I said, “I am not joking; I am simply saying that it is so easy to tell somebody “one dozen” – and exactly that is what I have been doing. If anybody asks me how many children you have, I say, “one dozen.” It is simpler. You have made it unnecessarily complicated: eleven! Either you should have stopped at ten – that seems to be complete – or twelve; that too is complete. But eleven? – what kind of number is that?”
Out of these ten sisters and brothers, I loved most one of my sisters who died when I was very young. I must have been five years old and she must have been three years old. But even then I had not cried. I was surprised and shocked. Everybody was crying and they all thought that I was in shock because I loved my sister the most. In my whole family everybody knew it, that I loved her the most, and she loved me the most. They thought perhaps it was just because of the shock that tears were not coming, but that was not the case.
When my maternal grandfather died I did not weep – and he had brought me up. He was almost closer to me than my father because during the early seven years of my life and those are the very vulnerable times he was close to me. He died in my lap. My grandmother was just losing all control – weeping, uttering words and sentences unrelated to each other. They had lived their whole life together, and they had only one child, my mother. Once she was married they had lived alone and shared each other’s aloneness. My grandmother must have been feeling really lost: her whole world was my grandfather. And to me he was not just a maternal grandfather.
It is very difficult for me to define what he was to me. He used to call me Raja – Raja means the king – and for those seven years he managed to have me live like a king. On my birthday he used to bring an elephant from a nearby town…. Elephants in India, in those days, were kept either by kings – because it is very costly, the maintenance, the food and the service that the elephant requires – or by saints.
Two types of people used to have them. The saints could have elephants because they had so many followers. Just as the followers looked after the saint, they looked after the elephant. Nearby there was a saint who had an elephant, so for my birthday my maternal grandfather used to bring the elephant. He would put me on the elephant with two bags, one on either side, full of silver coins.
At that time the rupee was pure silver; notes had not arrived in India. Notes are not something new; in China they have existed for three thousand years. China in many ways has been far ahead of the rest of the world. Marco Polo, when he came back from China, brought printed notes, printed currency. Still he was not believed. He was called to the pope and told, “Don’t try to create fictions and stupid stories. Who can believe that a piece of paper can be used as money?
The pope tossed a gold coin; it fell on the floor with a great sound, and he said, “This is money.” He burned the note saying, “It is all your fiction.”