Inherited Memory

A version of this text was first published at

My Grandfather’s New Car – By Sheena Khalid

Growing up my grandfather told me the best stories ever; stories about this huge family, their massive house in Gujarat and the crazy tales of growing up so many decades ago. One day, when my Dada (paternal grandfather) was seventeen or so, there was a massive storm that caused many trees in their compound to come crashing down. One particularly massive Banyan tree managed to fall right where the cars were parked and turned automative engineering into steel pancakes. It took days to clean up the mess. All the leaves from the fallen trees were gathered in a pile where all the sheep owners brought their flock to graze. The branches were chopped and given to the various houses in the vicinity for fire wood. Finally, some men came and salvaged what they could of the once grand cars to use as scrap material. A few days later my great grandfather (the then Dewan of Junagadh) decided to purchase a new car. He went into the city and returned a week later with a brand new Rolls Royce.  My grandfather would describe in exquisite detail how he was standing on the verandah when the car glided through the front gates and stood magnificently in front of their house. A few hours later all eight children piled into the car like loose change and went for a ride around town. My great grandfather was a very serious man and my grandfather would say “I can count on one hand the amount of times I saw him smile”. Dada would then chuckle and with a faraway expression in his eyes he would say “But he was always smiling when he drove that car of his”.

Many years later, my grandfather moved to Bombay. Life had dealt him a cruel hand and he landed up in this city with nothing but a few clothes in a bag. He met my grandmother and they lived a modest life in a small one room apartment in Worli. Even though he went from living in the lap of luxury to making do with the basic necessities, he was never bitter. Whatever he had, he was always willing to give. Their front door was always open and there was a constant stream of visitors.

There is a philosophy that believes in identity and memory being one and the same. You are a sum total of your lived experiences. Not that I do not agree with this. Of course I am the person that I am today because of the many things that I have witnessed and events that have occurred in my life. However, I strongly believe in memory that one can inherit. So, yes, I am all that I can remember, but I am also so much more. I am my mother and father’s life, I am the stories of my grandparents, the fears and hopes of their parents and the happiness and sadness of those before them.

I have never sat in a Rolls Royce and I doubt I ever will, but, thanks to my Dada, I can recall the scent of the leather seats. I can be blinded by the shine of the bonnet and I can smile and press my nose up against the glass window of their new Rolls Royce.


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