My grandfather Shri Vassudeva Keni, was a kind, mild-mannered and virtuous member of our society. He was a man devoted to principle as much as he was to God and he never deserted his ideals even in difficult times, one of the memorable hallmarks of his legacy. He always bore a friendly countenance and watched over his growing family with great compassion and care. He was loved and honoured by all who knew him, and he always returned their affection and admiration many-fold. He grew up to a life of hardship and toil, chasing financial stability and endeavouring to secure the future of his family through the sacrifice of his personal and professional goals. He worked long hours to ensure the happiness of his siblings and spent most of his productive life raising his children and building a home that would shelter his brood for decades to come.
He faced many a trial and tumult in his career as a businessman, entrepreneur and as a father. He retired with relative peace and satisfaction in the early 90s and his son, the third of four children began to run his small enterprise in his stead. My grandfather was in his own right a scholar, a lover of language, literature and a philanthropist.
He spent his golden years by being enthralled by a small army of grandchildren that he was blessed with, by advising his son on matters of business and commerce and by spreading his wisdom to those in need.
My brother and I, grandsons of Abi (short for Ajoba) or Kaka (as he was fondly called) by his only son, grew up in the same house that he lived in, although we were too young to realize how lucky we were in that respect. He doted over us whenever he could, whenever we were within shouting distance or sight of this father-figure to the community. We were never close, in all honesty, a fact I regret to this day, but he loved and cared for us all the same and did little things that had great significance like asking about our academic progress with great interest and enthusiasm.
My grandfather was an early riser in his younger days, but as he grew older and a host of health problems began to catch up with him, he slept more often than not.
He remained perennially attached to the morning daily, a cup of tea and his wife of over forty years, my grandmother, remained by his side for those decades.
As I grew up and began to notice a lot more than I did before, I observed that my grandfather, and on most occasions my father, went routinely missing for a couple of hours in the evening before dinner was sounded at home. I assumed that my father was late at work, as he was usually out of the house for erratic and unpredictable hours and that my grandfather went for a walk or to visit friends. These daily disappearances were not spoken of by the women of the household and my grandmother remained reserved and brooded when she was asked where they were.
I had never been more wrong, the two men were playing cards at the local club, Clube Tennis de Gaspar Dias, across from the beach by the river Mandovi, the same club in which I would play snooker and tennis with my friends without knowing that half of my family was playing cards in the rooms adjacent. This news came as a surprise to me when I first heard it, my grandfather just did not fit the bill according to my young mind, and my father even less so. I rushed to investigate and spied upon the square-shaped green-topped tables in the ‘Card Room’ and the occupants sitting around them, one on each side of each table. My father and his father sat on separate tables, facing their ‘partners’ across the table and playing card after card against their opponents who sat grimly adjacent to them. My grandfather sat among his contemporaries, wizened old men, grey-beards, retired servicemen and businessmen who were probably in their prime during the Emergency and my father sat among slightly younger players, although they shuffled about often after a few deals. I noticed, as was my newfound talent, that the atmosphere at both tables were markedly different. The table at which my grandfather sat was a sea of calm and tranquillity, a veritable council of the wise, quiet and serene with only the odd cough or grunt of satisfaction, easy on the eye. The other table was a warzone. Thinly veiled abuse, high-minded advice and a whole lot of shouting and chastisement were the order of the day, tempers ran short and amok and duels, challenges and words of an ignoble nature were thrown about in great disarray. Oddly enough, both tables sported the same card-game.
The game which had these men and the occasional women in a frenzy every day, looking for their daily fix, was called Bridge. It involved two chief stages of competition, the Bidding and the Card-Play. Players sitting across from each other are known as ‘Partners’ and they bid certain ‘Contracts’ based on the cards they are dealt and play the cards to fulfil the ‘Bids’, as their opponents try to prevent them from doing so. Bridge is vast and brilliant, tactical, intellectually stimulating game that is played all around the world, chiefly by those of advanced years. The number of books that have been written about Bridge, self-help, textbooks, novels, comics and ad infinitum are far more than can be thought possible, and as an avid reader I was shocked to have never come across any of them, or to have never even heard about the game itself. It is vastly popular, has its own national and international tournaments, Grandmasters, points systems and ranking systems. There is even an online forum for Bridge called BBO where players from all over the world can electronically play against each other. I had still never heard of it, and neither had any of my friends.
My father explained why in his slow and precise manner. Bridge was dying. The older generation, which loved and revered the game were and still are simply unable to introduce the game to their children and help them develop an interest in it. It demanded a vast attention span and had a steep learning curve, but it simply lacked the appeal that the modern generation desired.
Bridge is a heavily structured, complex and disciplined game, but when played informally and without stakes of any sort, it can be a source of entertainment for its devotees, in short, it can turn a respectable local country club with an aged and well-known membership, into a madhouse. Bridge has this uncanny ability of bringing out both the best and worst in its players and is a mild dosage of misery for their spouses, who struggle to turn the attention of their life partners away from their partners in Bridge. I sympathized with my grandmother and mother immediately, after I realized this. I have heard quips, jokes, anecdotes, confessions, tales and witnessed abuse and fights at the Bridge table, most of which are memorable and entertaining and at the same time cannot be put into writing. Playing Bridge has been akin to looking at life through a very different looking glass, as far as I could see. But the story of Bridge is unfinished yet.
Bridge was dying, slowly and tragically, and so was my grandfather.
He began to suffer from several ailments, almost all of which could be attributed to advancing age and they began to catch up with him in quick succession as he struggled to stay ahead. He remained bedridden and weak, barely able to speak and fend for himself for many months. As his final days approached and my family braced itself for the reality of the stark situation, my grandmother asked the entire family to journey back to our home and be with him in his final days. The entire family came together, an event rarer than a sighting of the Halley’s Comet, a singular source of great happiness for my grandfather, who remained lucid and responsive throughout, although the mood among the troops was sombre. My brother and I went to school as though nothing was wrong in the world, as we were instructed to, but one day at only 9 A.M. in the morning, I saw our gardener at the door of my classroom with a blank expression on his face and the grave realization that I had been dreading for months finally came upon me. We collected my brother and drove home in silence. I beheld more people outside my home than I had ever seen before, all clad in white, speaking in quiet, hushed tones as I rushed inside to see what I already knew I would find.
My father and his sisters were thanking family and friends for coming at this hour of distress, my grandmother was stoic in disposition after an initial bout of anguish and my cousins were quiet and sombre as well. There was a peaceful pallor on my grandfather’s face has he lay among the people who revered him, mourned his passing and celebrated his life. Toward the afternoon, in a private ceremony his children performed his last rites and the family was together once again. I remember there being an odd sense of peace and relief in the camp, we were just glad that his suffering was finally over.
We celebrated the life of this legend of his generation with great cheer and pomp a few days later, although in tune with tradition and faith. We did not mourn his passing by going into our respective shells and remaining cocooned until prised open by our well-wishers, we did not sit down and brood in silence. As a family we burst forth like a phoenix from the ashes that were once my grandfather and moved headfirst into the future. He would be proud of us, I’m sure.
The Club has a new Card-Room now, whose walls are adorned with the portrait of my grandfather and those of other fallen veterans of the game alongside him. My father helps organize an annual Bridge tournament in the name of Shri Vassudeva Keni and other Bridge players of old at the Club. I have begun to play myself, and my game leaves a lot to be desired yet, but I am an integral part of the madness in the Card-Room now. I play alongside men who marvel at the fact that they have sat across three generations of the Keni family, they look me and remember the good old days when they played alongside my grandfather. I play with my father too, although our partnership isn’t the finest. I play regularly, because I love the game and all its technical and human facets.
Bridge will not die on my watch.