My paternal grandfather, in his time he was a respected academician. My fact base has diminished strongly. I always figured there was lots of time. I was in school, I was fighting with mom about going to Teresian College for an athletics tournament (went, did not win anything), I was enjoying trigonometry (for JEE), I was falling in love, I was flying off to the US (wearing a pink shirt). But dad was there. He was at the other end of the line every week on my phone calls. Thats wonderful he would say. I am so proud of you, he would say. The time did not seem right to ask about grandfather. Nowadays I realize that these things have to emerge 'organically' - even a raconteur of the sort dad was requires the mood and everything to say things. You cannot sit down with an open laptop in front of people and say 'Okay now, go. Tell me all about him.'
When thatha died, in the 80s, I knew I was supposed to be very sad. After all, I was the grandchild who spent the most time with him in the years that walked us up to his death. I was the grandchild who often had to be told that the coins, the gold(en) buttons for his silk kurta, and a bunch of other things in the table drawer were out of bounds. I was the grandchild though who was allowed to climb into the single bed in that little cubby like room adjoining the one my parents that no one else was allowed to touch. I was the one who insisted he help me out with my dictation test the next day (not that I needed help, was a certifiable geek and nerd at all points). The one who always got a sip of tea (milky, sugary), at three in the afternoon, which was when, everyday, he partook of the beverage, whatever else might be happening in the world at that time.
All of us rubbed his head. He was balding and would get his hair shorn every three days or so, making a big production of it with the rules regarding not touching anything when you come back from the barber (how absurd is that rule, I hate it). It had that bristly feel to it. We loved it. He did not seem to mind. In the summer holidays a bunch of us would hang around him. His favourites were, my American cousin (back then they were the North Indians), and, well, me. The other favourite, my big bad elder brother (cousin) was too old by then for such silliness. Oh. I had the edge though because of living with him, not that I would EVER point that to my American cousin, especially since I did my best to ape everything he did, and one time, he built a stove from mud for me, and we melted crayons using it.
Anyway the day he died, I remember distinctly a few of the events that led up to it. There were two weddings in the family. My maama (mother's bro), and my eldest cousin (in other words, grandfather's eldest grand child). How my mom managed that situation I don't know. I bet she skipped her own brother's wedding (minus five points for feminism, plus five for practicality). Grandfather was all atwitter about this wedding. What the big deal was I don't know, but he was. Though he was looking forward to hiding from everyone and eating all nature of banned things, such as sweets and vadas and so on. He woke up a billion times in the night to use the loo, and then proceeded to collapse. My aunt immediately started crying. Mum was strong as always. Dad was sent to make the arrangements for ambulance and hospital room and all those things that never go smoothly, ever.
He spent a day in that nice beautiful airy corner room - I could not pass by that hospital for many months after that. He is reputed to have demanded that someone bring him a mango to eat. He loved mangoes, American Cousin, Thatha, and I would hang out in the garden eating mangoes - I suppose my mum would have sent us outside appalled at the dribbling of the mango juice inside the house. Did he get to eat mango? I don't know. I hope he did. He was eighty years old. I think he had lived his life. I missed him intensely, as did my dad, but we managed to move on with our lives. He loved mangoes, really. I hid under a bed and cried. Shh Shh sundry aunts would hoot at me. Don't let your father see you crying they would admonish (by then dad's heart valve thing was diagnosed and it was only time before he would have to, well, go under the knife for it). I don't know if I ever spoke to anyone about how sad I felt about it. But its okay. Whats that Murakami? Death is as much a part of life as living? Something like that.
There was a photo of him as a young man. In those days (1920s?), the dress in Mysore was this nice big turban on the head. A crisp dhoti. A cream-coloured silk kurta. He looked handsome. He could do this amazing trick of entwining his legs in a spiral - everyone else crosses their legs, he would entwine them (I can do it too). So that's the picture of him I have. An old man with a balding, bristly head, his young turban placed on his head, as if for a fancy dress competition. Legs entwined. Leaning back in this cane armchair. And a small little chit of a girl hanging on the arms of the chair. The chit would grow up to be this selfish person who makes no effort to compile a fact-based history, or even, to find the twenty odd books that have emerged from his old fashioned ink pen, and which, as with all good things, have gone out of print with great promptness.