December 24, 2008
Distance of time and place generally cure what they seem to aggravate; and taking leave of our friends resembles taking leave of the world, of which it has been said, that it is not death, but dying, which is terrible. ~Henry Fielding
Twelve days ago, on Dec. 12, my grandfather lost his battle to life after a prolonged period of misdiagnosed illnesses - from Alzheimer’s two years ago to brain tumor and more recently, cancer. He was 91. In a strange way, I was more relieved as he breathed his last late night on Dec. 12 with his beloved ones by his side, for he had suffered a great deal these past four months. Dad who was all set to travel that night but postponed his plans by a fortnight perhaps sensing the end was close.
The first time I got to know that thatha didn’t have long to live was in August this year. I cried miserably that day. At 90, he went about doing his daily activities meticulously getting up at 5:30 a.m. followed by a quick shower, visit to the temple, his prayers, reading newspapers etc..I find it hard to digest that until two years back, he would write letters to the editor regularly to magazines, solve crosswords, and attempt puzzles. Considering he had nearly lost his eye sight after multiple cataract operations - this was an achievement in itself speaking volumes of his perseverance.
My fond memories with him date back to the late 80’s and early 90’s when we three grand-kids would surround him after dinner by the veranda and he would narrate ghost stories with passion - not made up ones, these were real is what he had told us then. He had lived for a few years in the midst of a huge farm earning his livelihood from the family’s agriculture business. Stories of a lady clad in white sari walking through rooms after 6 p.m. was a common sight that scared the hell out of my granny, he would say. And then as years passed by, he often narrated about his travels across Tamil Nadu with the then DIG; grandpa was with the police force in an administrative capacity until he retired in the mid-1970’s.
A self-made man - he remains an inspiration for me to this day on living a simple life. He had worked hard to get his children educated through school and college, construct a house, and more importantly bring dinner to the table with a meager salary. Sometimes, I’m told it called for cycling over 30 Kms to get a bag of rice from the village to city that could feed the family of four. I shudder at the thought now that he was over 75 when he filled air in our cycles as we got ready for school every morning; I studied at my grandparents’ for a couple of years. Some other fond memories I have of him was his passion for gardening. Coming from an agricultural family, he tended to his garden in the city house himself - the drumstick tree on an average bore about 75-100 every day in season, sometimes even 200. He had a knack for climbing the coconut tree to pluck the tender coconuts and there was something magical about the papayas that grew in the garden.
His command over the English language was one to admire. Call it the fruits of the Colonial rule or whatever but I admit I would still have to refer to the dictionary if he were to write a letter. Unfortunately, in recent years most of his letters were addressed to the Treasury Department relating to his pending pension. The reticence of the state government didn’t deter him from trying what he believed he deserved. And that perhaps remained his regret till last day for he felt he never got his due. Unbiased, very affectionate towards his family, and totally detached towards materialism is how I would remember him forever. No favorite food, and a white dhoti and shirt was all he needed for an existence…never asked for more! I wonder what it would take to get those virtues.
His last few months were the most painful as cancer spread through the body and he writhed in pain, subsequently slipping into a partial coma and reduced to a vegetable state with absolutely no food intake towards the end. (The steroids gave him a violent behavior for a brief period.) In the last month or so, he was reduced to a skeletal frame and it was very disheartening to see a man of such physical might and mental strength getting so helpless. Thatha - undoubtedly, you will always remain my favorite grandparent.
A great soul like you is no more amongst us. I hope you find peace on the other side.
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