Fond of practical jokes and blessed with a keen sense of humour, Dad was the sort of man who wouldn’t hesitate to hold an umbrella over a duck in a downpour if that would generate mirth. Like some elders then, he carried his unwieldy brolly wherever he went, regardless of the weather, prompting a colleague to quip that in a storm it might lift off with him in tow!
Eccentric it might have seemed, yet Dad’s umbrella was a multi-purpose gadget that he put to effective use. A far cry from today’s midgets, it was sturdy enough to serve as a walking stick and double up as a “lathi” to ward off unfriendly mongrels out to sample the softness of his calves. He used its curved handle as an extended arm to pull down fruits hanging tantalisingly out of our reach. Ever ready to spring a surprise, queue-jumpers were sometimes disconcerted to find his umbrella handle hooked round their shins, pulling them back resolutely with a disarming grin. And when we misbehaved the brolly came in handy to whack us—since we usually took the precaution of hiding the cane!
We termed Dad’s bulky umbrella a “3-seater” since it easily sheltered three kids and we used it for just about anything and everything. Needing tadpoles for a nature study class, we once immersed it into a stream and scooped up an entire shoal—taking a cue from the Chinese fishing nets on the Cochin waterfront! Cornered rats were speared with its spiked tip and the brolly sometimes served as a cricket stump with its tip driven into the ground. Catapults were hidden from parental detection within its capacious folds and once a sibling wanted to use it as a parachute to jump off a tree. We somehow convinced him that his poor anatomical upholstery would only ensure a truly bumpy landing!
One could also conceal oneself under Dad’s large umbrella if one didn’t want to be recognised on the road; one just had to lower it sufficiently and forge ahead undetected. Trying out this ruse, I once barged into an oncoming pedestrian in a shower, jabbing him in the belly. He turned out to be a guy I was desperately trying to avoid!
Once a gale flattened Dad’s brolly, disabling it for good. We kids gleefully cannibalised it, deftly converting its ribs into bows and arrows and the rattan staff into a billiards “cue”—to play miniature billiards on a carom board with table tennis balls! The staff also made for a duellist’s rapier—it didn’t matter if one’s opponent had only a miserable twig to defend himself with!
Our creativity knew no bounds as we demonstrated the “versatility” of Dad’s humble umbrella. Surely, its manufacturer could never have envisaged the unorthodox uses to which we imaginatively put it.