Essays from The Education of a Bengali Gentleman –
Um . . . What do you tell a pumpkin?
For three days during the BAGC Durga Puja 2018, I worked at a booth to promote the property development and management venture of a distant cousin in Kolkata. Being so close to Halloween I brought along bags of candy that I put out in a large pumpkin bowl. I knew the children would love it. Pretty soon the word went around that a funny man was passing out free candy at his booth. In addition to asking to take a piece or two of candy (very polite children) they also asked me the questions I was play acting with them.
It all started when the little girl at my neighbors sari and jewelry booth got bored straightening the ear rings on the display stand at her grandmother’s booth and began to inch towards the smiling face of the man next door with the pumpkin candy bowl. Needless to say that having been a school teacher all my life there is a tone to my voice which reassures children that I adore and respect children of all ages. Little M found it inviting to approach me, and after a few moments of pondering, her guard was down when I asked her to look for the missing tongue of the pumpkin bowl. Yes, I said, I had just seen it lick its lips clean. What do you mean? And I went, Like This, and made an elaborate imitation of the pumpkin sticking his tongue out to lick the bowl. Little M was taken in by my performance and little as she is, she believed me and looked all around the bowl searching for the tongue. Yes, it must have slipped it below all the candy in the bowl. And was waiting to take a big sloppy lick when nobody was looking. Are you sure? Of course I am. I am a teacher. I wouldn’t lie to you. Little M did not protest and was about to stick her hands in to the candy bowl. I cautioned her that the pumpkin was tempting her to do so, so he could bite of her fingers. Soon enough Little M and I both found out we needed a new game to keep up our friendship.
Just then I asked her, What do you tell a pumpkin? Little M wondered for a few minutes and drew a blank. Why M you say, Olla Jack-O-Lantern. Surprisingly the next cue came from M. She piped in, What do you tell a witch? I made my eyes light up, imagined my hair standing on end, curled my fingers viciously, willed my fingernails to grow three inches, and waving my arms in the air, I let out a subdued but shrill, OoooooOOOOH! Down the hallway a classroom had decorated their doorway in the Halloween theme. Their spider webs swayed with my shrill cry, the cat jumped the fence, and ghosts encircled the rickety house. Little M was thrilled as she played along.
The candy bowl was not emptying fast enough. I didn’t wish to drive back with an unopened two pounds bag of tootsie lollipops. So I asked Little M to extend the pumpkin bowl to passing children and adults and ask them to help themselves to the candy. While children were standing around, M asked, What do you tell a wizard? Children and adults looked on as I became a slim and really tall wizard with a flowing white beard, and sticking my old skinny hands out of the colorful robe, I said whistling through uneven teeth, Gilly Gilly Hocus Pocus, waved by hands in a large swooosh and vanished in thin air.
Hardly had the act ended, when one of the gathered children asked, What do you tell a green monster? I became tall and big, squared up my shoulders, puffed out my chest, rounded my fists, pulled my arms in front of my chest and shook them furiously, my wrist watch chain jingling, steam blowing out of my ears, I said in a rough and tough voice, one loud, roaring word, RRRRUUUUNNN!
The rest of the evening became interspersed with children and adults making return visits to get more candy and request second acts. In between I talked to some clients about developing, buying and selling property. All the candy and all my business cards were gone. Little M and I had become an instant success, my little pumpkin and I.