The Maccher Tent

My cousin Abhay and his wife Lavanya have settled comfortably on the divan, slowly sipping freshly prepared lassi as their kids Raman and Bhoomi aged five and three respectively sat at the window sill, gulping down glasses full of lassi in no time. Our otherwise large living room seemed cramped this evening as all of us sat, chitter-chattering together.

‘’Hope the journey was not very taxing… were they comfortable?”, my father inquired, looking at the kids.

“Yes, quite comfortable. I am not new to this place and Lavanya has also visited India many a times in the past. We are somewhat use to, aren’t we, Lavanya?”, Abhay answered while exchanging a glance with his wife.

“True, but the kids are not accustomed with this environment. Actually, instead of visiting us during summers you could come during winters… that time should be perfect for you all”, my mother added.

“This is suitable for us in terms of summer breaks…”, Abhay mumbled but the conversation got interrupted by Bhoomi’s sudden bust of crying. Lavanya quickly rushed towards her and took her on her lap.

“Oh, are you okay? Let me see…You will be fine.”, Lavanya kept repeating these worlds while rubbing Bhoomi’s head gently. Just when Bhoomi stopped howling, Abhay called out aloud, “Raman, watch out!” as he could anticipate Raman dashing to the edge of a wall almirah but in vain as the damaged has been done already and now it was Raman’s turn to flex the power of his vocal cords and tear glands. Needless to say, in no time the atmosphere got transformed from exciting to chaotic. Looking at these kids getting hurt… all of a sudden I realized, although this more than a century old house has nurtured generations on her lap but now it looks like an outmoded dwelling. Courtesy those protruding edges of the wall almirahs, shelves, foldable chairs and window frames our home doesn’t seems to be child-friendly anymore .

In order to divert their attention, grandmother brought out an old family album from a shelf and asked the kids to sit with her, “Come, we will see how your father looked when he was of your age.” She was beaming with childlike excitement. And why would she not be? After all, she was meeting her great grandchildren for the first time.

“Look at this photograph… Can you find your dad?” She asked.

“This one!”, Bhoomi said pointing at a small kid in the picture.

“Nooooo! that’s not him.” Grandma said smiling mischievously. She seems to be enjoying these moments with them. How time flies, there was a time when grandma was comparatively quite young and took care of us with love and affection and now after so many years… her physical strength has reduced but the zeal to interact with the next generation still remains intact.

“She is living one of the most precious moments of her life.” I thought to myself while floating in my thoughts between past and present.

“O… oh! what is this?” I was brought back by Raman’s sudden exclamation.

Each day we have a power-cut exactly at 6:30pm. In fact, we experience numerous spells of power-cuts all through the day. This is nothing new for this small town in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Bhoomi started crying loudly, ‘Feeling scared, Mama. What is this? Why is it so dark? This is so scary.’’

“Let me bring candles, power-cuts are quite common here.” Saying which I got up from my seat and went towards a corner of the room and started fumbling for things on the table.

“Even in pitch dark you are able navigate so well.” Abhay added.

“Practice… we are used to this.” I said smilingly.

“Oh! Mama, I am sweating and I am feeling so hot too.” exclaimed Raman. It was indeed hot and sweaty. After all, it was the month of May, with summer is at its peak.

“It’s okay, child. Power will get restored. Don’t worry.” said my grandmother in order to comfort the kids. “Can someone give us a hand fan? The kids are feeling hot.” Grandma added.

“Mosquitoes are biting me…it is itching.” Bhoomi started grumbling.

“Wait, I’ll get some calamine lotion and in no time itchiness will be gone.” Lavanya replied.

In the meantime, my father quickly gathered a few hand fans which were laying around and handed over to them.

“Come… come to me. I’ll show you something.” Lavanya said while fanning with a hand fan made of palm leaves. Both Grandma and Lavanya fanned the children from both the sides.

“Wow! The breeze is so cool… amazing.  Isn’t it? Give it to me, I want to try.” Raman exclaimed on getting fanned by the hand fan.

“Do you feel better now?” she asked very affectionately while rubbing gently Bhoomi’s back.

“Yeah, but, I have never ever seen something like this before, this is so dark and scary, like a haunted house.” Bhoomi said.

“Haunted house? No, not really.” Lavanya laughed out loud and added, “ We are experiencing a power cut. You have not seen this, but Raman has. Though, he doesn’t remember as he was about a year old at the time.” Lavanya said.

“Why?” Bhoomi’s curiosity increased.

“This was before you were born.” Lavanya answered affectionately.

“Why was there a power cut?” Raman enquired.

“It was due to some grid failure at the power station.” Abhay replied.

“Oh… it must have been boring. You can do nothing in the dark.” Raman said.

‘’No, on the contrary, that evening was fun filled. We had candlelight dinner!’’ Lavanya replied laughing.

I was quite surprised to know that these kids have not experienced power-cut… ever. Whereas we experience it at the drop of a hat. If we have electricity for… let’s say thirty minutes, then we should be assured that there will be power cut for next two hours, if not more. The whole episode made me feel so embarrassed.

“Why do they leave their comfortable life and come here to this small hamlet? Is it worth the inconvenience for this US-bred couple to bring their kids here?” I thought to myself while bringing the lit candles to the sitting area.

I thanked God as we got some visibility after lighting the candles. As I was taking my seat, I looked at Lavanya from the corner of my eyes. She was dressed in comfortable pyjamas, her curls hanging loose over her well-built shoulders, her big round eyes almost twinkled in the dim candle lit room. Small pearls of sweat were tickling down her forehead. Yet, with a smile on her face, she was handling the situation with grace. While Bhoomi was sitting on her lap, Raman stayed cuddled by her side. Lavanya made sure that both the kids felt reassured with her calm and composed approach.

“Such a level of acceptance and patience this lady is exhibiting…”, I thought in admiration for her.

“The dinner is ready.” My mother announced from the kitchen. “Indu, will you help in laying the table?” she asked me.

“No way! I am not going to eat now. Its dark and hot. And I am sweating!” Raman announced in a no non-sense manner.

“Yes, me too.’’ Bhoomi followed suit.

“How about a candlelight dinner tonight?’’ Lavanya said tactfully.

‘’Hmm… I… I…” Raman seemed to be in a dilemma.

“If we finish off our dinner early, we could get inside the ‘maccher tent’ right away.” Lavanya promised.

“Indu, we will be sleeping inside a maccher tent, right?” Lavanya asked turning towards me. To which I nodded with hesitation.

“Now, what is a maccher tent?’’ Raman asked with curiosity.

“Alas, Maccher tent! Now comes another scope for embarrassment. Oh! How do we escape this embarrassment? It would feel hotter to sleep inside a maccher tent especially during a power-cut.” I thought to myself. (Lavanya has addressed a traditional Indian mosquito net as ‘maccher tent’; maccher is Hindi for mosquito).

“I want to know what a maccher tent is?” asked little Bhoomi impatiently.

“It’s a… hmm… traditionally in many parts of India we sleep inside a mosquito net to ward off mosquitoes from biting us.” I said.

“How does a mosquito net look like?” pat came Bhoomi’s question.

“It looks like a tent, a netted cloth tent which is hung around the bed so that we are protected from mosquitoes while sleeping. A kind of camp like feel in there…” Lavanya explained to the kids.

The ‘Maccher tent’

As expected, the dinner table was lit by the dim light of candles. My mother served them hot chapatis generously smeared in ghee with okra fry, lentil soup, some rice and some home grown mangoes. I was taken for a surprise on seeing these kids eating authentic local preparations with ease. I felt nostalgic to see Bhoomi squeezing lemon in lentil soup with the same intensity and enthusiasm as her father did.

“It seems she too loves to have lemon!” Mother exclaimed.

“Like father, like daughter.” I added with a smile.

‘’Yeah… just like me she prefers to squeeze lemon in her food. I mean, in case if we are having Indian food then it is a must.” Abhay remarked. With a smile on his face, he looked at his daughter while his face brightened-up in admiration for her. At that moment, the subtle pride that a father feels when his offspring takes on to his traits was clearly evident on his face.

“Papa, have you ever slept inside a maccher tent?” asked Raman with excitement.

“Off course, each time that I have come here.” Abhay said with laughing out loud.

“Wow, it must be fun. I can’t wait…”, Raman added.

In no time, the inconvenience of facing power-cut and the summer-time plight was overshadowed by the excitement of sleeping in the maccher tent. So much so that Raman was willing to forgo dinner in order to jump into it.

“When are we getting inside the maccher tent?” both the kids kept asking all throughout dinner, one after the other.

And each time their mother replied, “As soon as you finish your dinner.”

I silently dreaded the moment when the kids would be inside the mosquito net, and they would feel hot and sweaty. I was praying that the power would be restored as quickly as possible as nothing was in our hands.

Soon after the dinner they quickly finished their night time routine, and I came to their room to help them put the net. While Lavanya, Abhay and me were putting the net around the bed, the kids were jumping in anticipation of possible fun and excitement.

“It will be very hot once inside. They are not used to it.” I murmured to Lavanya. She in turn winked and said, “Don’t worry. They will be fine.”

After some time, Lavanya lifted the netted walls a little and said with a hand gesture, “Come on, get inside.” Both the kids jumped inside one by one and so did their parents. I handed over a couple of hand fans to them as they would need them. Unable to fathom what will happen next I left the room quickly.

It’s been hours now and power has not been restored yet.  Even someone who is used to living in this situation, could very well struggle here because it is boiling hot and sweaty inside the mosquito net. As I tossed and turned in an attempt to fall asleep inside my own ‘maccher tent’, I still hear chirping sounds from their room. It is interesting to observe how tactfully the kids were kept engaged with stories of hitchhiking and camping from the couple’s first trip to Europe together. It is amazing how they are able to accept these challenges in a sporting manner and further pass on the positivity to their kids.

I was thinking about Lavanya’s parenting style in particular. The fact that she has tactfully managed the situation transforming despair into enthusiasm seems inspirational. Lavanya seems to be an adjusting, tolerant and matured person whose focus is fixed on a higher purpose. She was able to teach her kids important life lessons – to adjust in any situation and try to see the positive side in everything. Maybe, now I have understood the reason why these second generation Indian Americans have decided to bring their children to their respective native places in India – so that their children too learn to fit into any given situation – whether favourable or not so favourable. Often times, materially comfortable life poses as a hinderance in showing us the flip-side of the life, which might not be rosy but would toughen us up. After all life is not something that you get in a platter, it comes with its own share of struggles which no one can avoid. If we don’t teach our children to cope with them then who will? And foundation of effective parenting is leading by an example.

Life keeps throwing at us our share of both happiness and distress. Acceptance and tolerance are virtues which are often labelled as weakness, but we fail to see them as essential tools to handle short term inconveniences so that we don’t lose sight of our long term goals. After all, Krishna has advised us in the Bhagavat Gita (Chapter 2, Verse 14) –

matra-sparsas tu kaunteya
agamapayino ‘nityas
tams titiksasva bharata

“O son of Kunti, the non-permanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”

– Aradhana Basu Das


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