I had a granduncle in India who could untangle any tangles. I mean, any possible and impossible tangles.
He was my father’s uncle. He lived in Bihar, a Hindi-dominant state adjacent to Bengal. He spoke Hindi better than he spoke Bengali. His sons and daughters all spoke Hindi better than they spoke Bengali. Wonderful people, wonderful place in North Bihar. My father took us — myself and my mother (and don’t remember, perhaps my little sister too: maybe, she was two or three years old then) — to visit them. I was in middle school.
I had a wonderful time being there. North Bihar in winter is cold. Freezing cold — totally different from mild-weather Bengal. I remember I had to wear socks and shoes early in the morning when I woke up and got out of bed.
I remember one of my uncles and aunts who were my age taught me how to suck nectar out of the stalk end of a red Hibiscus flower, carefully taking the green calyx off. The flower was abundant, and so was the nectar. I was in paradise being in the mango and blackberry and lichee orchard that surrounded the house.
They also taught me how to climb up a blackberry tree. Being from big-city Calcutta, I had no idea how to do it. But I had the courage and wanted to learn. Very soon, one morning I climbed up to the top of a huge blackberry tree. Only problem was that, getting down was impossible. I believe I missed lunch that day simply because I could not climb down the tree.
Ah well…you pay some price learning.
The most awesome thing I learned during that trip was to know that my granduncle had an amazing skill to untangle knots. Knots and ties and tangles and twists. I mean, he could do them all however hard and impossible they looked at first. We the kids — myself and my same-age uncles and aunts would fly kites and I was a pro in flying kites, doing it for years in Calcutta. And we would need hundreds of yards of thread to fly them. And if you’ve ever flown kites, you know that keeping those hundreds of yards of thread straight and untangled especially when you’re bringing the kite down at dusk is often difficult. Either you or your assistant is winding up the thread around the wooden spool, but focusing on bringing the paper kite down undamaged often makes you unmindful of taking care of the loose thread laying on the roof. And quite often, you end up tangling up the thread in impossible twists and turns. Very soon, you end up being extremely frustrated that you’re about to lose the precious couple of hundreds of yards of thread simply because you are unable to untie the knots.
And there came to the rescue my granduncle. He would take care of the knots and ties — one tangle at a time. It was an amazing experience to watch him do it.
Of course, we were too young to understand how he did it. We were too small to have the patience to understand his way. We were just happy that in ten or fifteen minutes — depending on the complexity of the knots — he would free them up and give the straightened-up thread back to us, with a laugh and also with a light spank. We the youngsters would lighten up in joy, and cheer loudly.
In India, back then at least, we did not have the custom to say thank you, at least not in a formal way. We would probably just smile or giggle to see the freed-up knots, and get the modest spank.
How did he do it? I often thought, growing up.
I ask you to tell me what you think about it. The most difficult tangles. The impossible knots and ties. The most complex twists. He would sit there, I remember, put the jumbled-up thread on his lap. He would put his old-fashioned, black-rimmed glasses on, and he would spend the next ten or fifteen minutes — depending on the complexity of the puzzle — to untangle it. He would solve the problem areas — one area at a time — and put aside the solved pieces. He would take up the next area, tread his fingers like a magician around the mess, and solve the next piece. We would be glued to the magic, watch him with awe, without knowing how he was doing it.
My Untangle Granduncle died when he was ninety-five years old. I heard about his death from my father. I wish we could all go back to North Bihar one more time, to be with him and my same-age uncles and aunts. That didn’t happen. I never saw them…ever again.
I hope you enjoyed this little story from my childhood in India. Share your stories with us.
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