The day began like any other ordinary day in the mundane life of just another normal person in the world. I went about the daily stuff with the usual worries over stupid things that really matter not. And when I received a call from my sister, I cut the call thinking that I will call her back to save her the few coins. After all, right now at this stage of life, I can afford them more than her. The first clue that all was not well was when I tried calling her back after a minute and found her phone engaged. Mentally chiding her for her lack of patience, I kept my phone down only to pick it up right back when she rang again. Ha! Persistent sister! I picked up the call looking forward to her cheerful hello and perhaps a hour long talk to soothe the souls. Her first few words shocked me into silence. My first reaction, unlike what you might expect which is usually disbelief, was a strange acceptance. Govindachari thatha passed away this morning di, cried my sister. The phone can be so inadequate at most times, and this time it was really over the top.
I remember my thatha as an authoritative and arrogant man who probably always stood out in the crowd, his demeanor only accentuated by his light green eyes – a rarity in this part of the world. He was my maternal grandpa, a strong guy until his fifties when he suddenly met with a serious accident that damaged his spinal cord. A freak accident really – he had gone shopping that day to bring in some veggies for a special Sunday lunch, when an immature young kid lost control of his bike and rode it straight over him. First degree spinal damage. Complete immobility – total loss of hand control and a moderate loss of leg control. The arrogant strong man succumbed to a dreary life bound to the bed and chair.
He had worked all his life in the Southern Railways, a so called lucky central government employee. He climbed his way in the corrupt ladder to eventually retire as a senior level officer. It was the first weekend after his retirement I think (not sure) – the fateful day of the accident – and the family wanted to celebrate it with a special lunch. Not to be. He ended up confined to his bed, and would have stayed there for the rest for his life if not for his rigorous self-control and discipline. With the help of physiotherapy, exercises, and his younger daughter, he eventually regained control of his legs and could move about almost independently. His hands were still frozen like claws due to the nerve damage, but he tried hard to at least eat on his own if not perform other activities. But though he conquered the bed, his home became his jail. He never could regain his youthful strength back to go more than a few steps outside his house.
He had three kids – two daughters and one son. The eldest of the daughter was married to a traditional staunch religious (iyengar) family. The second daughter was married to her mom’s younger brother – who was miles away due to his job – so she elected to stay with her parents while both of them met up only during the weekends. And the son decided to go oversees in pursuit of better opportunities and eventually became a green card holder and an American citizen. My ammama i.e my grandma, I oh so remember her fondly, is a kind lady who was very devoted to the various Gods, Goddesses, poojas and other rituals. She doted on her grand children, her dominant husband, and in short, her family. I think she was content with just those two – family and Gods. No other life. I don’t think I can ever ask her questions such as “were you ever discontent with the life you choose”. So I will never know for sure.
The younger daughter sacrificed her life, and remained with her handicapped father – she looked after all his needs and he her children’s. My grandpa taught, preached, inspired, and guided the life of her two children both of whom later grew up to be reasonably admirable individuals in the society. It was his way of paying back for the relentless care she bestowed on him.
As is bound to happen, old age caught up with everyone. He turned eighty few years back and continued to live on. Bitterness started flowing freely – after all how long can you accept being left out of the fate’s “to die” list. It must not have been easy – not at all. It came to a point where he literally wished for death every day am told. It finally decreed to grant him his wish.
He died yesterday, the Sunday, 27th July 2008. After over two decades of life limited by the results of that one fateful day. The reason for his death is not clear – should probably suffice it to just old age, and the weariness of living in the slowly decaying body.
They say that you better not speak ill of the dead and if you must speak at all, speak only the good. So I shall. Though minor thoughts of his arrogant actions creep up from the young corners of my mind, I shall endeavor to paint only the best picture of him here, as I hope I have done so far.
As mentioned previously, he was an arrogant man – but kind I think. I do not remember much, if at all anything, of him before his accident. Those memories are very dull & weak and not to be relied upon. So I shall leave them be. Instead, let me pull out the stronger ones out and describe them here for posterity’s sake.
Though I couldn’t go down and pay my respects to the old man (due to the choices I have made in life, I have been rendered 380 kilometers away from the family I was born into), I have my own sadness. It is nowhere near to my mom’s, chithi’s and others. I was never close to him. I was more attached to my paternal grandparents. But like all grandparents, whichever side they belong, time does make them fond to you over the years however bad you might have perceived them to be while you were young. So, I remember my grandpa fondly. And when I recollect the happy summer days at my cousins’ place, he is the hero who rules over those memories.
So here’s to the central figure of all my memories of summer holidays. Grandpa, I cannot say that I loved you. I cannot say that I will miss you. But what I can say is, you did make to a difference in my life though I know not the magnitude of it. And for those times, however small they were in time’s measure, you were my hero. The hero who I imagined fighting all the corrupt bad guys. The guy who had to struggle against all odds. In retrospect, I do feel like murmuring those inadequate three words. I loved you.
I do hope you learnt all the life lessons you needed to learn in this incarnation and your soul is finally lighter for it. I feel happy for you, grandpa. You succeeded and brilliantly at that. I hope you are where you now need to be. To the lifetime you led, and the memories you have left behind in everybody’s mind……………
Please know that you were important.
To be continued.