like i said, none of his daughters in law had a fancy for him. and then there was his wife, my grandma that it. like all other mother in law – daughter in law pairs, here too, they struck a peculiar
chemsitry….wherein the daughters in law would constantly crib about her. in fact, they didn’t even have much trouble with the old man, but well, lets face it, they loathed the lady – at least as long as she was alive. so this old couple were in a situation where they weren’t exactly rolled out a red carpet welcome in any of the sons’ houses. the result was a not so convenient(oldies don’t love travelling i guess) arrangement where they would shuttle between houses, spending a few months here and a few there. and when neither party could take it any
longer, which was the case most of the times, they would spend time by themselves.
as a result of this arrangement, i didn’t get to see too much of my
grandparents. by the time i was even born, grandpa had retired from
active social life. so all i knew of him was this grumpy old man
sitting in one corner of the room – in his trade mark reclining chair.
in fact, he sat so much on that one chair that i remember he even had
those marks on his back! that way he was pretty unobtrusive, for he
would just sit there in his chair and be by himself. and he would read.
boy, did he read or did he read. in fact, barring the few trips to the
bank or the post office to collect the meagre interest that he earned
out of his savings, thats pretty much all he did. the newspaper would
take up at least a couple of hours, prompting the little boy in me
wonder what caught his fancy in those seemingly boring (newspapers then
didn’t even have colour photos!) sheets of paper caught his fancy. once
he was done with the newspapers, he would then resume with one of his
although as a kid i was as terrified of him as anybody else, for some
strange reason, he seemed to have taken a liking for me. for one, he
would talk a lot to me. in fact, i was the only person he would talk
to. just plain talk i mean. about food, about the books he read, about
his experiences of having worked at a time when the british were still
ruling us, about beauty, about just about everything. it turned out
that slowly, i grew to be his pet liking. so much so, my dad couldn’t
admonish me in his presence, for her would be quickly rebuked with a “i
know what you were when you were a boy his age, so shut up“, or
something like that. slowly, and quite inevitably, the liking started
growing to be mutual. and i liked him not just because he liked me, it
was more than that.
as i started growing up, i slowly started knowing this old man better.
little insights in to this man’s personality made me start looking at
the better side of this otherwise not so liked, and probably, as i
started realising, very misunderstood person. he loved good food. and
everytime i, or anybody else visited him, he took pains to make sure
that every meal that we had was absolute bliss. sometimes, he even
cooked himself. and he was particular what was to be eaten first, what
were the right combinations and so on…for dessert he would personally
pick the choicest dishes from some of the best sweet shops in town.
he had a peculiar relationship with grandma. he would keep yelling at
(for all the right things of course!) and yet, he loved her like mad.
she grew too frail too soon, and then, it was he who took care of the
whole household. whether it was shopping, or cooking or cleaning, he
did it all. even the morning coffee was made and served by him. he
wouldn’t let her move. “you just sit and relax“, was what i heard him
say to her those last few years that she lived. and when she died, he
nearly went mad. at least, madder than what he normally was. he even
tried to pop a few pills, but sadly for the old man, the dosage wasn’t
strong enough, and so all he got was a few extra hours of sleep!
grandma’s death had kind of sobered him down. he wouldn’t get all that
angry or impatient anymore. in fact, he wouldn’t even interefere with
anything around the household any more. it was like a part of him had
died with his wife. his talking almost reduced to nil. except to me of
course. whenever i got to meet him, it seemed that we both enjoyed each
others’ company. i had a lot to learn a lot from him. i haven’t seen
many people who were so well read. be it english, tamil or sanskrit,
his command over the language was simply superb. and for every topic
that was spoken about, he had a quote from some book or the other. what
amazed me the most was his ability to recollect so much of what he had
read and quote it at the right context.
it was the time when i was done with colleege, and had started working
in madras. and i told him he could pack up and come and live with me. i
meant it, for i had even confessed to him about my little vices and
told him that if he didn’t mind my smoking, i’d love to have him with
me. he didn’t come of course. he chose to stay with this other cousin
of mine. she had to go to college in a different city and instead of
her joining the hostel, he decided to go there and stay with her and so
they probably took care of each other. sometimes i even envied her.
after a while, i learnt that he wasn’t doing all that well. he once
told me that there was blood in his piss.
a couple of months later, dad insisted that he come down and see a doc
and all that. i was informed, by dad, that grandpa had cancer of the
urinary bladder. after that, the peeing blood become a regular affair.
in fact, all his ‘veshtis‘ were stained by then. he refused any
treatment, of course. “i’m tired. i think i’d like to be with my wife
as soon as possible“, was what he would say, when we goaded him to get
treated with chemotherapy or some such thing, in the hope of extending
his life by a couple fo years.
the last time i met him, it was at home. it was festive time –
deepavali. for me, there wasn’t much of the festive mood though. for i
knew the old man, who had turned out to be one of my best friends, was
running out of time. by then, he was so much in pain, he hardly spoke.
he had on a catheter – this lil tube – so he could pee right there in
his bed. the only medicines he took were pain killers, and obviously,
the bloody cancer was so bad, the pills didn’t have much effect on him.
i still remember, i was leaving back for madras the next day. i met him
– he was then using my room – and suggested to him that i read out a
book to him. he had stopped reading by then, or he couldn’t i guess. ‘A
Brief History of Time’, is what i had read out for him. Although he was
very ill, i could make out that he was listening quite keenly, and like
me, had enjoyed the book – or at least the first couple of chapters
that i had managed to read out that night.
he couldn’t go through the rest of the book. i was back in madras and
he told me he didn’t feel like reading. in fact, sweet thing that he
was, he even went on to say he’d probably enjoy it more if i was there
to read it out for him. a few days later, i got a call from dad saying
he had died. so i had to go back home for the ceremony and stuff. his
body looked quite healthy and it was hard to believe that he was dead.
there are times when i read a good book, or travel to some interesting
place, or have a hearty meal and am reminded of him. there are few
people i’ve known like him, who can appreciate so well the good things
in life. i guess i miss him at times…