Before she came to be known as Grandma Ursula with the German-flavored-accented-Bengali, she was just Ursula. But there was nothing just just about her.
Grandpa M had never had a girlfriend, despite being heartbreakingly hot – six one, fair, dimpled, with features so chiseled it hurt to look at him for too long – it was like staring at the sun.
One morning, he decided he was way too bored with his life in India. He wanted out.
And so, he packed his bags and took the first available ticket out of the country, which was also beginning to irk him a little. He wanted an adventure. He was young, only twenty-five, and desperate for travel. He had to travel by ship from Kolkata Port to Calais, France. Then over land to Germany. This was the absolute early 50s, when air travel was majorly risky and not as frequent.
Picture a post-war Germany. The country in ruins. Too many young men killed in battle. Too many jobs left unmanned. So Grandpa M got a job, no problem, smoother than frosting. An apartment. A café where he’d eat lunch everyday.
And then, gooey lightning stuck and he saw her.
Grandma Ursula. Crossing the street. She was gone in a flash though.
Grandpa M was enamoured. Completely, helplessly. He absolutely HAD to talk to this girl. He began to sit at the same spot and watch her hurry somewhere. Now, men are programmed to do anything and everything but approach the women they fall for – hook, line and sinker – at first sight. And Grandpa M was no different. He wondered what her name was, this beautiful young blonde with the sensible skirts and shoes. He wondered if she had a boyfriend. He wondered when he began to wonder about such things.
Grandpa M liked to say that he finally “manned up enough to go talk to his pretty German crush”. They met everyday at lunch. Over cups of coffee, she told him how she was the eldest of three children, how she’d lost her dad while still very young, how she worked long shifts as a secretary to support her family.
At this point, Grandpa M, I’m assuming, melted.
One thing led to another, as is obvious with the laws of chemistry, and he popped the question. When news reached the Kolkata mansion, everyone in the family went – for a lack of better word – bonkers.
It’s both unfunny and funny, at the same time, watching Bengalis lose their tempers. You gotta make a Bengali angry. Uber-entertaining, I tell you.
Anyway, everyone was all – “Amader jaat khoalo re kulangarta!!!” (“He’s made us lose our respect in the community, the black sheep!!!”)
Grandma Ursula then decided that there were too many nasty memories in Berlin to make a life there. And so, they traveled back to India where they were greeted by a bombshell: they were shunned by the family.
In 1950s India, whites were absolutely hated – considered unholy even – because of the British rule and the gruelling oppression that Indians faced.
Gradually however, things did turn around – people saw how Grandma Ursula was as a person, how she had completely adopted Bengali customs and culture. And when she got pregnant, her mother-in-law was left with no choice but to bring her into the fold.
An elaborate “purification ceremony” was arranged for the couple where they were bathed in Ganga jol (holy water from the river Ganga) and milk. This was to wash the “foreign white untouchableness” off of them.
Then they were married according to the Bengali rites and customs. Grandma Ursula would start wearing shakha (conch shell bangles – a tradition in Bengal) and shiduur (vermilion in the parting of the hair, a Hindu custom) soon after. When she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, everyone miraculously forgot about Grandma Ursula being a “white untouchable!”
Indian Hypocrisy, thou art remarkably dumb. I salute thee.
After contributing to the holy addition of a baby boy to the household, Grandma Ursula was finally taken to the ancestral home during the next Durga puja.
This was when, probably, the entire family started liking her. And she fell in love with the culture and traditions.
Mind you it still took quite a few more years and a few of the great grand uncles/aunts to die first before she could actually touch anything Puja related.
This was the story of cigarette-smoking, accented-Bengali speaking, famous for her kochu shaak (a Bengali dish) recipe Grandma Ursula. An intercontinental love story peppered with unique cases of culture shock and reverse racism.
She died in 2006, happy, accepted and loved. Finally.
(This is a true story.
Ananda told me this story today, and I felt like I HAD to share. His family is fascinating.)
Image courtesy: Google.