid the horns when he milked the goats, and grandfather admonished him to pick the tiny raspberries which grew wild all along the paths. “Pick each one, together they make half a meal”, he said and tried to pinch some from Madan’s little hands.

Grandfather wore his old coat which went down to almost his knees. Once it was a grand coat worthy of a real gentleman, now it was a bit soiled and threadbare, but it kept him warm in the wind. Sometimes Madan would join grandfather in his chamber on a second cot for the night, but nowadays grandfather often wanted to stay alone.

“Tell me about my family”, little Madan used to say, settling down next to his grandfather after lunch, “What about my uncles and aunts and about all the others…” When grandfather did not feel like remembering, he mumbled that he needed a nap. But when he got talking about how he raised his family, he often, in the middle of his reminiscences, got up and said, “Come along, let’s meet all of them.”
Madan knew that grandfather would take him to the family temple a few minutes further uphill. Grandfather insisted on walking unaided with just his stick for support.

This was not a temple in the ordinary sense. It was a sacred grove enclosed by a low fence with wild grass, some flowering bushes and short, stout trees growing inside. Between the roots there were a dozen stones stuck into the ground with names carved into them. The small iron gate to the grove was locked, but grandfather had the key dangling from a cord that was slung around his waist. He alone possessed a key. He also opened the gate by himself, although his blind hands had to search for the key hole for quite a while.

When they stood inside the grove, grandfather began telling stories. He was aware of the names on each stone. He pointed to them one by one because he knew exactly where each stone had its place. Grandfather said, his finger touching one stone, “He was my oldest nephew, he lived in the second house below us which now belongs to his first son and his wife who was born near Sallery, and to their children.”

Nepal Mai 2014 Grandfather told the name of this nephew, Suman, who was a carpenter like Madan’s father. The nephew had lucky hands because he could fabricate lovely wooden toys for his children and for the children of Merangdi and even sold them on the markets in Pattale Bazar and Sallery. His children are old now, only one of them still lives in the village, the others have taken root in other villages in the area.

After grandfather had told more about these children who had all married and got children of their own who went to school or worked in the fields or had left to work for tourists as trekking guides, Madan asked, “How did your nephew look like?”

“You mean Suman? How he looked like? … Did he look special in any way?” Grandfather got stuck in his reveries. “Madan, you ask all kinds of unusual questions”, grandfather countered a trifle irritated.

“Oh, sorry baje”, Madan said, ashamed. “He looked – handsome, I’m sure.”

“Yes, yes, handsome and not very tall and not really short either. He was strong, as we mountain folk of Merangdi all are, yes, yes…”

Madan was satisfied. After telling a few more stories, grandfather seemed to get a bit mixed up. He sometimes forgot that Madan was standing next to him. Then he began talking directly to his relatives. His finger pointed to a stone about which he had already spoken. This time the story was different. Madan did not interrupt his grandfather. Was it important which story belonged to which person and which stone belonged to which story? Madan felt it was not really important, but he hesitated to take his grandfather’s opinion on this.

About the author

Martin Kämpchen (65) was born at Boppard (Rhine) Germany. He studied at Vienna and Paris. His subjects were German Literature, Dramatic Art, Philosophy and French. He obtained a Ph.D. After completion of his studies Martin Kämpchen left for India in order to teach German in Calcutta. Then he studied Comparative Religion at Madras and Santiniketan (West-Bengal). After his second Ph.D. on a comparison of Ramakrishna and Francis of Assisi he remained in India as a writer, translator and journalist

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