Opinion | Off the Cuff

History gets a revision in the retelling

Recounting childhood experiences is a family hobby

  • By Vanaja Rao
Stone Editor
  • Published: 00:00 November 2, 2012
  • Gulf News

They say history repeats itself. Well, in my family each one is intent on repeating the other’s history for the amusement of guests and other gatherings. I admire embroidery and embellishment like most others, but not when it comes to one’s personal experiences.

There was one visit to Spain during the Christmas season when the three sisters got together for this joyous season. There was the lavish Christmas dinner when an assortment of guests (all Spanish-speaking) were entertained by a recounting of one of my so-called childhood experiences.

Now I have heard this particular story so many times over the years that I know exactly how the tale will be spun and the responses of the audience. But this time it was different, mainly because the recital was in Spanish.

So I had to try and decipher body language and facial expressions to get the gist of what was being said.

You see, although I am the protagonist of the piece, I know that the story runs the risk of undergoing a life-changing metamorphosis.

I know how difficult it is for my siblings to keep to the original script, but each time I interrupt their narration with an indignant “I never said that” or “I DIDN’T do that”, I am brushed off with amusing put-me-downs such as “She can’t remember much. She has an awful memory. It’s a family joke”.

So the yoke of amnesia is placed on me and it hardly matters any more that the experience that they are embroidering and garnishing with such gusto is actually what I am supposed to have felt and thought and said.

It soon becomes clear that I can cry myself hoarse but I am not going to get justice with these imaginative beings.

Exaggeration of events

To return to the Spanish saga, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The audience’s eyes were round with disbelief and their gaze kept focusing on me as yet another exaggeration of events was added to the unending list.

There was sympathy in some eyes and I feared the worst, that soon some of them would enfold me in an empathetic hug and whisper words of comfort which I wouldn’t understand and all the time I would be left wondering what exactly had been said in that alien tongue.

What was even more galling was seeing a niece join in the weaving of lies. She wasn’t even a twinkle in her mother’s eye when this incident allegedly happened. So, when did she become such an expert?

I know that often hearing about something time and again makes the experience feel so real that one is convinced one was present at the time. But shouldn’t one check one’s facts when recording or recounting history?

By the time the Spanish translation was over, I was burning with the fire of injustice. How could I explain myself to these people when they hardly knew any English and my Spanish was limited to ‘hola’ and ‘adios’? As the guests began to leave, each of them made it a point of wishing me with extra warmth as if nothing they could do or say could undo what I had been through.

The irony was that there was nothing in that experience to invite anyone’s sympathy or anguish. Laughter maybe, but certainly not the overwhelming feeling of wanting to wrap your arms around the heroine of what they perceived as a tragic tale.

That’s when I realised that nothing was going to change. So, if I couldn’t beat them, I would join them. So, the next time there was a sizeable gathering, I started recounting a childhood experience — not mine — with such feeling that soon I had my audience eating out of my hands. And to think that I made it all up …

Gulf News
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