The Quirky Indian
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The Quirky Indian

Memories of a Man I Have Loved More Than Anyone Else

Image by Mabel Amber, Messianic Mystery Guest from Pixabay

I often think about him at night.

In its magical silence, when you hear the sound of your own breath and feel its warmth on your arm, when you are intimately aware of your beating heart, your blood vessels throbbing in your temple or the subtle movement of hair on your skin, you think about things you don’t do ordinarily. The blob of silence cuts you off from the world outside so that you are all by yourself, more aware of your own presence than you ever have been.

In these moments, sometimes, I find it difficult to believe that I have been able to live without someone.

Fourteen years ago, what always seems like yesterday, after an incredibly edible dinner cooked by my newly-wed wife, who couldn’t stop reading cookbooks and experimenting her culinary misadventures on the love-struck husband, my mother had called me to say that my grandfather was probably no more. She added the world ‘probably’ only to lessen the shock.

He had just taken his dinner — half-a-roti, which was unusual, forcefully stuffed into his wrinkled mouth — when he complained of mild chest pain, took a pill under his tongue, wanted to rest and when helped into the bed, fell suddenly to one side and stopped responding. They were taking him to the hospital for a verification, I was told. A car was being arranged, but it didn’t seem like he was still there with us. As the news sank in, an entire world folded in front of me, thousands of kilometres away. “Don’t worry, we are doing the best we can,” Ma said with a mixture of concern and deathly impatience.

His passing away came as a jolt, because last time I was with him, he showed no signs of giving up. He was perfectly fit, an athletic that he was (also a man of simple pleasures, even though he retired as a Deputy Collector), walked upright in a blue lungi and a white vest — with holes that he didn’t care to get mended because we had always loved to poke our fingers into them — and inquired regularly about my job, my faraway living and the inexplicable delay in bringing a grand-kid (I can now imagine how he would have loved to see the four of us sitting in the lap of the immediate senior, smiling smiles from different generations, from different worlds, separated by lifetimes)

It took me a while to realize that I had lost not just a man I loved so much, but an entire epoch. The man who thought of me as an extension of himself, whose hands and legs I have wrapped all my life, was gone, never to be seen. And the time he belonged to — he lived through 26 years of pre-independence India — was never going to come back. I wish I was born earlier so that I could have heard from him in graphic detail about his early life. The society, the culture, the defining events of his time. But alas! With him, my gateway to an unseen world closed forever!

He was the tallest at home, so I loved to climb on his shoulders. It afforded me the maximum view of the world around. When about to fall, I hung from his silvery-black hair that he neatly back-brushed everyday. He would only smile and say, “Oh, let that go. Don’t make me like your father.” While my father, by his early forties, was left with only two islands of hair on either side of his head, grandfather didn’t have a single hairless patch until the fire ate it all. When he was younger and I was quite small, I and my cousins would sit around his afternoon head with grains of paddy, to pick his grey hairs and massage his enormous body to sleep.

I called him by weird names, some of them even female — and not jeje or jejebaba as we usually do, which, strangely, my disciplinarian parents didn’t oppose — that he responded to happily, accepting them as tokens of my love. I regularly hid behind him to save myself from my parent’s — especially my mother’s — fury when I messed up with the homework or hit my younger sister. Or ventured into the kitchen and emptied the can of powdered milk, or date jaggery or pickle or even sugar. For someone who was exceptionally naughty (the only thing sweet about me was the tooth), he was the greatest saviour. No one dared pull me from behind him. Behind his sweaty back with moles and occasional warts and a smell that I owned as my own, I got supreme protection from the vagaries of the world.

He taught me so much, including how to write poetry, live a contented life, break peanut shells by their “nose” and drop a shuttle cock just over the net. He read hungrily and therefore was a man of a million stories which often kept us awake late into the night. He was excellent in English, always underlining the mistakes in my postcards and preserving them carefully so that he could show me later, and had a lovely, slanting handwriting — with i’s dotted and t’s dashed much later — that both I and my father copiously borrowed.

At home, I hardly left his side, watching with rapt attention when he shaved with a Topaz placed carefully inside a UK-made Gillette and wiping the remnants of the circular Godrej soap on his face by corner of his lungi, clipped his stone-like toenails using a split blade after softening them with water, expertly dressed our wounds with a pair of scissors and gauge, or, even more interestingly, took out his test tube, filled it with his urine and and dangled it over alcohol-cotton-ball fire to check his sugar levels. He was diabetic and a heart-patient all along, but when the conditioned worsened, I remember running madly to fetch his medicines from his neat drawers (he always said keep things in a such a manner that you can find them in absolutely darkness) when he felt pain in his chest — his heart was so heavy with all the love that it faltered. He stayed able and sufficiently healthy till his sudden death because he didn’t care about death at all, living life to the fullest.

I wouldn’t let him go whenever he was to leave for Cuttack for a few days. I would hold onto his fingers, legs, shirt, hair — anything I could lay my hands on — to plead my mother not to tear me away from him so ruthlessly. I would scream and roll on the floor, crying, my cheeks muddy with tears and floor-dust. There have been countless nights when I escaped from my parent’s bed and slipped under his blanket, into the warm feeling of his bare, hairy chest. I would haul my legs up on him and dig my face into his neck. He would curl his hands around me. On these nights, sleep came to me stealthily through his body, crawling silently from his skin to mine and I would sleep stiller than death, while he kept patting me or running his hardened fingers through my springy, ruffled hair. Under starry skies, sitting in his lap amid wafting fragrance of Mogra or Siuli, I have been lifted off to different worlds, from magic cities in the sky to unknown depths of the ocean. The stories of the man who couldn’t stop crooning “Khoya Khoya Chand” have spun my imagination. They have given wings to my thoughts.

However, studies and jobs, in cities far away from home, had eaten into that absolute dependence. The stoic hands of time and his failing ability to speak on the phone had slowly taken him away from me, though I knew in my heart that the house would never be same without his unmoving presence. In the morning sun, on the veranda, on the ivory Neel Kamal chair.

He was my life, then. But I was his, all through his life.

We all go through the grinds of our days. Working, running, travelling, worrying, trying to keep pace with a world that mostly seem to run faster than us. To hold our head above the rising waters of competition. But in the chaos all these, we tend to forget — or at least forget to acknowledge — people who shaped our lives. It is their sweat, their pains, their unslept nights, sacrifices, and above all their good wishes and the prayers on their lips that keeps fuelling our lives, filling our lives. At the risk of sounding silly, I wonder, why such people have to be taken away from us. But then, that’s the law of nature. Of replenishment, of continuing the never-ending cycle.

I don’t know if my kids will love their grandparents as much as I have loved mine. They will not grow up with my parents and will only get to see them during vacations. They are the children of a nuclear world, who will miss the love of many who could love them more than me. Like my grandfather did. More than my parents.

When I think deeply in solitude, I can feel a gaping hole inside that time hasn’t been able to close in all these years. As I write this with welling eyes, I see my grandfather sitting at his usual place, on the veranda in the morning sun, holding a newspaper, tea cup steaming beside him. I turn into a little kid and run to him, lift the flaps of the newspaper, part his legs a little and escape from the world. Into his lap. My face dug into his wrinkled belly.

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Compelling, and very Indian experiences from the large, diverse country, that will probably take a couple of births to fully comprehend. We publish stories that are high in quality, probably has a spattering of humour and more importantly, uniquely, deeply Indian.

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Ash

Ash

Tech Enthusiast, Writer, University Professor, Photographer and Traveller. Paradoxically straddling Technology and Literature. Personal Blog: www.gogoodness.com