After the final binding and revision, I closed the black hard-bound book. My dissertation. My work that pretty much determined all my years of post-graduate education in medicine and healthcare. And yet, I felt a strange sense of calm. I guess the biggest solace came from my front page. The dedication sheet that I added after li’l thought. It was almost as if I knew what I had to write in there and it had somehow found its rightful place.
I ran my fingers over the lines again-
You’ve always been my hero,
You’ve always been my pride,
You’ve always given so much love,
And shown what’s deep inside.
And everyday I pray to God,
I thank him for sending you,
Because you’re the one who wrote me the song,
And made all my dreams come true!
It made me happy. It was a very funny feeling. But that instant, all I felt was happiness and pride. I felt proud of myself that I had made him happy no matter where he was.
Thatha – the most brilliant organizer, the most compassionate doctor, a witty conversationalist and above all an extremely loving grandfather.
It is often the most common late realization – realizing the value of someone when they are no more with you physically. But no, not for us. Each of us, all the 32 paternal cousins loved and truly basked in the undivided attention he gave each one of us. Being the only girl in the huge male cousin-crowd, I always thought that he loved me more and I felt so lucky and so on-top-of-the-world with that feeling.
Even now, as I write this, I don’t think I can ever think of anything sad to say. I just feel so thankful to have been a part of his magnanimous life for 23 years.
My first memory of him is not really a clear one. I was probably in play school and I thought he was a magic man. He used to put two small sticks, one each on his lap, then take the one of his right hand and blow it into the other hand and then pick the other one by his left hand but when he opened his hands, we could see one in each hand even though he had “blown” one into the left. I laugh everytime I think of this “trick” because it hardly was one. But I loved him for this and I was always breaking sticks off the broomstick asking him to repeat this, getting more and more dazzled everytime he repeated it. He used to do it for each of us, each of us cousins who thought we could all carve out this career for ourselves and always entertain people with magic like thatha did.
As I stepped into primary school, I could see him become more and more protective of me, become more ambitious for me and slowly transform from the magic-man to the hero.
I especially vividly remember the times he used to suddenly pop-by at my school to just see me and say a hi. Often, the hi would be accompanied by mango-bites, colouring book and sometimes pens. I loved the kind of surprise visits he often bestowed me with. Now, when I look back, I see him standing tall at the general office, chatting up with the clerks and making friends left, right and centre. I used to go hug him and as I hugged him, I could smell the various tailam (the oils used in Ayurveda) and feel a strange sense of comfort in them.
The realization that I have an Ayurvedic doctor for a grandfather did not mean much to me initially. But eventually, as I started seeing the influx of patients into our home to meet him, when he stayed over with us, it all began to sink in. People from different walks of life would come home at 9 in the night and stay put till 10, talking to grandpa in the verandah. And I would never fail to see them walk away happily with magical concoctions in their hand. That was the moment that infused in me the warmth and pride that stays intact till today. I never ever took a lot of grandpa’s medicines and so I wont comment on his professional success. All I know is that even when he was 94 years old, I have seen people calling my aunt to request her to put thatha on line so that they can seek his opinion for a long nagging cough.
When he was awarded by different medical councils and I saw people place congratulatory notes on local newspapers, I used to make sure I got my share popularity for being his granddaughter. I used to make it a point to tell as many classmates as possible about my amazing grandpa without sounding snobbish.
I can still hear his voice call out my mother’s name as soon as he entered the gate, the familiar green coloured bag, the one which contained an entire city inside. And the way he kept one file on top of the other, the way he used every space inside the bag and packaged everything so wonderfully beats me. He even used those fish wires to sometimes tie related papers together. And from somewhere in between all this, he used to pull out my colouring book.
As days rolled into years and I had to get into my 11th, grandpa wanted me to do it in Mysore itself. He said he would like to be able to see me whenever he wanted which would not happen if I were to go away to some other place. A bit annoyed at not being given “freedom”, I reluctantly agreed. I am so thankful for that decision influenced by his love because I don’t think I’d have the kind of wonderful memories if I had taken a different path then.
As I type this away, I look at my piggy bank on the table and I am reminded of how he had piggy banks for all of us that later became RDs and soon became appreciable amount of money, all planned for our education. He was our parent, our mentor and banker. Every 500 rupees I got for a distinction or my first Titan Raga or the surprise pack of Parle-G – everything was his doing.
In between all this, my thatha was accident prone – cuts on the toe, chipped off toe nails, bleeding cracks had been quite common. Infact, I often saw his children advising him to stay at home and enjoy himself without going out to work. Now, I know where I get my stubborn streak from. Thatha never agreed.
So, when he had a big fall and had to go for a hip surgery, we were a bit scared and yet somehow deep down felt that this would make him give up the job and get better soon. But that was not to be. After a fall and surgery at 86 years of age, he went back to work after 5 months of stay at home doctor-ship.
The second fall happened sometime when he was 89 years and we were really scared this time. The earlier doctor had warned us against this and so we were all a bit angry at him for not having listened to us. Infact my uncles told him to stay put.
But no. The thatha that he was, he did not bother to rest well and went back to work.
When we celebrated his 95th birthday, I cannot tell you the kind of happiness that I could feel in everyone’s heart. It makes me cry even now when I think of how cute he and paati looked together.
When the third fall happened shortly after his 95th birthday, we all just knew he would get better very soon. He had tripped inside the house trying to look for water in the night in absolute darkness, very unlike the other earlier two cases where he had had a big fall outside. So, when my aunts and uncle took him to the doctor eventually, it took us a while to digest that he had had a stroke.
I used to see him smile on his hospital bed, talk to us a bit, ask about our studies, enquire about our lunch, give me subtle hints to marry. I don’t know when he stopped doing all this. I really don’t. I only know that he and paati came to stay with us after being discharged. I remember thatha’s words become fewer every passing day. I remember seeing the most dignified, stately man become a bag of muscles. It still did not hurt me. I used to secretly cry inside bathrooms, repeatedly flushing the toilet and yet somehow get a strange sense of consolation recollecting how he had survived two previous falls.
We had a helper to be with him always just incase there was any emergency. The helper loved him and really took care of him just the way any grandson would.
And then, bed sores came. Cleaning them became almost daily affairs and I remember him sleeping on one side, unable to move, unable to say much because he had almost lost his speech, slowly swallowing his pureed food. Images of him eating one coconut mithai after another came to mind and I found myself clinging onto hope and yet hoping for a miracle that would end the suffering, even if it meant losing him. A college student, I used to feel guilty but I just couldn’t think of anything I could do.
And then the miracle happened. I had to go to Mumbai for a conference and I told grandpa about it. I thought he would just nod and say a feeble yes but he started using small sentences like “do you have money?”, “I will give 1000 rupees” for local transport etc. My grandma, ma, pa, Chintu and I were all overjoyed. I left to Mumbai, a happy person.
However, when I came back, I didn’t see much progress. Infact, he had gotten more bed-sores and had started eating lesser.
Then, came his 96th birthday. We had a lovely celebration even though he was bed-ridden. I loved the fact that my ma made pureed coconut burfi equivalents for thatha. Those were his last.
A few weeks later, paati screamed for help that he seems to be choking. And as I started feeling his pulse, I could listen to the faint pulse. I put my head on his heart and listened to the beats fade away right there in front of me. I remember ma and Chintu holding him and he left us, just like that.
But no, I did not cry. Seeing him lie there, knowing that his bed-sores did not hurt him any longer, that he did not feel dependent any longer, that he did not have to eat another pureed diet while we ate our normal food any longer, that he did not have to stay in bed all day any longer made me feel calm. I looked at him, his white stub after the recent shave my uncles had given him earlier that week and I thought of all the wonderful memories he had given me.
I saw his hands and remembered the stick-trick. His lovely handwriting. I looked at his cap hanging by the window sill and God’s photo on his right side because he insisted on seeing God every morning as soon as he woke up. I thanked God for making me a part of his life and for the way he defined me in many ways. I was amazed at how everything in my home had a memory of my thatha with it. I want to remember him with happiness always. It gets hard at times to always have that frame of mind but I don’t ever want him to think his grand-daughter misses him.
I want him to know that I know he is here, right here.
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