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4th July 2019 by

GLARE Story Writing Competition: Grandma’s Misadventures Over the Phone (Category 13 to 15 years)

The winning story in the category 13 to 15 years is ‘Grandma’s Misadventures Over the Phone’ by Iona Mandal. Why did Robin Stevens like the story? “I thought this had wonderful humour and a great sense of place – and I loved the idea of a rebellious and savvy grandma!”

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The Himalayan foothill town with white-washed houses on dung-scattered streets woke yet again to sultry winds blowing dust. Street sellers chanted their daily mantra for customers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead, what greeted today was an unusual hullabaloo over suitcases, hugs and smothering kisses as one arrived home from a long, overseas journey. Aromatic spices in home cooking overpowered while traditional lemon soda drinks were served. My grandparents came hobbling to greet us, grandma in traditional cotton sari and grandpa in dhoti, beating the sweltering midday heat. Even centenarian, great-grandma, paralysed and bed-ridden, smiled in recognition.

Excitement subsiding, the men of the house switched on the TV, eyes glued on the usual political debate over cups of tea and samosas as the women gossiped in the kitchen on new shops in town, tiff over the wedding dowry and, the housemaid’s seventh pregnancy! Children played in the courtyard as the cat lay on the windowsill, watchful eyes on the day’s fresh catch being cooked to perfection. Tropical trees swayed to the afternoon breeze, oscillating like a grandfather clock.

Upstairs, however, grandma lay alone, fidgeting to the afternoon heat. Her face brightened, seeing me, her granddaughter, at the doorway. “Darling, hope the heat isn’t unbearable? Enjoyed my fish curry?” she exclaimed. “Everything’s fine. The fish was delicious, my favourite! Well, actually, I wanted to see the family albums; perhaps, my baby pictures?”

“Yes, of course. Actually, I’ve been meaning to tell you something. Come, sit here”. To this, I obediently propped myself on the bedside. “What is it grandma?” I was eager to know. “Well, before I tell you, promise to tell no one. NOBODY”. By now, I was even more curious, yearning to know the secret. Surprise? Family scandal? But before I could utter, “Yes grandma, I promise”, something amazing happened.

Without warning, she skilfully whipped out a small, cuboid object from her folds of her sari. My eyes widened to the size of coconuts! I couldn’t just believe my eyes. Interrupting my disbelief, grandma said, “Yes, it’s what you think it is. I have my own mobile phone!” “How? Why? Can you even use one? Who gave you this idea?” “Now, my dear, stop firing questions. Just wait and see!” chirped grandma excitedly.

As conversation unfolded, grandma revealed that it was a present from the family rickshaw-puller, for being a loyal customer; more so now, her knees crippled from arthritis. Why grandma kept this a secret, telling only me, was because she knew how tech savvy our generation was. Watching her neighbour’s three year-old swipe dexterously on an iPad screen had left her shocked and ashamed to learn at eighty! But grandma didn’t want to feel left out. With everyone nowadays having one of those gadgets all the time, it almost seemed an indispensable accessory. Grandma had heard of phones named after fruits – ‘apple’, ‘blackberry’. “Is that true?”, she asked. Poor grandma! She had waited for me to arrive from U.K. to teach her operate this ingenious device and clarify doubts! I readily agreed; I had to. Tomorrow would be our first lesson.

*****

Next morning arrived late. After all, I was on holiday! I lay in bed, watching the sun play hide and seek through the banana trees. Grandpa was awake, pacing up-down, his usual ‘morning walk’, followed by lazing on the veranda swing with his cup of fresh Darjeeling tea. Grandma rushed to my bedroom, not forgetting the promise. “Get up! Remember?” she whispered. I rubbed my eyes unenthusiastically, stretching arms to face the day’s only task – teaching grandma use her phone.

Sitting over breakfast, which was anything but leisurely, grandma muttered, “Make sure nobody sees; no one knows I have a phone”. Gobbling hurriedly, grandma swiftly escaped to the quietness of the prayer room, her nook of privacy; making sure not a soul was around to disturb her much awaited lesson.

And so, I began. “First of all, the ON button” “Yes, dear, I know that much! Don’t underestimate my skills!” grandma joked defensively. “Well, seeing as you have some knowledge, show me how to take a picture, will you?” I retorted. “Uh, that’s something I know nothing about. You will have to teach me’, she admitted rather reluctant. “Never hurry, go slow, you’ll get there”, I rebuked gently. Not every day was I a teacher! Grandma nodded in approval.

In the following hours, grandma’s head was buzzing with technical jargons – ‘App’, ‘Text’, ‘Screenshot’, ‘SMS’, ‘Email. She was ignoring daily chores – dusting, feeding the parrot, watering house plants, cooking, or even catching on gossip! She had completely immersed herself into the addictive world of social media; eyes perpetually hooked on screen. The family was confused on her whereabouts. Grandpa was feeling neglected, his farting increasing manifold from indigestion over leftovers to freshly cooked meals.

Her melatonin-deprived brain was searching ways to her advantage, every time an idea sprung to mind. How, if she purposefully spent the entire day, utterly absorbed in pursuits on Facebook and WhatsApp, while innocently claiming to spending time with her grand-daughter? In reality, tech galore! Chuckling aloud, emanating her expressions of sadist joy, while conspiring on her malicious plot, she gradually edged towards me pulling her best innocent face; until, someone, finally decided to speak out.

It was grandpa. Waiting over lunch he said, “Anything special for the grandchild, if not the old man?” Grandma instinctively whizzed around. Hiding the phone below the table, she responded craftily, “Oh dear, I’ve forgotten to cook! Order a takeaway”. Grandpa furrowed his eyebrows. “Same excuse! Too much work to cook! What’re you up to?” Grandma’s temper arose. “I’m not getting younger by the day!”

Suddenly grandpa enquired, “What’s the blue light from under the table?” I immediately jumped to grandma’s rescue, “oh, probably a trick of the sun!’ Grandpa wasn’t convinced. “Sunlight isn’t electric blue!” he retorted angrily, putting his hand under the table, without notice. “What’s this?? You have a phone???”

And that was the last of grandma’s technological adventures.

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