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Grandmother’s Vision

About Bernhard Fuchs

Bernhard Fuchs was born 1966 in Vienna as the son of a Himalayan Geologist. The profession of his father stimulated his interest in India. He studied Cultural Studies at Vienna University and wrote a Ph.D. thesis on South Asian immigrant business in Vienna (1997). He works as Assistant Professor at Vienna University, is married and father of three children. Bernhard Fuchs is co-editor and co-author of Rajinder Dudrah/Elke Mader/Bernhard Fuchs (eds.): SRK and Global Bollywood. New Delhi: Oxford University Press 2015.

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Storytelling grandmothers or grandfathers are just a familiar stereotype to me but not a biographical experience. When I was a child only one maternal grandmother was still alive, but I cannot recall any stories or fairy-tales she would have told me. Most of the tales my own parents narrated about my grandparents are overshadowed by the dark times of the Great Wars. My father lost his parents when he was still very young. One particular story is outstanding for me because of its strong emotional effects. Although this is no wartime memory it is also concerned with death. I prefer this tale as it is not restricted to a particular historical and cultural context but is probably of universal relevance. Of course it is embedded in a modern society dominated by so-called rational thinking where it creates an irritating contrast.

The story itself is quite simple. My father’s parents walked together on a footpath through an alluvial forest. His narration was almost a re-enactment as he repeated the gestures and the dialogue of his parents. Grandmother talked about somebody she saw walking in a strange way ahead of them and indicated the direction with her hand.

But grandfather replied: “No, I cannot see anybody.”

Then grandmother spoke: “Look how he stumbles.” And she whispered: “Now he has suddenly disappeared into the ground.”

She gave a clear description of this person but her husband denied that anybody was there. They were very excited and when they visited a restaurant nearby they narrated their experience. The innkeeper thought for a while and then he remembered that many years ago there has indeed been a small pond filled in after a drunkard has drowned there!

My father told me this story several times while we used to walk in the Vienna woods. So the original experience of my grandparents walking through a forest near the river Danube has been repeated during his narration which used to enhance the immense effect of this story – it actually had a cinematic quality. I used to have a clear vision from different perspectives when I listened to my father’s words. Maybe my fantasy produced an even more elaborated image every time I heard the story, although the narrative was very rudimentary and always remained the same.

I also told this story to my own children. I am not sure if I could impress them. For me it is already hair-raising to think about the vision my grandmother had, the effect was even stronger when I tried to narrate my father’s story by myself. And I again feel this cold shiver running over my back and this strange feeling in my neck just this moment that I am writing these lines. Daddy’s voice always used to change dramatically when he told about the vision his mother has had – his voice has been transformed not out of rhetoric skill but just because he himself was emotionally overwhelmed. Afterwards we always needed some rest to silently think about time, life and death, and to contemplate on visible realities and what lies beyond.

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