“Hello . . . hello . . .” It was my eldest son, Brendan, calling out at 2:20 in the morning. He was sitting up in the bed next to mine, and calling towards the window. Hearing him caused me to sit up as well. Brendan thought someone was in our room. My immediate thought was that a monkey had somehow gotten inside.
Brendan and I were sleeping in the room his mother and I had shared during our time in Mysore. My son had just returned from a year in Afghanistan, where he had served as a diplomat in the U.S. Embassy. He was spending a week with us in India before returning for his next assignment in D.C. Peggy had gone home several days earlier; I was to join her in the States a few days later.
Now Brendan had ignited his iPhone flashlight app and was shining it towards the floor near the entry door to our room.
“God, Dad, it’s a rat!” he exclaimed.
I turned on my flashlight too just in time to see a huge rodent – as big as a medium-sized cat – slinking across the floor in front of our beds. Now he was in the corner near the window.
“What do you think we should do?” Brendan said.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
Gingerly I got up and opened the door leading to the outside patio in front of our room. Just then the rat jumped onto the window sill and slipped out through a hole in the screen. I heard him scurry out across the yard.
I closed all the windows and said, “That’s going to make it hard to go back to sleep, won’t it?”
Brendan agreed. But somehow we fell asleep again — I suppose dreaming of “Rodents of Unusual Size,” which played such a role in “The Princess Bride” which ironically we had just viewed that very night.
In any case, that’s only one of the many astonishing incidents Peggy and I shared with our children in India where all of them spent time with us in a funky apartment that housed our wonderful inter-generational community.
That is, for three of our four months in India we shared space and time with our daughter Maggie, her husband Kerry, and those three yellow-haired children, Eva (5), Oscar (nearly 3), and Orlando (nearly 2). Peggy’s roommate from her college days, Micki Janssen, joined us half-way through and stayed for two months. Our sons, Brendan and Patrick came for the Christmas holidays. During one of his leaves from Afghanistan, Brendan and his girlfriend, Erin, had also spent a week with us in Sri Lanka.
Our house in Mysore’s V.V. Mohala neighborhood was perfect for renewing family ties. It resembled a three-story motel right out of the 1950s. Four separate living spaces (each with its own lockable entrance and kitchen) made up the first floor. Peggy and I occupied one of those rooms. That’s where the incident with the rat occurred.
Oscar slept in another room on that same floor. The idea was for Peggy and me to keep tabs on him during the night. The house’s owner (the ever-present Mr. Dass) made his office in a third room. And then there was an American college professor (whom we rarely saw) who lived in the fourth.
The second floor of the “motel” was a two bedroom apartment with a large kitchen, two bathrooms, a living room, dining room and office. That’s where Maggie, Kerry, and our grandkids lived. Early on, they converted one of the walk-in closets into a “bedroom” for baby Orlando.
Peggy and I ate lunch and dinner in that apartment with the whole family every day. (The two of us had breakfast each morning on our own at the “Barista” Coffee Shop a few blocks away – café lattes and “Breckwich” sandwiches consisting of an omelet with lots of cheese on a white bun. I figure that between us we probably ate more than 100 of those sandwiches while in Mysore. )
Everyone eating together twice a day was terrific. What bonding we did! We had a great cook by the name of Anita. She’d fix us Indian food for lunch. And it was always superb – Indian curries, dhal, chapattis, naan, biryani rice, roti, bitter gourd, yogurt, and other delights. Then we usually had something western for supper – pasta, pizza, quesadillas – that sort of thing. Two other women, Vigia (of whom Oscar was strangely afraid) and her daughter Pavrita helped Anita and did the cleaning and laundry as well.
The “motel” had a third floor too. Micki lived in the apartment up there. The third floor’s terrace spread itself in front of Micki’s room. Kerry and Maggie eventually placed two table and chair sets there. That made it nice for parties and occasional meals when the weather was especially fine – and when the laundry had dried and could be removed for the occasion.
Intergenerational living in those circumstances turned out to be wonderful. Many mornings Eva would wake us up, join us in bed, and insist on playing some game – usually involving Pippi Longstocking or Harry Potter. She’d also want to awaken her brother Oscar who always slept longer than Eva and was (as I said) sleeping next door. So we’d have to dissuade her from doing that.
Though the living arrangements and interactions were not without their challenges, I’m sure none of us will ever be the same after living inter-generationally like that. We learned we could do it and have great fun in the process.
Brendan and I will never forget that rat either. . . .