Aug 23, 2008
"My grandpa didn't believe in hugging and kissing, or saying ‘I love you.’ His love had to do with the way he treated you. When he said, ‘We're going here, we're going there,’ he was telling me about life. That was his love for me. My love for him was listening to what he said, keeping out of trouble, doing right, being fair." -Bill Cosby
There won’t be any statues for grandpa. He won’t be remembered by many (or probably any), in 50 years from now. He was not a go-getter, super achiever, diplomat – nothing of that sort. He didn’t change the course of history; Didn’t use credit cards, no email id, no personal blog, didn’t know the difference between iPhone and iTouch ; he was almost an alien in the modern world.
He was more like R. K. Laxman’s Common Man. I have a feeling, somewhere in the past R. K. Laxman might have met grandpa from whom he got the inspiration for his famous and now not so common – COMMON MAN!
In a family of giants, he was the only slim guy. Though he never tried Weight Watchers (trade mark registered) or did any kind of aerobics in front of the TV.
Mostly a quiet man, won’t talk unless talked to, won’t advice unless asked for; listened to people all the time and sympathized for their problems as if they were his own.
Although not much different from other grandpas, he had this unique habit of staring at the void! While walking on the road, he would suddenly stop, look at the sky, stare at nothingness above and be a statue for at least 10 minutes or sometimes more. For a stranger he would look like a scientist, thinking about some strange formulae. Subsequently he would come out of his stupor, continue his walk as if nothing had happened. I was always amazed by this trance. It would always be a mystery to me!
I have a feeling, grandpa must be like Galileo – who became famous only after hundred years of his death. Deep in my heart, I have a small hope that grandpa would become famous one day! May not be now, may not be in near future, for that matter may not be in our life time but some day!
He was in Saudi for 30 years. In those days, if you were in Saudi that long, you could buy our whole village. And yet he didn’t do anything of that sort. He was an ascetic. Sometimes mistaken pedestrians would offer him some money - "Here you go old man have a cup of coffee" they would say, unknown to the fact that old man could anytime afford Starbucks!
Never the less he would give a polite nod to these strangers and gracefully accept their kind gesture.
It seems, long time back, a foreigner strayed to land in our small town.
“Any sadhus sleeping on nail beds, here?” he asked the first person at the bus stop.
“No, Sir!” said the old man; who happened to be my grandpa.
“Any rope tricks or snake charmers here?” queried the foreigner adjusting the high-end camera.
“No sir! I have been here whole my life, not seen any of them” said grandpa.
“Nothing to shoot here then!”
The next outbound bus being late, they chatted for some more time. Foreigner showed his album of pictures.
“Every year I go to a new country” said the foreigner.
“That is nice”
“There is a date below every picture.”
“I noticed that,” said grandpa, “Why do you use 2 digits for years?”
“Oh! You see, I am a COBOL programmer, I work for IBM; since in any year the initial 2 digits are common, I don’t write them, it saves space! It’s a programming habit! ”
“That sounds interesting, however when you cross year 2000, how will your program differentiates 01 is 1901 or 2001? “ asked grandpa.
“Old man, year 2000 is so far! Who knows we will be there at that time or not?”
“No No I am serious,” continued grandpa, “probably you should talk about this with your seniors at IBM when you go back”
“Don’t worry old man, this is no big deal. “
Years later, grandpa’s innocent remarks at the bus stop materialized into millennium bug or simply Y2K. It became a multi million dollar project. US announced that it won’t commerce with any country not compatible with Y2K. Half of the passengers in any aeroplane destined to US from India were software engineers. In Andhra Pradesh, there were only old people and women, it was literally empty, all its young software engineers moved to US.
Though grandpa predicted Y2K, years before IBM and contemporaries, when Y2K, really hit us, he was ignorant of the global events. It really didn’t affect him much.
While other grandpas were famous with rich flashback memories, mine was just the opposite.
“How come you didn’t fight for freedom?” I asked him once.
“I don’t know “ he said
“Did you ever see Gandhi?”
“Yes. Ben Kingsley has done a good job.”
“Not the movie, the real one!”
“Oh. Yes. I met him once “ he said.
“How was it like?”
“It was like trance….” And he drifted into trance.
I waited sometime, for him to continue. But he was already deep in trance. When he came out of it few minutes later, he carried on with whatever he was doing, as if everything was normal.
A writer in the making
When grandpa was a young man it seems he had the option of marrying a rich lady or a poor lady. And the romantic man he was, he chose to marry the poor lady my grandma. This romantic couple has managed to produce a family full dreamers, zombies, zonks, authors with more unpublished material and poets whose poems no mortals would understand.
The only practical person in our family is mom, who realized early in her marriage that there is no money in writing. Like all the contemporary moms she wanted me to be an engineer or doctor or both! Hence all my writing efforts were discouraged to the max.
Grandpa would console me all that time.
“Did your mom say anything?” he asked me one day seeing me sad.
“Mom said my poems are garbage material!”
“Oh! Did she really say that?” he showed mock surprise “You know what, she is wrong! She is becoming old. Let me see your stuff. Where is it?”
“In the dust bin, with garbage”
He recovered the pages from the garbage, read them, after a long pause to my great dismay concluded “I am afraid she is right! “
“Start reading classics,” he said, “when you finish all the classics, start writing”
However, when I started reading “Lady Chatterley’s lover” he promptly took it away.
“This is a classic!” I reasoned.
“You are not ready for it, yet”
“Can I read – Madame Bovary?”
“How about – Lolita?”
“Of course Not! Read R.K. Narayan” he said.
“Who reads Narayan, these days?”
Recently I read Madame Bovary. (I will not say anything about the book, since mom reads everything I write.)
Even though every year for Christmas, I used to be in Mangalore with family, I broke that ritual in 1999.
“Sir, I need one month vacation” I asked my boss in November.
“Nobody is going anywhere,” he said, “Our finance application is not Y2K compliant. You need to be here, for another 2 months!”
Reluctantly I called home.
“Grandpa, I won’t be coming this time”
“Why? What happened?”
“We have this Y2K problem, with one of our applications”
“What is Y2K?’
“Don’t worry grandpa, that is much complex for you, I will come in Feb” I said.
The Motorcycle Diaries
When I bought my bike, I took him for a ride. We carefully drove dodging the pot holes.
“Did you know, Che Guevara, went on a long bike ride before becoming a revolutionary?” I asked grandpa.
“I am sure he didn’t go with his grandpa”
“No. He went with his friend”
On the way a group performing tiger-dance stopped our bike.
“Don’t smear the bike with your tiger-paint! It is a new bike” I cried.
“New Bike! You need to hang lemon and chili in the front to keep away the spirits!” one of the tigers said.
“Ok, I will do that”
We gave some money, took a detour and traveled on some of the less explored roads.
“Where are we going?” grandpa asked.
“This is a short cut. We will reach Mangalore in few miles”
On our way we stopped near a huge board.
“What is this board?”
“I don’t know, let’s see what it says”
It looked like some kind of religious board. Some kind of wakeup call; it had all the religious jargon. There were even pictures of politicians and old leaders.
“This person is not a religious leader. He was a freedom fighter,” exclaimed grandpa, “He never fought for religious rites! This is misleading. Let’s remove this board”
“Grandpa that may not be a good idea”
In spite of his great efforts, he could not do much.
“I can’t even shake it,” he gave up “This thing is too much rooted in our earth”
There prevailed a long silence.
“Let’s go back,“ he said finally, “Lets not travel on unknown roads. I am happy my days are numbered. Sad for you though. I have a feeling future days will face more religious turmoil. Some time I feel, God is the most dangerous thing man ever invented!”
I didn’t reply. We drove back in silence.
Dead man walking
He was sort of aware when the end was near. He mostly kept to himself and for long walks. He was old, ailing from age problems. Nearing 100, he was aware, he won’t be able to make century this time. (He was an avid cricketer in his youth.)
“Probably I am the only person whose all friends are dead” he used to say. That was really sad, made him restless to reach his friends.
During the end days, his grand children were with him. He was mostly silent. Elders were expecting him to make some kind of final statement, for the records. Something like: world is a stage and we are all actors, or words to that effect. However he didn’t make any such statement.
Finally, one fine day quietly he passed away. When he died, birds didn’t stop flying in mid air, no thunder storm or rain, no camera rolling 360 degrees with great speed, no self extinguishing candles, no crashing milk glasses, pet dog didn’t bark without reason – none of these otherwise expected things happened. It was a quiet departure.
Death of a Hero
Two important things happened during his funeral. First of all, photographer didn’t come on time! There were some “so called” important people, who had a curious desire to get photographed with my dead grandpa. Everyone was in a hurry, priest was in a hurry, and altar boys were in a hurry. The only person who was not in a hurry was grandpa.
“That’s it” someone shouted in the kitchen “we are going to change the photographer for all future functions!”
Outside some women were praying and wailing. They were nowhere related to grandpa. “Who are they?” I asked mom.
“I don’t know. This group attends every funeral and prays” The group seemed more in grief than the family members.
Then there was a commotion outside. I went to check out. One of my aunts stopped me on the way - “What is this you are wearing? Change your singlet!” she said.
“Photographer has come!” she said enthusiastically.
After the funeral there was an altercation among his children. Family members were divided in two highly charged groups. The disagreement was - to have a marble grave or not, for grandpa. If you ask me, grandpa was not really a “marble” kind of guy. He was more of a person who believed in something temporary, something less permanent, than something concrete like marble.
Never the less we did manage to build some sort of state-of-the-art ultra modern grave for him; which had all sort of modern amenities needed for a dead person. In a way he is more comfortable in the grave now than when he was alive.
While searching for books, in a used book store, I accidentally found, “A tiger for Malgudi”. It was in the cheapest possible section.
“Why this book is so cheep?” I asked the shop keeper.
“No one reads that author”
“I will take it anyway” I said.
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