Its with immense grief and pain of a twice broken heart that I write this letter. Your disappearance from this world is very surrealistic for me to come to believe.
My earliest memories of us goes back to the late 90’s. The year must be 1998–99. You took me to the rooftop around evenings and we sat on a mat talking and stargazing, we counted the total number of airplanes that landed before I lost interest and shot silly questions to you everyday. I remember that I always had a yellow book that had an Orangutan picture in its center and you took water in a small silver container for both of us. I don’t know what we spoke of but I am sure you will remember every question that I asked, for I was your sweet little grandson.
From there to the last living memory of you, on December 8th, 2019. I came with mom to see you and you were fast asleep, very weak and fragile. Amma broke upon seeing you and she cried aloud that woke you up. You were too tired to speak or say anything to us.You took Amma’s hand and assured her that everything will be alright.You saw me piercingly finally before falling asleep. I can’t believe that was our last meeting, you passed away 5 days from then.
I remember the time we used go walking at the “Suriya amman Temple” lake park and visited the temple together. There was a library nearby and we went there to borrow books. I spent all my summer, Christmas and Pongal holidays with you invariably. Every morning you woke me up as late as 8 AM and gave me the newspaper to read from. After breakfast, usually 11 AM (I know! Sumathy can be late) we sat in the verandah and spoke a while.
If I remember correctly, we fought over one thing almost everyday during the holidays. The TV remote. You never missed the 1 PM news and it always clashed with “The Sylvester and the Tweety mysteries” in Cartoon Network. We fought everyday and Sumathy had to interfere. You always won. I have never succeeded in persuading you to let me watch the show. You had a gentle way, You’d make your face sad and that would make me give up easily. We sat together in the verandah that had black and white tiles, in the evenings and admired the trees and the sound of parrots. The only thing that remains now is me. No parrots, no trees, no you!
You wash your own clothes, you hardly hurt people, you are gentle, you admire simplicity. You eat very slow that I took three helpings while you completed one. You are very patient with people, kids and situations. Whenever it was 10:30 PM, I came and sat on your bed. You told me all your life stories and I heard the same stories over and over again. I have never felt bored even once. You have your own way of telling them that I know most of them by heart. You taught me how to use the dictionary. You were a Hindu but you constantly read and interpreted the holy bible (You asked me to write about Pope John Paul 2 when the patriarch died in 2005). You introduced me to the art of writing letters when you miss someone, are deeply hurt or happy. (Even this very letter is an outcome of your efforts). You always asked me to learn new things. Social science and English were two subjects that I enjoyed in school because you made it easier for me through all your stories about world history and forcing me to read the newspaper. You read “The Hindu” for most of your life and switched to TOI in your later years. And boy, do I need to get you started on politics. You were one of the shrewdest political observers I have ever known.
You travelled India, very far and wide in your days being a gazetted officer with the Indian railways. Your stories & experiences give me the urge to travel and explore places in a minimalistic way even today. Your favorite memory is seeing Gandhiji when you were 7 years old (You’d say- “Gandhiji has long hands”), your encounter with Kamarajar, a short train ride with Jyothi Basu, visiting the parliament to watch the worlds largest democracy in action, walking with M.G.R and so on - your meeting with great leaders as a common man is what makes these memories relatable. Strangely you had a love for communism too. Your favorite car was the Ambassador and the classic contessa. You neither owned any but liked them for the fact that they were Indian made to some extent. You always went to the Russian Embassy, in Chennai until retirement during Christmas season to see the Russian opera perform Christmas carols. You ate boiled/ fried groundnuts when traveling in train. You had a trunk full of old envelopes, letters and stamps. It even smells like you. Everyone respected you and took your advice on financials. You advocated saving money than spending it.
You weren’t the witty, cunning, and calculative type (like Dad) but the warm, welcoming failure and hardworking type. You hated photographs, ate vegetarian food, avoided unnecessary expenses and anything that put you on the spotlight and gave an impression of richness. You always used a cycle or bus to work when you could’ve had a car or a bike. You never took bribe during your work days and you were deeply devoted to Jawaharlal Nehru and the Indian National congress (we had to disagree in later years). In my own interpretation, you were a social reformer. You encouraged your daughters decision to not get married and never forced them to do so under any circumstances. How many people born in the 1930’s can that be said of? You respected women in your own formal, affable way and I always think I would follow that though modern women find it unattractive and old fashioned.
You’ve taught me everything I ever knew. You were always proud of all of your grandchildren, specially me. I remember the happy 40 minutes I spent explaining cloud computing to you before 3 years and you were far from understanding it. You smiled and advised me on saving all the money, find someone nice to get married and settle. (I was grinning)
Today, when I sit in this closed room, isolated for months due to the pandemic without meeting friends, I can only think of you. You lived the last 10 years inside your room isolated, eating, reading extensively, writing, sleeping and in complete peace. You hardly went out. I used to visit you every alternate weekends, at your residence, peep inside your room to see if you were awake, then wait for you (You woke up and came smiling pulling your chair to talk with me). You always had only one favorite visitor and that was me. Rarely people stopped by. Now I understand the perils of old age and what it is like to be confined to a room. I should have visited you often. Sorry that I did not, and I know you’d never complain.
I haven’t had any visitors recently due to the lockdown, except one. YOU. Yes, you do visit me often as warm memories. Like a ray of unspent sunshine, the brightest memory inside the mind, even now your memories give me happiness. You’ve made life easier for me. You have taught me to be content — because I have food, a home to stay, earn a living with no debts and decent savings. You had neither of these when you grew up and subsisted on black coffee most of your life when you were a teen due to the poverty of your home. It is from your life lessons that I find my very own today. Life is far better in my times than it was during yours. It puts a sense of gratitude and relief. Thank you sir. Thank you for your kindness and love.
Never is a long word, someday I shall visit you In-shah-allah (if god wills) when I am old too, have had a lovely wife, children and grandchildren, built a warm home, travelled far and had an interesting life. Our suspended, interim parallel lives would converge at a point. Until then, wherever you are — we miss you. I love you.
Your favorite visitor.
(I hope they have newspaper in heaven and nice food. I know for sure that you are exploring heavens with grandma. Have fun!)