“Look! Look, Nanu! Look at the clouds coming down! They’re flying all around the room!”
Little Alina cried out loud. Hearing the tender joyful words, Juhi Mumtaz, a warm, confident lady in her late fifties opened up her eyes and slowly woke up from her hot summer’s day, after-lunch sleep. In the terrible heat of this “taal paka” summer afternoon, the old fan above her was moving around at a great speed making a low sound. With great eagerness to see what the three-year-old had been up to, Juhi Mamtaz opened her eyes and looked around the room where she was lying, fully stretched out on the old “palanka,” the same bed she had used since her marriage years ago.
In her half sleepy state, she imagined soft shining clouds floating around her. Her bedroom was filled with the joyful sounds of innocent laughter of the little child who was her only granddaughter, Alina. Alina pointed her little hands to the slowly moving clouds in the room, and cried again, “Look, LOOK, Nanu!”
Juhi Mumtaz was truly astonished to see the beautiful sight of the cloudy waves floating around the room. “What had her little devil done this time?” she wondered.
Alina, who was the only granddaughter of Mrs Juhi, stayed all day long with her Nanu when the little one’s mom was busy at her work place. Apart from the terrible business of big family management, Juhi Mumtaz loved the responsibility of taking care of her little granddaughter. Though many of her relatives questioned her as to why she had to take this extra responsibility onto her own shoulders, she just laughed at their complaints. She didn’t think of caring for her little granddaughter as a heavy responsibility at all. In fact, she loved to play her part, along with her responsibilities as the oldest member of her big family.
These days the mothers of working women often take on this extra responsibility of caring for their grandchildren, as a kind of child care system. Their daughters, now working mothers, were so busy, and often had no choice but to depend on their own mothers to help them out. Juhi Mumtaz’s daughter dropped her little girl off early in the morning at her house and went on to her office from there. Before this daily practice began, Juhi Mumtaz only had to manage her usual everyday duties around her own house, but now she had something far more important to do. The truth was, she really enjoyed watching her sweet little granddaughter growing up day by day.
As the little girl grew, she had learned how to say many new things. The newly learnt words of the little girl appeared to her as fresh as the newly flowering “sheuli” flower.
Juhi Mumtaz thought of her own age, and then went back in her mind to those long-passed days of her own early motherhood, the days when she was so young, and when she had her two daughters and then a son, so quickly, one after another. It seemed that her little granddaughter was bringing back those charming golden days of her early married life. With the company of her daughter’s new little one she could travel back in her memory to the old good days that she had left behind nearly forty years ago.
Sometimes, when she caught herself thinking of those wonderful days, she found herself asking whether she could now guide her granddaughter with the same kind of strictness that she had used with her own children. Now, she would be forced by her older, wiser self to be more gentle, and to often allow the sometimes foolish but lovely acts of the little one to pass. Perhaps, on thinking further, she understood the mistakes she had made years ago were now being corrected by the grace and experience of her entry into old age.
Suddenly, Juhi Mumtaz found her thoughts interrupted by Alina’s demanding voice, “I want to go to beauty parlour with you.” Unable to refuse, she was forced to rise from her bed and take the little one out of the house to the beauty parlour. Alina loved the rickshaw ride from home to the parlour. There, Alina was surprised to see all the new and funny things that happened. A beautiful aunty went behind a curtain and into a hidden room. Soon afterwards she came out again, but her face was as white as a ghost. Her two eyes looked wide and dark against her face-mask, almost like the eyes of the panda she had seen in one of her picture books. Alina was surprised to see that the aunty failed to frighten everyone in spite of her disturbing appearance. Alina wondered if perhaps that was the reason she then went off and washed her face and soon appeared again, as pretty as she had been before.
Juhi Mumtaz asked the girls in the parlour to put “medhi” into her hair. When she was finished, her hair looked beautiful, and shone with gold light. Alina was so happy to see how beautiful her “nanu” looked.
Medhi plant, made into paste and used for colouring hair
In another part of the parlour, an older girl pressed white thread onto the forehead of some other aunties to clear up their hairy eyebrows. Other aunties had their hands painted with the shapes of beautiful flowers.
Still more aunties put big white helmets on their heads, and sat on a chair with nothing to do while the helmets steamed. They looked like the astronauts she had seen on TV, who wear big white space suits when they travel far out into deepest darkest space.
Some women were wearing saris, putting flowers on their “khopa” and were soon transformed into red coloured beautiful “bou”, but to Alina, the most fascinating thing was the cutting of the women’s long hair with sharp scissors, and watching all that cut hair dropping, dropping, dropping, so gracefully onto the floor! When she saw the beautiful brides, Alina demanded, “I want to be a bride too!”, but after Juhi Mumtaz explained that little girls should wait until they were grown up before becoming a bride, she changed her mind.
Next she cried, “I want to have my hair cut, I want a haircut too.” Finally, after an hour-long effort of the child’s begging, Juhi Mumtaz agreed to let Alina have her hair cut while she sat as still as she could on the back of a toy horse.
To begin, Alina was happy as her hair was sprayed with cool water before the cutting began. But then, when she saw that all her lovely long hair had been cut away, she cried and cried and cried. She couldn’t understand why her hair could not be joined back onto her head again, and look the same way as it had before. Nothing Juhi Mumtaz could say or do would comfort the little girl, and she continued to cry, all the way home.
Once they had returned, Alina held tight onto her Nanu’s neck, and at last, completely worn out from crying so hard, she lay down and fell into a deep sleep. Juhi Mumtaz was also tired out, after trying to manage all that crying. At this age, it was not easy to keep a little one happy, whose mother was far away. Being so tired herself, Juhi Mumtaz fell asleep on her “palanka” beside her little granddaughter.
In her dreamy state, she imagined the soft movement of tiny tender hands playing with her hair. She heard the tender joyful sound of her granddaughter’s voice, “I am playing parlour, Nanu. Lie still, Nanu”. She imagined the little hands moving in her heavy bunch of hair. She saw the beautiful golden lights shining among the black and grey colours of her hair, after the layer of “mehdi” had been added.
Juhi Mumtaz continued to dream. Again she heard the little voice. “I am shaping your hairy eye-brows. I’m going to make you a beautiful bride”, the little voice said. Juhi Mumtaz slept, and dreamed in the summer afternoon heat. The fan above her spun around and around, blowing gentle cool air onto her face.
Suddenly, she heard Alina’s voice calling her again, more loudly this time. She woke from her dream with a start. “See, Nanu? See? Look at all the clouds, flying, flying, flying!”
Juhi Mumtaz sat up suddenly, and looked around. Oh my goodness! What was this? Alina’s parlour game was no longer just a dream.
Alina had taken her “Nana Bhai’s” scissors, which were normally used for cutting his grey beard and had cut off Juhi Mumtaz’s beautiful waist-length hair. Juhi Mumtaz had tried to cover the grey by putting “mehdi” into her hair to shoulder level, in a manner that looked a little strange. But now, as the fan moved the air in her room, her beautiful golden “mehdi” hair was floating everywhere, around and around and around. As it flew around the room, it looked like soft clouds floating in the evening sky.
Juhi Mumtaz was shocked beyond words. “Take control of yourself.” she thought. At last, like a strong swimmer, fighting the pull of the river, she managed to calm herself down. Instead of speaking with anger and sadness, a voice within her told her it was better to simply accept what had happened. “There is no way to replace the hair that has been cut off”, she thought, “Little Alina has only done what she has seen done today. I shall have to forget this loss and accept the change. After all, I am lucky to have such a happy, lively granddaughter to keep me company. How can I be angry with such a little one? What better way can I show her that I understand her own sadness at the loss of her hair, than by cutting my own? In any case, no matter my age, it is good for me too, to show her I can also accept change.”
In this way, by replacing her shock and sadness at the loss of her hair with acceptance, and with a strong will, she held her precious granddaughter closely in her arms, welcoming in her joyful childish laughter. With calmness and solemn coolness, she addressed Alina tenderly, “What are you doing my little angel?”
Glossary of Bangla Words
a. Taal paka: hot plum; taal paka is a term usually used to mean extreme hot weather which is suitable for the ripening of plum and other summer fruits.
b. Palanka: traditionally designed bed
c. Nana bhai: maternal grandfather
d. Nanu: maternal grandmother
e. Sheuli: seasonal white colored flower that can be seen in the early winter season. (Called ‘Jasmine’, in English)
f. Khopa: traditional sub continental hair style for women
g. Bou: bride
h. Mehdi: henna
Learn all the words (that you do not already know) from the following list…
1. High Frequency Words from the 2nd 1000 General Service Word List
|comfort||funny||manage / management||spun||washed|
Do you know the meaning of the words below? These are not high frequency, or common, words in English, so only learn these words and expressions if you already know ALL of the words in the list above, very well.
Comprehension Questions (find the answers in the reading)
- In the story, Alina is called both a little devil and a little angel. What do these two words mean?
- Why was Juhi Mumtaz caring for Alina?
- What does Juhi Mumtaz tell us about the kind of mother she used to be when her own children were small?
- What kind of person is Juhi Mumtaz now, now that she has grown older and become a grandmother?
- What, really, were the clouds that were flying around the room?
- After she sees that Alina has cut off her hair, what reason does Juhi Mumtaz give for not becoming angry with Alina?
Critical Thinking Questions
Think of your own ideas and answers to these questions. Explain your answers to others in English. (Everyone will answer these questions differently.)
- Applying: If you were in the same situation as Juhi Mumtaz, and your hair was cut off, what would you have done? Give some reasons for your answer.
- Analysing: Why do you think did Juhi Mumtaz said that Alina was both an angel and a devil? What do you think of these descriptions of a child? Can a child be both and angel and a devil at the same time?
- Analysing: Do you think some people put too much time, money and effort into making themselves look outwardly attractive? How much is too much? How much is OK, and how much is not enough?
- Evaluating: Do you think it is ever OK to punish a young child for doing something foolish? Give some reasons for your answer.
- Creating: If you had to care for a young child for a day, what kind of activities would you organize to keep the child busy and happy? Make a list of your ideas and explain them to someone in English.
- Predicting and Creating: Go to the end of the story again. What do you think happened next? Write a few more paragraphs of your own and finish the story completely.
Roleplay: Work with one or two other people in a small group. Each group should take part of the story and turn it into a script for a short play. Aim for about 10 lines of dialogue.
After your teacher has checked your script, practice the dialogue with your co-writers until you can say it without looking. Think of ways to make your dialogue really interesting. (Use a lot of intonation, body language and emotion.)
Perform your part of the story to others in your class, but don’t cut anyone’s hair for real!