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Shaaditimers » Member-contribution » Grandmas-mug-041102
Grandma's mug

"Eric, Catch it! Oh nooo...!", yells a frantic Tina who accidentally drops her favourite mug from the kitchen cupboard. It crashes to the floor and falls in three large fragments.

"It's just a cup," Eric consoles his fiance... "I'll buy you a whole set of them from the mall tomorrow."

The cup is more than just a cup... it means a lot to her. Her grandmother in India had it in her house so long ago. It was sort of like an heirloom piece. In beautiful bone china, painted with delicate paisleys and flowers, it is /was representative of a certain fusion between the east and the west.... A British legacy, china teacups, decorated with the breathtaking designs of her place of heritage, Calcutta, India.


Tina remembers sitting at her grandmother's haveli, family estate, a wide-eyed eight- year -old in a lacy blue frock. Her untamed frizzy hair was brushed, oiled a bit, then braided into two pigtails that fell just below her shoulders. The girl's lips and eyes were too large, all her relatives would comment...she looks like a bug, so thin and dark... does her family not feed her in America? Oh you know Americans, they only eat boiled, bland, meat and potatoes...the poor child is probably starving... Lajjjooo, they would call one of the household servants, bring a plate of sweets for Tina baby right now. And so, with a plate of round, plump white rasgullas, ladoos, and chom-choms (different types of sweets), Tina sat with her grandmother and little cousins, listening to the exciting stories the old lady had to tell....

To this day, she didn't know if the stories were true or made up. Maybe they were padded, exaggerated, truths? Anyhow, on that particular warm summer night, the monsoon rains had subsided, so the pack moved to the roof. The hot winds caressed Tina's face. Her braids would fly ever so often when a particular strong wind pushed by. The winds were musical, they sounded like a singing flute.

A pack of bats flew by noisily, fluttering against the wind like paper airplanes. Dadi, paternal grandmother, ordered her after-dinner tea to be brought on the roof. "I want chai, tea, too," yelled the bevy of cousins around Tina's age. Tea, the delicious adult drink hat mommy used to dip her digestive cookies into... the "older people" drink. Mommy and daddy used to leave the very bottom of the tea still in the cup; it was the bitter, bad part with the floating bits of sunken tea leaf particles... Tina's highlight of the mornings was to drink it up before the tea tray was taken down into the kitchen. The tea was delicious, lukewarm, milky, and sweet... its colour was that of buttery caramel with a tint of pink.

A tray of orange cream Nabisco biscuits were brought up to the roof along with six or seven teacups with hot, sugary, pearly, Earl Grey tea. The cousins took their cups. By the time it was Tina's turn, there were two cups left: one was of beautiful terra-cotta orange with thin designs painted in fiery red, midnight blue, parrot green, and a pale yellow, the other was plain white like the rest.

Like any child's would, Tina's hand moved towards the bright and beautiful mug before remembering her grandmother had yet to take her cup... then her fingers sauntered over to the plain glass. She blew at it a bit, then took a slow sip. Her grandmother was looking her in the eyes. Tina baby, since you have come from so far, you get the honour to drink out of my glass tonight. They switched mugs like secrets, kind of like Tina used to switch her bologna sandwich for Carla's peanut butter and jelly at lunch at school. Tina took a sip... if possible; it was even more delicious than the sip from the white mug. The other grandkids stared at Tina enviously. Nobody drank from grandma's mug. Dadi started telling the story:

In short, it was 1946. The country was a mess. Blood and corpses littered the streets throughout the region. India was fighting for sovereignty from the British... and the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh religious riots left the country bathed in blood. Dadi was a little girl, about my age, she had told me. Her family, which used to be rich and prosperous in the Punjab region that was now a part of Pakistan, was to be evicted to the Hindu portion, now called India. If they didn't leave, Muslims or Punjabi Sikhs would be sure to burn or chop them to pieces.

The raiders and militants would come at anytime. So many people and families were dying around them that they decided they would sneak away in the middle of the night. It would be inconvenient to pack a lot of things. Dadi's family put all of their gold and jewellery in a sack and hid them under a burkha, full-body covering worn by her mother to disguise the family as Muslim in case they bumped into angry sword-hauling men. Dadi laughs, remembering how fat her mother looked in the black flowing garb that shielded her entire body... and the sacks of gold she was wearing.

At the border, a trusted friend of her father's was to transport their bags of riches to their new residence he said he had set up for them. Needless to say, especially in a time of war, the family gold was never seen again, nor was there any arrangement for their housing. Dadi's father was forced to work as a sepoy, a British police force consisting of local Indians. He served the British government officials and was paid more than the average person on the streets received. The fact that he worked as a sepoy was a cause for humiliation for the family... but what else could be done? He did not know how to farm, nor did he own any land of his own in Calcutta. As a side-job, he stole goods from the big British mansions and building; pens, once he got a gold watch, and of course, plenty of dishes and cups in bone china. All of these items were sold to the local people for a side-source of income. Dadi's mother was artistic... she used to paint over the china and sell them in the markets so it would not be known that they were stolen.

"One day", Dadi said, her green eyes growing wide and watery, "my father came home running recklessly, he emptied his pockets in front of my mother and kissed me and my older sister on our foreheads... he patted my mother on her cheeks and started to pack a small bag. We were confused. We kept asking what was going on. He wouldn't answer us, only kept pacing like a madman, asking us where his shoes were. I hid his shoes so he wouldn't leave or force us to be uprooted again. I was little, you know. He was about to run out barefooted when three big British police entered our huts with sticks and beat him to the ground. Mother screamed that there were children in the house. They took him away and I never saw my father again.

It was half an hour after they dragged him away that I turned around and saw that all he emptied out from his pants was a single bone china cup... was that something to die over, I wondered. I took the cup before my mother or sister found it. I kept it hidden under the ground for years. It was only 9 years later on the day of my marriage to your grandfather that I unearthed the teacup, the only reminder I had of my father. The teacup's original blue embossed pattern was frayed and discoloured by being inside the earth for so many years. My husband, your grandfather.. he was a nice Bengali man. Calcutta and the Bengal in general, have been famous for its arts, music, and poetry since forever... well your grandfather, he loved art and insisted on buying me a set of paints upon seeing I had a hand and mind for painting and colours. I guess I got the talent from my mother, who possessed the skill as well. Well anyhow, the first thing I painted was that cup you are drinking from, Tina baby.

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