My visions.. In my words.

June 20, 2011

Grandpa.

Filed under: Very Short Stories — SR @ 10:32 pm

As a child, I used to wait impatiently for summer holidays. It was a chance for me to meet up with a number of my cousins, discuss and make decisions about many issues of common concern. Ice-cream, alphonso mangoes,  fresh jack fruit and cricket usually tended to overcrowd our immediate collective agenda, but mostly, I used to look forward quite fondly to spending some more time talking with Grandpa.

 In my mind, he is a tired old man with a head where hair managed to grow only along the sides. In the Chennai heat, he would mostly wear a sheet of 100% white cotton called a mundu in our native Malayalam, the language of Kerala, South-western state of India.

Oddly, Grandpa used to stay in a suite at the top of his own hotel despite having a multi-room house with a yard and garage at only a walking distance nearby. We used to wonder why he didn’t stay with my grandma in the house; every time we asked about it, we were told, he stood guard over the hotel so that the rest of us slept peacefully. With the attention span of a humming bird in those days, this answer was sufficient to allow us to shift focus to more important matters like where the next ice-cream or alphonso mango was going to come from.

So every morning after breakfast and every afternoon after tea, I and some of my cousins would walk the few hundred metres between the hotel and the house to go see Grandpa. It was a good way for the elders to get rid of the kids so they can talk about more serious matters hanging heavy in their minds. Later when I grew up I learnt, these were mostly local gossip, shop-talk, property-inheritance matters and other such mundane things which I feel we kids wouldn’t have bothered in the first place.

After the customary orders of Rose milk (milk with strawberry and rose flavor) and Ragi malt (a special drink made from Ragi), we would happily huddle around him waiting expectantly. Grandpa would clear his throat with a unique characteristic sound signature which has stayed with me ever since.

Now when I think back I feel a tinge of emotion as I realize that he was a man groaning under the weight of many pressures- domestic and professional. He would start with a slightly long “Eh?” with a nasal tint of an “N” at the beginning making it sound slightly like “Nnneh?” if you can try to hear it in your mind’s ear. The sound would be followed by a resigned “Enda Chiya?” – Malayalam for “Alas! What is to be done now?”- fully wrapped in a thick layer of sighs. I used to enjoy it because I knew the thicker the layer the longer and deeper the life lesson. Somehow even when I was barely ten, I was quite interested in matters more philosophical than the earthy variety.

During the hour or two that followed, Grandpa would sermonise that we should always do the right thing and always pray to Bhagavathi – our family deity was the Hindu Goddess Shakti or Durga, who’s the consort of Lord Shiva the destroyer of all evil in Hindu mythology. Although, I cannot speak for my brothers and sisters his words sank deep into my soul and believed in them as the right thing to do.  Childhood was such a happy time because it was so easy to put everything into boxes colored either black or white. It was so easy to stay close to the white boxes. Little was I to know that soon this neat little world of sharp imagery would blur into a mist with all shades of grey with little black and little white.

Growing up, I realized I could lie a little, slack a little, lust a little and be greedy without  getting into trouble. The interesting part was finding out grey was the new white. Some called it being on a “need-to-know” basis.  With employment, . Vacation time became discretionary and smart(-y-alec) work almost always trumped hard work. If I worked hard, someone else worked harder. Ultimately, “fitting-the-curve” became a great leveler.

And at such times, when the annual performance appraisal comes near,  I remember Grandpa’s advice and start to chant “Bhagavathi, Bhagavathi..”

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