Sitting by my father’s bedside in a Pune hospital last week, watching him struggling to recover from a stroke, I was suddenly hit by helplessness. And nostalgia.
Helplessness because I couldn’t do anything but wait for the doctors to treat him. Nostalgia because now in his 81st year, father (can never think of him as the more modern sounding ‘Dad’) resembled so much to my grandfather in HIS old age.
The resemblance brought back a flood of memories related to both my grandfathers–my father’s father as well as my mother’s.
Initially I wondered why. Then I realised. Like my father, those two grand old men, at different stages of my life, left an indelible mark.
They never preached but practised what they said. They never visibly demonstrated their love and affection–as many older people now seem to do in a filmi sort of a way–but were always at hand to support you, to correct you when you stumbled.
Forty years ago, in the wake of the 1971 war, father had no choice but to send me to my Jalgaon-based grand parents so that I could continue with my schooling.
Dad was then posted at Misa in Assam’s Nagaon district. The lone school in the upcoming cantonment was shut and because all units had gone to the warfront the one I went to, some 33 km away in Nagaon, became inaccessible since there were no Shaktiman trucks–which doubled as school buses–to spare.
So from studying in a Missionary run School, I was suddenly forced to attend a school that taught ALL subjects in Marathi!
As a 10-year old, struggling to cope with the new atmosphere and my parents’ absence, the emotional support came from my grandmother. A petite, pretty woman who loved unreservedly, grandmother would be my last refuge when in trouble.
And I would get in trouble very often. One, because it was difficult to adjust to the school in the initial days and two because my grandfather was a terror.
For him discipline meant everything. Get up at a fixed time; pray without fail; eat only at set timings. He was a stickler. And I, as a 10 year old, hated him for it.
Grandmother and occasionally my father’s youngest brother, about a decade older to me, would shield me from grandfather’s ire.
Then, I fell ill. Seriously ill with typhoid. High fever continued for days. I lost all appetite and craved for my mother’s presence and her food.
That’s when I witnessed my grandfather’s softer core.
He sat and slept beside me day and night. He literally nursed me back to normalcy, making sure I took medicines on time, ate well when I started recovering and regaled me with stories from mythology, history and anecdotes from his own profession (he retired as branch manager of Imperial Bank, the forerunner to State Bank of India in the year that I was born–1962). Much of Ramayan, Mahabharat and the history of Marathas that I know of is from that month-long stay in bed.
But his love and responsibility did not stop there. As fever subsided, he realised that I wasn’t in a position to walk to the school (as all of us used to do then), some three-and-a-half km away. So grandfather arranged for a buggy.
For a month after recovering from typhoid, I enjoyed this majestic ride to and from school in the buggy. I felt like a prince. My stock in the school suddenly went up. Fellow students started treating me some thing like a royalty!
Now when I reflect on those years between 1972-1974, I realise how important they were.
I went to play every game–from kho kho and kabaddi to cricket and vitti-dandu (gilli-danda)–with newly-made friends! They were welcome home too. Most of my friends were grand children of my grandfather’s friends in the locality any way. So all the older people sort of wielded a collective proprieterial right over all of us! Most of the time we avoided their get together in the evenings. For was the time when we had the maximum ‘danger’ of facing their collective grilling and an impromptu test of our general knowledge!
In bed by 9 pm, I would however sneak out and sit with my uncle, then in college, listening to the Binaca Geet Mala on Radio Ceylon every Wednesday. That’s where the love for Hindi film music really began I suppose!
So in those two years my little mind tried to absorb a couple of chapters of Bhagwad Gita, songs from Binaca Geet Mala and a smattering of cricket knowledge! And yes, learning to do simple arithmetic calculations in my head in Marathi, which I still do!
By the time I came in close contact with this grand pa, I was just getting out my teens and was thoroughly confused about almost everything as you would expect a teenager to be. That’s where my mother’s father made a big difference. He taught me the importance making the best of a bad bargain.
When I now say I take life as it comes, one realises sub-consciously one has borrowed that trait from him! One never saw him downcast because of setbacks in life and he faced many of them. He lost his wife (my mother’s mother) when my mother was barely two. But my grandfather brought up the three children single handedly. Handicapped by wife’s absence, he could never really concentrate on his business ventures.
And yet, as my mother tells me and from what I saw of him, grandfather was never bitter. He lived in eternal hope, even in his late 70s. In those college years, when every small slight and any setback looked to be a disaster of gigantic proportions to me, granfather would cheer me up by simply taking me out to the sabji mandi or to the neighbourhood garage and show how ordinary people lived and coped with life in the early 1980s. The lesson, now I realise after so many years: Look at the people living in penury and in a stratra below you and understand how lucky you are to have at least a decent living!
Both my grandfathers died more than 20 years ago.
I was too young to have realised the huge impact they had on me in my growing up, formative years.
Here’s raising a toast to both of you grand pas, even when I know both of you would not appreciate my saying so publicly.