Because I was the last-born in my family, I was not lucky to know my Grandfather closely or get pampered by him. Yet, my memories about my paternal Grandfather are vivid. I remember him as a very tall, slender man who appeared quite healthy and elegant and seldom worn a shirt. The usual occasions when he did wear a shirt was when he went to church or for a long journey. He stood very straight and wore a simple “Mundu” and shawl always. He had a walking stick in his hand when he walked, but his walking was majestic. His hands had tremor since he had Parkinson’s disease. In those days, most people were ignorant of Parkinson’s disease. I had heard people say that he probably would have killed a cat and that the tremors were the result of the curse for killing a cat.
He could eat himself, but needed somebody to hold his drink for him. I seldom saw him when I was a small kid. He stayed with his youngest son’s family in the Village. We lived in the city far away. But I remember him calling me “Vellakka kanni” (very small tender coconut eye) since my eyes were very big. He chewed betel leaves and usually had a small packet of betel leaves and other chewing stuff wrapped in a plantain leaf and all again wrapped in an old Newspaper. There was also a small pocket knife inside the wrap. He used it to scrape off the outside of the “Areca nut” and also to cut it into small pieces. Occasionally, he allowed me to play with his pocket knife. He smelled of betel leaf. So I didn’t like his hugs & kisses. He was kind of stranger to me, since he stayed with us only once in a blue moon for at the most a month in all the ten years I was around. He liked to stay with us, but he didn’t know anybody to talk with in this town and missed the village life. Strangers, who walked in the road in front of our house, were too busy to stop and talk to an old man with a friendly face, standing in front of the gate. He had nothing else to do other than sleep or nap in between the meals. He felt lonely, so he liked to go back to the village, even if he was very fond of my father.
The restrictions on spitting anywhere at his convenience, a requirement of wearing shirt all the time, lack of a single childhood friend to converse…..might have been the reasons he didn’t like to stay with us more frequently.
His wife (my grandmother) had died when she was in her 40’s. They had three kids, two boys and one girl, my father the eldest. My Grandfather might be in late 40’s at that time.
When Grandfather visited us, my mother took care of him well with respect and love, but still he missed the social life in the village where he grew up. He was very sharp in observing things. He was very proud of my father. He believed in his capabilities. He called his son “my Bank” since he knew he is rich enough to take care of everybody’s needs.
I remember occasional, joyful trips in a rented ‘special’ car to the village, whenever my father got a telephone call from his brother saying “father’s condition is serious, come to see him before he goes”. For me, it was a pleasure trip. I don’t have to go to school that day. No homework, no Tuition, no chores of any kind at home… I liked those car rides. I could see the places and people I would have never known otherwise. I was allowed to listen to the grown-ups’ talk inside the car. Nobody could ask me to go away, as they usually did at home, once they started talking about serious matters kids shouldn’t be listening. I could see all my cousins, (especially my age group to play with) living in the village even though I didn’t know any of them that close.
When we reach there usually there will be a small crowd of people in my father’s brother’s house. They are the people waiting to witness the last minutes of the Grandfather. Grandfather will be lying in his bed, under a blanket, with his eyes closed. His walking stick would be near his bed as if his best companion. I would look intensely at his stomach to see whether there is any movement because that’s the only thing I knew about death… when you are dead nothing in your body moves….everything will stay standstill.
My father would shake him a little and call him “Appa”.
Then Grandfather would wake up as if from a deep sleep.
He would say, “oh, you came!”
Then he would say with a cunning smile, “Not this time!”
I don’t know whether the crowd gathered there was disappointed by his words. Eventually, they would disperse one by one. I would run to the bank of the “Pamba” river behind the house to play with my friends. I enjoyed every minute of it. I was treated superior, modern and more fashionable than any one of them by all my cousins because I was living in a famous faraway developed town. None of them had seen the sea or beach. They seldom see cars, buses or Lorries. The road in that village was not that great either. There were very few bicycles on those muddy roads.
After spending few hours, on the same day, we would go back home. The return trip in the car was equally pleasant, but I would be sad on my way back since I knew it was the ending of a good time.
Everything has to end sometime, good or bad!
On the way back home, my mother would pretend to be angry because of the sudden trip and all the daily chores piled up for her at home. My father would be quiet all the way back home. He would be feeling happy inside, I thought. I am sure now that he knew at the bottom of his Heart, that the whole episode was a conspiracy created by my Grandfather whenever he felt like to see his elder son. But my father never mentioned this. Now I am pretty sure that my mother was smart enough to understand that this was a conspiracy.
One time when Grandfather came for a few weeks stay, I remember something very special about my sister-in-law. Grandfather needed assistance to drink anything as usual. Somebody had to hold the glass for him. He still could walk slowly all by himself with the help of his walking stick. One day before lunch he was sitting in his room on his bed after his usual nap.
He called, “Mole”.
It could be addressed to any female in that house, my sister-in-law or my mother or I who was sitting in the corridor reading a book. I heard it, but as a teenager, just ignored it as if I didn’t hear it. I was very sure that he might be calling for a drink. My sister-in-law was in the kitchen farther away from him. She was very busy preparing lunch for everybody. With all the commotion going on in the Kitchen, she heard it and left everything and came in a hurry to the Grandfather. She asked him what he wanted. When he asked for the drink, she told him what drink was available buttermilk, coffee, Tea or “kanjivellam”. He chose what he liked and she brought it to him with the usual pleasant face. She held the glass for him and he drank comfortably. I stopped reading. I noticed everything. I was wondering about that love between these two people. My Grandfather is not a blood relation to my sister-in-law. She has not seen him in her childhood. She has not well-acquainted with him at all. She knew him only after she got married to this family. She saw him lesser than me. I felt ashamed of myself. I am his grandchild and I simply ignored his call because I guessed some work was involved.
I went to the Kitchen. My sister-in-law had resumed her lunch preparation as if nothing happened. I stood near her and looked at her. Her face is pleasant as usual.
“Let me ask you something. You are not related to grandfather, but I am. He called and I just ignored. But you, you showed so much enthusiasm & went to him and did what he asked so lovingly! How can you do that? “, I asked her.
Her reply was a laugh. I insisted that I wanted an answer for my question.
“It is my Grandfather and my own. I am his grand-daughter. You have to tell me how can you love somebody else’s grandfather as your own and show so much love and caring?”
Then she told me.
“I grew up with my grandparents and they were a part of my growing up. Now they are not in this world any more. So I see them in your grandfather.”
After this I tried to love my grandfather more and stopped ignoring his calls.
In my second year of Engineering, I remember Grandfather asking me how my studies are. When he knew that my branch is Electrical Engineering and I am in second year,
“So now you would have learned at least to climb up an Electrical post, right?” Grandfather teased me. He was very witty and sharp in his conversations just like my father. But he spoke less and most of the time he liked to be a good listener.
In 1970’s my father survived two heart attacks. My mother became so vigilant about his diet & bad habit of smoking. She usually caught him red-handed when he tried to smoke secretly. There were always fights between them about cigarette smoking. She made sure to give him fat-free milk. She tried to remove fat from all his diet to control his cholesterol.
Then one day we got a phone call as usual about Grand-father being serious. We all went in a car and I could see my father sitting in the front seat wiping tears from his eyes with his shawl all throughout the way. I am not a small kid any more. I am in my twenties. I was in College at that time and it was holiday times.
When we reached there, as usual a crowd had gathered near the house. Grandfather was in the bed. My father went near the bed and looked at him for a few seconds. Then he sat on the bed. He moved the blanket farther down from Grandfather’s body.
Grandfather opened his eyes. He looked tired and weak. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes lit up seeing his “bank”.
My father put his hands on his forehead, and then he said.
“Appa, I will pray for you. I will ask God to take you first. So that you will not be hurt seeing your son gone before you. You should also pray for that.”
Tears were flowing down his cheeks. Grandfather’s eyes were also filled with tears. They cried quietly.
I couldn’t stand there anymore. So I walked to the back of the house. “Pamba” river was flowing gently as usual. But I didn’t play with my friends that day. I was very sad.
I had never seen them giving each other hugs or kisses. But today I had witnessed the great love between a father and a son. I had heard from my mother that the biggest sorrow a person feels is when a child dies. I often wondered about that all my life.
As usual, we spent some time there and then we left. Everybody was gloomy on our way back home.
This time also Grandfather survived. Few more years passed by.
Even though my father earnestly prayed to God for his father’s death to happen before his death, my father died in 1978. My Grandfather had to witness his son’s funeral. There was nobody to console him for his loss. His bank has gone forever!
Grandfather became a different person. He was very quiet. Nothing interested him anymore. Thus Grandfather lived one and a half years more.
Grandfather was young when his wife died. I wonder now why he didn’t re-marry. At that time a second marriage was not a taboo for men at least. Now I feel sorry and great compassion for him thinking he never had anybody to confide his feelings to or to show special affection once his wife had gone and his children were all grown up and had their own families. When I was young I never thought this way about him. May be I never had the wisdom to see through him.
What a life!
May be there were other reasons for him, not to re-marry.
My mother had told me that Grandmother was a smart lady and very capable. Grandfather loved her very much. When she was kind of paralyzed one side (probably due to a heart attack), Grandfather brought the best “Vaidyan” available from some very faraway place to look at her and made all the native medicines for her at home as per the request of the “Vaidyan”. May be she had another heart attack, thus all the medicines had failed. May be Grandfather loved her so much he never wanted to replace her with another woman.
May be because by the time she died all the kids were married and had kids of their own…
May be at that time, the average life span was only 50 to 60 years. Who would have thought he would live fifty years more to outlive his own son?
Anyway what I noticed was that everybody was very fond of him, grownups as well as kids. There was always somebody to hold his glass for him. Always there were Kids to play with his pocket knife. The supply of Betel leaves and Areca Nuts never diminished. He always got the royal treatment from everybody and where ever he went for any function, he always had the VIP seat…. so maybe I am wrong to think that he might have been lonely inside.