My 96 year old maternal grandfather passed away this weekend. He had a fall last week and was advised surgery. He survived the surgery and was strong enough to get upset with his sons about not being around him when he was recovering. The fact that he was in the ICU, was of no significance to him. My grand dad was the last surviving sibling of a family of five. He was the oldest and lived the longest. One of his younger sisters passed away a week before his time came.
I was fortunate to have met him a few months back when I went for my annual visit home. I always made it a point to see him on the same day I arrived or within the next couple of days. Even If I could not, I would fudge the details of my arrival to make it look like I had arrived only then. Somehow it felt to me that he minded a bit if I told him that I had arrived earlier but had made time to come over to say hello only then.
As always, I spent some time with him, repeating details of my life that he was already aware of. He has been hard of hearing from the time I remember interacting with him. In my mind’s eye, I see him quickly pacing into his room, after acknowledging my arrival with a surprised toothless smile and a ‘wait ’ hand sign, while he fixed his hearing aid and adjusted the volume on the little box that he later slid into his pocket. He would beckon to a chair next to him and then we would start the conversation.
He did not expect anything from me. Lately I had been carrying only bananas for him since that was the only fruit he enjoyed. He was keen to spend time with me, asking me mundane details of my life. He was genuinely interested in what I did, how I traveled, who cooked for me, where I stayed, how my in laws were.
It was typical of him to repeatedly ask the same questions that he had asked you in your last visit. Things don’t change that quickly in everyone’s lives to make mundane details sound interesting. But if you knew him well, you’d patiently wait for him to complete his list of questions.
So where do you live now? Singapore. Singapore! It is so far away! How did you come? Flight. Airplane! Who came with you? I came on my own. By yourself?! Not bad!
How is your child? (He could never recall her name). How old is she now? What grade? Wow!
How are your inlaws? How is your brother in law and his family? His kids? They must all be grown up now. Do they still live in Jayanagar?
How is your mom? Is she going back to Singapore with you? How long will she stay? 4 months! That is a long time!
Another thing he possessed about is for me to eat a meal before I left; if I couldn’t stay on for a meal on that day, then I had to promise coming back for a meal on another day. Invariably, I would eat every time I visited him. If I had to step out to meet someone else in the neighborhood, he would panic about where I was off to. Even after verbal assurances , he would wonder if I was going away without telling him. I would leave my hand bag behind and that assured him I was coming back.
And God forbid if I told him that I would be away for 15 minutes and I got delayed. He’d be at the gate watching the road till he spotted me. You said you were going for 15 and you stayed away for so long! I was worried because the traffic is bad and I don’t trust any of these vehicles. When I left, he gave me a lot of instructions to drive safe and to call as soon as I reached home. And then he would sit right next to the phone until it rang and I spoke to my aunt to let him know I had reached.
As was customary, I always sought his blessings when I left his house. As soon as I readied myself to take his blessings with a namaskaram at his feet, he would stop me, quickly go into the puja, bring the turmeric smeared rice (akshathai) in his hand to bless me with it and then would give me the go ahead.
Lately I had begun to give him a parting hug. I could wrap my one arm around him easily and I was careful not to crush his frail frame. He would feel very uncomfortable and protect himself by raising his arms to his chest. He liked shaking hands as a better parting wish. He shook hands with everyone. With me, with my husband, daughter. He’d be very English about it. A smart firm handshake accompanied by eye contact and a genuine smile that reached his eyes.
He walked with me till the gate, kept advising me to be safe and waved to me till I turned the corner of the street he lived in. As always I told him to take care and that I would see him when I came back next time.
I will miss him the next time at Mavalli. Rest in peace, thatha.