Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thatha.

"Hi Thatha!"

"Hi, Thatheee!"

That was Thatha, for you. He could talk to you about anything. ANYTHING. Locomotive engines. Why the Sky appears blue. The name of the little plastic thing at the end of your shoelace (aglet, by the way). Why shells have the sound of the sea in them. What the meaning of Mimamsa is. What the Das Pumpenhaus was in its original days as the Das Pumpenhaus. He would beat you hollow - even if you had a doctorate in it, and this is no exaggeration. He, is (was?) my grandfather.

I bid goodbye to him the day before yesterday. And it poured in Chennai, poured so much, that all that sounded in my mind's ears was, The heavens weep when great men die.

Ever indulgent, Thatha didn't mind me styling his hair. 
He was a man of honour, and a man of his word - so much so, that there are people today in Kolar Gold Fields (where he was a CAO at the Government Hospital under the British regime and after for a while), who say that the fires in their house burn only because of his bounty and kindness. He was a man of leadership and charisma - he hoisted the first flag of Independent India in Kolar. As a child, his knowledge of geography in a school for boys in Triplicane, Chennai, baffled his teacher - enough to give Thatha the moniker, simhakutty, or lion cub. His English teacher learned words from him. Once, in his English class, the teacher asked him what a cross meant, in a manner that a teacher would, to quiz his students. Thatha stood up - and this was when he was in Second Form, perhaps the equivalent of Class 6 / 7 in today's structure - and said, "A Crucifix". His teacher blinked and asked Thatha, "What is a crucifix, pa?" From that day on, Thatha had to come to school to teach the boys in his class one new word.

Thatha was an incredible soul. He lived life the way one should: independently. He would sleep at 8:00 PM, wake up by 2:30 or 3:00 AM. Make his own coffee, leave the house (even in the biting cold on wintry days) in the morning on his Kinetic Honda to buy milk. If we were in the house, he never returned without candy, sweets or lollipops. He would spend an hour reading the paper, and I would learn the news of the world from him. He would spend his day at work - crunching numbers, doing honourary work for the municipal corporation of Indiranagar, Bangalore and writing notes copiously. He would bind his own papers by hand - using a native paste of home-made gum for it. He taught me how to type with such precision that I wouldn't have to look at the keyboard. He taught me how to do three things at a time, and not drop any ball. He would make a beeline to a little garden at the end of the road in our street in Indiranagar, Bangalore, where he would spend an hour with a few of his friends, chatting about politics, life and whatnot. Old men's Rendezvous, he loved to call it.
We would spend hours debating anything and everything. He was a staunch Congress fan. I would refute him just for the sake of refuting him and to see his eyebrows wiggle when he debated me. I would flap his large ears and he would benevolently indulge me, and say that he was named dhonnai kaadhu, (ears like the make-shift cups made out of dried banana leaves) as a child. He could identify any raagam in seconds. I once challenged him and played song after song on YouTube - and by the end of half an hour, I was running out of raagamsto play for him.

Home is not a place. It is this. 
Between Bangalore and Chennai, Thatha made trips a couple of times each month - all to wage a legal battle on his own money and time for a company he once served. Each trip he made, he was never empty handed. Boxes of wafers, chips, biscuits, clothes and toys - every single time. One year, my brother shrieked and cried for a toy that had caught his fancy, and my parents had delayed buying it for him. The next day, Thatha stopped by at Egmore, the store where we had seen it, and bought it for him. When the "new Pizza Corner outlet" opened above Punjab National Bank - a bank which I will always associate with him - he ran to buy us Pizzas, because we loved them.
A few years later, came a time when I would insist that I wanted to be a doctor, he told me that I would become the President of India. I laughed at him, laughed so hard till my sides ached. He smiled at me and said, "Now you won't understand. But when you become the President of India, we will see what you tell me." In my childish tongue, I told him that I wanted him to be with me when that happened. I did a rudimentary calculation. He would have to be a hundred when I was old enough to qualify to be the President. Thatha was quiet for a while, before he said, "We will see. Maybe they will relax the rules by then. I don't want to wait for so long." You didn't stick around, Thatha, you didn't.
One smile, and that solved everything. 

Thatha is one of the foremost reasons I walk, today. I was born with a condition in my feet called club foot - my feet were turned inwards. He stood in a queue for half a day, just to get me an appointment with one of the most renowned orthopaedics in the country. Today, each step I take, I take in his name, with gratitude. The day I started walking - and mind you, thanks to his and my mother's unstinting intervention, I had my milestone spot on, on time - as he once told me, three years ago, he was the happiest. He made me run and captured the moment from behind the lens.
Thatha and I, doodling
We had our own little inside jokes. We would talk of drinking alcohol until we were drunk silly, making slurry speeches as if we were veteran drunks. Reality: we were tee-totallers. We would sing Kalyana Samayal Saadham together - and even sang it together last week, I the first line and he the next, all the way until we would imitate the laughter in the song. He loved soda of any kind. Once, my brother and I had gone to the store at the end of the street to buy something for home. We were walking back, with a sneaky bottle of Sprite in hand, only to see Thatha walking up to us from home, with a bottle of Mirinda in hand. We admitted defeat - our trick wasn't as sneaky as we thought it was. But before we knew it, Thatha smilingly told my brother and me, "Let's drink it all up before we go back home." Three little rascals.
Where are you?

When Patti was hospitalised, two Octobers ago, he was her barometer. At the 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM visiting hour window, he was dressed impeccably, and ready to see her. If we so much as delayed taking him along, he would trudge up to the doorstep and promptly announce that he was going, himself. At the hospital, he would walk two flights of stairs, just to see Patti. The day she passed on, two Novembers ago, he cushioned the blow for us despite his obvious pain and grief. And today, two Novembers later, he joined her, flying as a free soul.

People said he was old, and it was time for him to go. People said it was inevitable, and that I should not make a big deal out of it. True, it was inevitable. True, age does bring one closer to what is destined for them. True, it might have been time for him to go. But love does not come with an expiry date. It comes, instead, with the guarantee of immortality. I know I will carry this love I have for my thatha and patti beyond my time, beyond the day I will cross the veil and be welcomed with open arms by them.

Somewhere in the distance of my mind, I see a memory. Eleven years ago, my mother, brother and I had visited them in Bangalore for the winter. We had to leave because  as it always happens, the mundane ways of life forced themselves into a place of priority. That night, they came to drop us off at the City Railway Station in Bangalore. When we got off the car and told them to go home, and that we would move onto the designated platform, they watched some vagrant sidle up to us and follow us. We were unaware, but the vigilantes in them awoke. Unbeknownst to us, while we ran like marathon runners, the two of them held hands and walked behind us. We had settled down in the platform, only to turn around to see Thatha and Patti, holding hands and walking gently. They had come to see that we were safe. Amidst tears of grief, poignancy and the un-verbal-ise-able pain that being moved brings, we said goodbye, assured them we would be safe, and let them leave.
Be happy, always. 


Today, that memory is vivid. I see the two of them, turning around and walking on a railway platform. But this time, they are the ones taking a train. And their train is going far, far away. It's hard to say goodbye. There is a selfish little secret wish to want to run to them. But I can't. And so, I watch until I can see the train. I watch until my tears are a curtain. I watch until the winds blow and whisper their names in my ears. I watch, until I know that they may be nowhere, but they are everywhere.  
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