The man who caught peanuts in the air

Me, Uncle Shippa and Cousin Shree

Uncle Shippa was my Dad’s friend from his college days. Dad and he were political agitators during India’s fight for independence and spent a night in jail for civil disobedience (a polite term for disorderly conduct). One time they walked on top of people’s heads (how that is even possible, please don’t ask–I am only repeating what I heard) in a big crowd to get to the frontlines and hear the great Gandhiji speak (CORRECTION 07-03-2012: sis says they ran on the crowd’s heads when the great poet Rabindranath died. When Gandhi died, dad was already 40- imagine a 40 year old man doing that!!) . Dad went on to become a big shot tea planter while Uncle Shippa remained a bachelor and waffled by without doing a spot of work his entire life. He was the pilot fish that swam alongside the shark (my dad) and fed off the fat.

“Old man,” he’d say to my dad, sprawled out on the sofa  “I could do with a little help, buddy.”

Dad, the good-natured beast he was, would point a lazy toe to his wallet on the coffee table.

“Help yourself,” he’d say, without looking up.

And Uncle Shippa did– with ne’er a qualm. He took a tenner, a fiver or whatever he needed for ciggies, a spot of booze and the occasional pair of socks. His needs were minimal and he never took a rupee more than was necessary even though he knew   with my father there were no holds barred and no questions asked.

My mom got a little catty. “Eeesh,” she said. “What kind of man is he, sponging off his friends? He has no self-respect!”

“Who needs self-respect,” replied my dad, “if I had a kind and thoughtful friend like me, you think I’d lift a finger?”

We kids didn’t give a damn for self-respect either. Uncle Shippa could shuffle a deck of cards with one hand, pull a copper naya paisa out of someone’s ear and he could catch peanuts in the air. The peanut trick was his greatest feat. He would throw a peanut so high it practically got swallowed by the clouds – only to catch it with a loud ‘crunch’ in his mouth. Always. Every single time. He was a genius!

We tried our best to copy him. We practiced…and practiced. Each time the peanut would land on the ground and the only “crunch” you’d hear would be from Marshal our German Shepherd. Marshal did not wait around drooling when Uncle Shippa threw peanuts. He knew it was a waste of time.

Uncle Shippa died when he was well past 90. Till the end he remained a picture of health. He never saw a doctor and never saw the inside of a hospital. To top it all he died a wealthy man. Someone upstairs was looking out for him because just after my dad (the milch cow) passed away, Uncle Shippa received a whopping inheritance from a rich relative he never knew he had. This took care of ciggies, booze and socks till his dying day. And because he lived so frugally, there was plenty in his will for surprised relatives.

I asked him once  (he was already an old man by then) where he had learned to catch peanuts in the air.

He grinned at me with his shiny new dentures. “Why maiyya, I never threw the peanuts up at all!”

“What do you mean?” I said, puzzled.

“Well I pretended to throw the peanut and I pretended to catch it as it came down but I had the peanut in my mouth all along. You kids were too busy looking at the sky and the next thing you heard was the crunch in my mouth.”

Wow. He had hoodwinked me all along.

As a writer I am always tossing peanuts in the air. These peanuts are my stories. If I can make my reader believe I can catch them as they fall, I think I have done my job.

Cheers dear friends and here’s to good stories!

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Talking about stories, here’s a little bit about my upcoming book “Teatime for the Firefly” (to be published by MIRA/HARLEQUIN)  You can read the synopsis and first chapter by CLICKING HERE. Please leave me a comment. Thank you!

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9 thoughts on “The man who caught peanuts in the air

  1. The walking on people’s heads was during Rabindranath Tagore ‘s funeral. There was such a massive crowd and it was the quickest way to get to the front!
    When Shippa inherited the apartment and his millions (seemed so to all of us at that age!) he said he was leaving it to a young , struggling relative of his. The young couple
    decided to move in with him and took care of him lovingly till the end of his life. Till his last days his need were minimal – cigarettes and a a bottle of rum. That was provided to him with a whole lot of loving care. The amazing bit is that Shippa did not do a spot of work his whole life!

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    1. Some fact checks about Uncle Shippa from somebody else who knew him. This is my sister Mithoo via my niece Freesia. She is older than me and remembers more about him. Many thanks!

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