Traditions … to die for

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Tradition, inter-alia, as …

  • an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior
  • cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs ….

I fondly recall the tradition of “Jhoote Maaiyyaan” (also “Jhoote Maattey”) prevalent in Punjabi (and no doubt, other) families.  “Jhoote” is an expression loosely defining the act of providing a ride, especially to infants and toddlers – for instance, on a swing or in a stroller etc., – accompanied by a nonsensical rhyme of three or four verses to keep them amused.  A broader definition includes providing “jhoote” as in a car ride or on a bike.  “Jhoote” is sung in time with the upswing and “Maatey” is a rhyming word, sung through the downswing.

My maternal grandfather would return from office in the evenings and doff his formal headgear, settling down for a cup of tea and interactions with all the assembled grandchildren (see my earlier blog  We looked forward to getting our chance of “jhoote maaiyyaan” with him.  For this, he would lean back in his upright chair and extend both his legs out straight, heels touching the floor.  By turn, each kid would be invited to sit on grandpa’s ankles and lie back on his shins.  Grandfather would then lift his legs in unison, almost parallel to the ground before lowering them gently back again, ensuring the kid’s balance to prevent them from toppling over (which did happen occasionally, accompanied by hoots of laughter.)  This cycle of up and down swinging was accompanied by my grandmother or other ladies present in the room, crooning jhootey maattey, with verses changing according to the mood or specifically suited to the kid being entertained.  Each kids’ turn would end with a clamorous conclusion of “(…) daa dolaa aayaa je …!” (… Lo! (Kid’s name)’s chariot has arrived …!) accompanied by a swift and bumpy landing as our grandfather’s feet hit the ground.

I have carried on this tradition with our grandkids who continue to enrich our lives.  Through their infancy, S (now 12), J (9) and R (soon to be 7) have in turn, enjoyed and outgrown the pleasures of jhootey maaiyyaan tailored to each one’s personality.  Now it is K (2-1/2) and L (1) who are grandstanding.  None of them has ever needed an invitation from me to engage in this sport.  Whenever they visited with us and as soon as I was seated, the child would come over and clamber over my legs, encouraging me to hoist them up and down and give them a ride.  To accommodate “global” practices, I have switched from my original repertoire in Punjabi language rhymes to include “See-Saw Marjorie Daw”, “Jack and Jill” and “Georgie Porgy” etc.

A few days ago, I was indulging K while his older brother R watched us.  He came over and asked if I could give him a ride for he had not enjoyed it for a long time.  I said to him, “R you are a big boy now and too heavy for me to lift you.” He asked if it would hurt my legs or if they might break; I responded that my legs would certainly hurt. He then asked if he could give me a ride. I told him it sounded like a plan, adding that perhaps in 10 – 12 years when he is older and stronger he could give ME a ride instead.  Staring at me intently and ever thoughtful, “10 – 12 years?  Won’t you be dead by then, Big-D?”  

I related this amusing but oh-so-true anecdote to a friend.  He laughed and added a similar experience of his own.  Some weeks ago, his wife was sorting out stuff including a few pieces of jewellery that she wanted her visiting daughter to choose from, as a keepsake.  My friend’s six years old granddaughter was traipsing in and out of the room and stopped by to admire a pair of earrings. She asked her grandmother if she could take them.  My friend’s wife laughed and said “You will have them when grandma dies” (or words to that effect.)  Her grandchild nodded and ran out to play.  However, she soon returned and gently tugging her grandmother’s hand inquisitively said, “Thank you Nani (grandmother) but can you please give me at least a hint when I will get the earrings?”

We live each day to enjoy such honest feedback!  Longevity has no relevance.  Each moment is precious and savoured.

In a different context, when exiled by the British to live out his final days in Rangoon, the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, missing his beloved homeland India had despondently composed this sher (verse):

Umr-e-daraz maang ke laye thae chaar dinHaving prayed for a long life, (I) was granted four days …
do aarzoo mein kat gaye do intezaar mein… two were spent yearning … two went by in anticipation (for the fulfillment of those desires)

7 Replies to “Traditions … to die for”

  1. I have missed your writing voice. It reminds me of my parents, who would do the same and my dad had a Bengali ditty he would sing. I used to sing it to my kids when they were babies. The traditions are comforting.


  2. I have missed your writing voice. It reminds me of my parents, who would do the same and my dad had a Bengali ditty he would sing. I used to sing it to my kids when they were babies. The traditions are comforting.


  3. Such a sweet addition to the many wonderful posts on your blog, Pankaj! I could “see” your grandfather, and now you, giving rides to the little ones. There’s a similar rhyme in Hindi, and because my memory isn’t as good as yours, while I can’t recall the exact words, your post brought to life the very special feeling the activity evoked.

    And also reminded me of a long-ago incident when my brother looked up earnestly and asked, “Didi, can I have your stamp collection when you die?” He was all of five or six and I am five years older!

    Thank you for a pre-Mother’s Day treat!


  4. History, as it is said, is but a collection of our stories. Glad you were able to visualize and enjoy your own history with your kid brother. You remain my inspiration and I am grateful for your support over the years encouraging me to write; thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: