Saturday, April 08, 2006

In Fond Remembrance.

I don’t think I have ever spoken to you about my dadu (paternal grandfather). I was leisurely leafing through the family album this morning when I stumbled upon all of those childhood snaps of mine. Those were the days when everyone looked so young. One of the snaps had me sitting on my dadu’s lap, my face grumpy and my eyes red and swollen. I must have played a prank on my poor old dadu and ma must have punished me.

My early memories of dadu were that of a rather thin and short and swarthy man with an island baldness (where 90% of your head is bald surrounded by a thin patch of hair, the simulacrum of A.K.Hangal). Well, the baldness certainly suited him and age had nothing to do with it. My dad too had grown up seeing the receding hairline recede somewhat to the hinterlands of the skull. What amused me more was the fact that dadu would regularly apply talcum powder on the shiny surface after combing his hair.

Another thing I remember very vividly about him is the pinstriped shirt in blue and white he would wear. The image of that shirt is still so well imprinted in my mind that when a friend chose the same type of shirt in Westside for his placements, I exclaimed, “But this is the grandfather print. You would look so old in this.”

Many a friends of mine would boast of their grandfathers being freedom fighters who’d gone to jail during their time. My grandfather was just the reverse, the nervous types who’d faint at the sight of blood or violence (a trait I have rightfully inherited). But he was a famous classical singer. In fact, he had once got a chance to playback for a certain Bollywood movie (which never happened due to reasons unknown to me). I remember every evening, he would sit with the harmonium for riyaz for hours and I would be expected to sit besides him and pick up tunes (I was barely 5 then). What a punishment that was for me. This is one of the reasons I never wanted to learn classical singing despite ma’s wishes. I then wanted to go to a school that would teach me songs from latest Hindi movies, a far cry from the ragas and the man-mohan-ki-surat-pyari song he used to try to teach me.

I used to be a very naughty kid. I would never break windowpanes or break my bones. Yet I had this bad habit of talking too much, and saying the wrong things in the wrong places. I sometimes used to call dadu Dev Anand dadu (as he was born the same year Dev Anand was born in, and I was always so very full of such random information). And there was a private joke we used to share. I would crawl up in his lap and ask him, “Did you have a love marriage with dida (my paternal grandmother)?” to which he would deliberately mispronounce the word “love” as “laabh” (meaning gain in Hindi), look at dida and say, “Naah, not laabh marriage, nuksaan marriage”. (It’s not a marriage of profits but a marriage of loss). I would giggle happily.

Sometimes, he used to bring me back from school. And I would hate the broken Oriya he would use to talk to the rickshaw puller. He would always say “Kemiti jibu” (how will you go?) instead of "Kouthi jibu" (where will you go?). And he would always confuse the left turns with the right turns. After I’d get back from school and have my lunch (that was the time of his afternoon siesta), I would knowingly jump on the bed like a monkey, wake him up that way, lie in his arms and ask him to tell me stories. Dadu’s stories had taught me the difference between the varieties of ghosts and demons. A “rakkhosh” was the bad guy with mustaches while a “khokkosh” was bald and sans mustaches, with an olive-green skin (like that Onida TV guy). A “petni” (churail in Hindi) was the one who would live on palm trees and would sing in her adenoidal voice in the evenings. You could recognize a petni from a woman by looking at her feet (the petni would have upturned feet). A “cheledhora” was one who would walk down the streets in the afternoons with a sack, looking for children who didn’t listen to their parents and putting them inside the sack. And immediately after his stories ended, I would ask for the tail of the story. Typically the raakshash would die at the end, but a tail (addition) of the story would mean that the raakshash would wake up again and do a lot more damage before the prince finally killed him. Dadu would tell me stories in a bid to put me to sleep, yet I would be wide awake at the end of it while he would eventually doze off in the process.

I used to hide his glasses when he would take his bath. Knowing that he was a nervous man, I would hide behind the doors in the afternoon when everyone was taking a nap, and he would lose his sleep trying to find me (thinking that I have accidentally gone on the streets). He used to wear a few false teeth and once he wasn’t getting one of them. So the whole household had gone mad searching for them. One look at me and dadu told ma, “Your daughter must have hidden it”. Ma kept taking my side, arguing that why would a kid hide his false tooth. I kept quiet all the while. At last, tired after the tooth search, ma asked me if I has seen it to which I had taken her hand to the verandah proudly and had shown her how I’d thrown away the tooth right on top of the asbestos roof of the garage.

Dadu was addicted to the TV news at 8:40 pm. Yet I would always stand in front of the TV screen and start dancing when he was intently watching the news. Those were the days of Doordarshan when I’d picked up the tune of the Mala-D song. So whenever dadu would be reading the newspaper, I would sit on his lap and start humming- “Bol sakhi bol tera raaz kya hai”. I knew this was enough to make him go catatonic and give mom some good lambasting- “This is what you’ve taught your daughter?” I didn’t understand why would he make such a big issue out of that particular song. Nevertheless, I would enjoy the ruckus I created that way.

My cousin would visit us during the summer holidays and she was my competitor in getting dadu’s favors. I would not like her listening to all the stories dadu would tell me in the afternoons. So while dadu would recite the same stories to her, I would break the suspense in between and tell her the end of the story. She used to cry for silly reasons to gain all the attention and used to constantly sing to me purposefully- “Look, this is my dadu, not yours”.

Dadu had a very painful death. He had slipped in the bathroom and had had a cerebral hemorrhage. During the last few months, he had gone into coma and would constantly be fed through a bunch of plastic tubes shoved down his throat. Bedsores had infested his body and he never gained consciousness. Dida and ma would dress his wounds everyday (since no nurse would go near him, so unbearable used to be the stench). They used to use Cuticura talcum powder and that particular smell of his wounds mixed with the talcum powder still makes my stomach churn. I would often sit besides him after school, careful not to disturb him. However, he never really gained consciousness to recognize me. I was in the fifth grade then.

I miss my dadu. Even my sister, who was four then, hardly remembers him. I wish he was with us today.

I sighed and closed the family album. Snaps sometimes brought in a deluge of memories. Memories of the past that no longer existed. We live in the present. Yet a part of the past always lives with us. I wish I would not hide his glasses or trouble him. I wish I had not thrown his tooth on the garage roof. I wish he had not died that way. But then, I wish for so many things I cannot change.