When a tragedy hits your home’s shores, everyone starts circling in a whirlpool. I was thirteen when my father came down with jaundice. The devil had its claws dug deep into Papa, and made sure it sucked blood out of every family member. That small well-lit room of a government colony seemed dark as it was converted into a hospital room for him. He had a drip attached to his left hand and soaring temperature accompanied him all the time. Neighbors came to pay respects morning, noon and night, and whispers made way from the corridors to our ears.
“Tabiyat zyada kharab hai.” “Pata nahi recovery hogi bhi ya nahi.” It’s not the ailment but the behavior of others that takes one’s morale down. Some relatives bawled in front of my mother, as if there will be no tomorrow. Proposals were made to shift my younger sister and me to my Nani’s place so that we didn’t have to witness the plight of our father. But the rock in our home said, “Inhe kuch nahi hoga. Aise himmat nahi haari jaati.” This Savitri could fight any Yama for her Satyavan.
As the life of my father oscillated between the two worlds, an elderly man in our house rushed to a temple to seek HIS blessings. His akin was in an appalling condition for days and he vowed to swear off meat for his offspring’s life. My father came out of dire straits facing a lot of difficulty, while my Babaji(grandfather) gave up meat with ease. It was a small price for his children, but for a teenage in me, it was huge. “Ab aap kabhi chicken nahi khaogey?” I asked him few days later, as I gobbled a chicken leg piece.
“Nahi.” He smiled as he kept consuming taraoi with the same love he had for meat once.
My ancestral home is in Allahabad while my father’s job made us reside in Kanpur. As kids, Sonam and I waited for our grandparent’s visit. Also with them came milk cake (sweet) that sweetened our taste buds as it melted in our mouth. We were so fond of them staying with us that we even named the guest room of our tiny home – Dadi kamra. The room lacked space and adorned a single person diwaan, and every night we had to add a folding cot for them to sleep together. Due to the mosquito mesh placed on top, Babaji had to crawl his way on the bed. Those five seconds gave us such thrill that Sonam and I used to jump while clapping “Babaji ghoda ban gaye!!”
That image is engraved in my heart, as those were simpler times, when all was about family time. Actually, at that phase of our life, we had time for naive memories. Today we recollect them when we catch a breathe from our jam-packed convoluted schedule, but back then we lived them.
Sitting on a dining table, he once told mini me, “Ye amla ki chutni khao aur uske baad thoda paani piyo”
I abided as directed while he observed. He then asked, “Ab kaise laga?”
No sooner had the water combined with my taste buds, than it left a lingering sweet taste. My eyes lit up and I reacted as a child is expected to. “Ye kaise hua? Ye toh meetha hai.”
He had a twinkle in his eyes, as he had concocted magic for his grandchild. Well, science came in much later with explanations, back then these were the moments.
Today the tables have turned, as he asked a few days back, “Ye flowers US se Allahabad kuch ghanto mein kaise aaye.” While in my case, scientific reasons came later than the childhood tricks, for him, Internet came much later in his lifetime.
In his time, he learnt to not only speak, but also read and write Urdu. While everyone at home rolled their eyes left to right while reading, he went the opposite way. That’s when I realized that Urdu is written and read from right to left and he had inherited the art of reading this language since childhood. It was the court language of India and the man belonged to that era.
On this September 04, he turned 90, and may I say how beautifully. The whole family met at the ancestral home to be with him. When I checked the friend list for the party, he recalled that none of his friends are now breathing, including his best friend – his wife (2012). Last five years have been the most difficult span of his life. You revere your significant half in your second childhood, and the one who is left behind, has to face the hardship. One can have the whole family next to him/her, but to have that soulmate missing makes all the difference. I remember how my grandparents used to sit in the same room doing their own stuff. Even in their silence the “ehsaas” of having a company was heartwarming.
When a person gets old he doesn’t demand anything from you other than your time. He wants to be heard. He wants company. He wants to be surrounded by his people. He wants to breathe in a familiar environment. Although I try and spend time with him, the truth is that my marriage has brought me to Hyderabad. I hear his loneliness and ailment when I am with him, but the very next day I come back to my home, my husband, my child. Even when I make him the occasional phone call, I feel his unsaid words, but then an hour later I am drowned in my own world. Truth been told, I do feel guilty for not being there. No matter what excuse I give, the fact is – I am not there to take care of him. Who is there is my Chacha’s daughter who could have got through any college after topping the district in 2015 but chose BHU instead, only to be close to Allahabad, close to him. But how I wish we were there, in the greener period, when it was just about family and quality time. When not only meeting someone was euphoric, but so was the voyage.
Today the flights have made the connection between two cities convenient, but for a 90’s kid, the connect was with a train or a car journey. Back then the journey was truly more enjoyable than the destination.
My grandfather worked for the Indian railways, so it always had a special place in my heart. The excitement of carrying the conventional train food (puri aloo and aachar) with a Milton camper is incomparable to the 200 rupees of lame samosa we get on an Indigo flight. The book station on the platform and the obsession for diamond comics were timeless. Ten rupees worth of Chacha Chowhdary made me eager to get on the train. How hard it was to control my fingers, from flipping it pages, on the platform while waiting for the train. I honored the promise made to self to savour each page, as the comic book had to last three hours of the train journey. With double the price, came special editions like “Chacha Chowdhary and Raka ka Intekaam” and it surely had double the thrill. When computer se tez dimaag chalane wale Chacha Chowdhary fell short to quench my insatiable thirst for comics, I advanced to Champak, as it had more words and less pictorial strips, and the best part – it came for Rs. 7.
On several occasions, we rented a car to cover the 200 kilometers between Kanpur and Allahabad. The tree canopy made the sun play peek-a-boo with our car roof while Lata and Rafi played in the background. Songs like “Aasman ke neeche hum aaj apne peeche” felt perfect analogy to the journey taken. Air-conditioned cars were not needed then, and we didn’t mind the wind play with our hair as we rolled down the car window. Stopping at Malwa to get pedas was a tradition and looking at the milestones to access kilometers covered a religion. “Mummy Allahabad bas 10 kilometers reh gaya hai” had abundant emotions piled in it.
Once reached, not only you saw your grandparents but heard their stories, which took you to the world of ancient India. Well, the man was born in 1927. “Beta hamare zaamane mein ek aana bahut hota tha.” Truth been told, it was never about the aana, but always about the zamana. No matter how much we earn today, we urge to have more. No matter how much we accomplish, we are never satisfied. We talk about finding sukoon in one second, but in the very next second, we all turn back to continue being a part of the rat race.
Wo waqt aur tha, wo log aur they. We talk about them, but we don’t have the courage to live like them. Wo gum mein bhi khush they, and trust me, hum khushi mein bhi gum dhoond lete hain.
At times I can’t help but wonder, what will we hand over to our grandchildren? Technology? Sure. More explored career options? Yes. But what about the simple times, when we would begin a sentence with, “Beta hamare zamane mein toh…”