by Jon Magidsohn
He was eleven. She’d just turned ninety. It was love at first sight.
Most days at four o’clock I met my son, Myles, stepping down from the school bus looking energetic despite the one-hour commute through Bengaluru’s dusty traffic. After a brief exchange where I’d try to determine how that brown stain got on his white school shirt, he’d change the subject.
‘Can we go see Bhanu?’
‘Of course. Shall we bring her something to eat?’ And we’d stop off at the chips stall for a bag of spicy snacks.
We’d left our home in London three months earlier and had now settled into what would be two years in India. I was writing every day, my wife volunteered with local NGOs and Myles had started at the international school. We’d relaxed into our flat in Cooke Town, just up the road from our friend Tara. Her mother came down from Delhi to spend the hot months on Bengaluru’s more temperate plateau. Bhanu was playful from the start and not just with Myles. Having spent her life dancing all over the world, she knew how to entertain and loved laughing.
Carrying our bag of chips we’d walk up to the house and see Bhanu sitting on the front balcony staring at the passing hullabaloo. She’d make eye contact but only when we were right in front of the gate would she be able to distinguish who these two blurry figures were. A smile and a welcome wave ensued. Then she’d stand up to greet us inside.
I carefully hugged her; she’s half my size. Letting go she’d look over at Myles.
‘Who’s this?’ she always said. Myles laughed as if it was the first time she’d played dumb. ‘Is this my boyfriend?’
She’d take Myles by the hand and lead him over to the balcony so he could sit with her in the afternoon shade. While I made tea I heard her ask him about school and cricket. Then she told him about sitting on the balcony all day. When I brought the tea and chips, they were usually sitting hand in hand, laughing and staring at the glaring contrasts in their skin. Bhanu’s was deep brown, wrinkled and delicate with perfectly manicured nails. Myles’ was ghostly pale, elastic and typically dirty.
We’d sit for an hour or so. Occasionally a leaf fell on the balcony or a bird landed on the bannister. At Bhanu’s feet was a newspaper that she could barely see, put down in favour of partaking in a conversation she could barely hear. Her advanced age did little to intimidate my son, nearly eighty years her junior and just as playful. They bridged the generations with simple chat, laughter, gentle teasing and music. Bhanu showed Myles basic Kathakali dance steps, hand movements and facial gestures. She taught him to sing the syllables of traditional Carnatic music. In return, he tried to teach her to beatbox and offered her the latest in youth slang.
And they held each other’s hands the entire time. They could have been two eleven-year-olds in the schoolyard, the blush of first love in their cheeks, giggling at the tingles of their newfound affection. Or they could have been two nonagenarians in a retirement home, enjoying a sparkling new love after decades of loneliness.
I sat by, sipping my tea and laughing at their laughter, finding joy in their joy. My family and I had found a new life, albeit a temporary one, here in Bengaluru that included people whom we considered family. It didn’t just make it easier being away from home, it made it home. If there had been any fear of adverse effects this experiment may have had on our son, it had all been eliminated the moment he met Bhanu. She was his girlfriend and his grandmother – his ammamma.
‘I’ll probably go back to Delhi soon,’ she always said.
‘Why?’ said Myles.
‘It’s my home.’
‘But this is your home too.’ He was right. Bhanu had two daughters and stayed with both of them. She belonged in Bengaluru as much as in Delhi.
‘I know. It’s lovely here,’ she said looking at her boyfriend. She didn’t want to let go of his hand let alone leave town. But she couldn’t resist teasing him. ‘Especially … the weather.’
Inevitably she’d start to sing in her inimitable husky tone, a sound that was symptomatic of her age but intoxicatingly contagious. Her favourite number was one of her own interpretations from the musical Oklahoma.
‘Oh, what a wonderful morning. Oh, what a wonderful day … ’
She loved singing this song at any time of day, not just in the morning. As she waited for Myles to join in, she slowed down until the bright tempo had become nearly a dirge. And they laughed at the silliness of the song and the dissonance of their voices.
‘ … I’ve got a wonderful feeling. Everything’s going my way.’