For most children who grew up in India in the 20th century, their grandparents were always a huge part of their lives. Since women move to their husband’s place after marriage, in most cases it is the father’s side grandparents that children interact with the most.
My situation was the opposite. As the only child of divorced parents I moved when I was only two ,back to my Mom’s parents house. At that tender age it was both innocent obliviousness and my Mom’s tireless sacrifices that kept me shielded from the worst aspects of the separation. From that point on the only father figure in my house was my grandfather.
This was never truer than when my Mom told me about a little incident from my childhood. In kindergarten a teacher once asked me ‘What does your father do?’. I promptly replied “He sits at home and reads the newspaper”.
Ajja as we used to call him in Kannada was a voracious reader and a big tennis fan. He spent hours poring over every page of The Times of India and I spent hours watching tennis matches with him in front of the television. He was a pretty big history buff too regaling me with stories of a different time. It always fascinated me to think that my grandfather was born 25 years before our country gained independence. We only read about that time in our history books while he actually lived through that time.
He was also a rather straight forward man. Discipline and integrity were of utmost importance to him. When my Mom and uncles were younger, grandfather was an extremely strict father. As the years went by and the responsibility of taking care of part of my life also fell to him, his demeanor towards people had changed almost completely.
He never denied me anything in life. From books to my very first computer he never said no to anything. While computers are a part of every child’s life right from school it wasn’t the case back then. In the year 2000 when I got my first computer, Rs 50000 was a huge sum. He got me a spanking new Pentium 3 no questions asked. All because he thought it would help me. While the educational aspects of owning a computer quickly fell by the wayside it’s what got me into video games something I am lucky to now call a career.
Somebody once called my grandfather a very stoic man. Since he was from a time before gyms became fashionable, his secret to good health was a combination of good genes and regular physical activity. That meant, him running at least 5 km every morning for as long as his age permitted him to. He was also headstrong when it came to anything that required even thinking about a doctor. I remember him, once coming home from his morning jog with a bleeding leg from a dog bite. No matter how hard we insisted that he get an injection from a doctor he simply refused to go.
The only time he finally relented was towards the end of his life. Nothing on earth could bring him down. He was the strongest man I ever knew. A habit that he had quit 10 years previously had come back to haunt him. It was painful to watch a man who had never known weakness all his life, wither away from the inside. He weathered the sessions of radiotherapy without exhibiting any outwards signs of discomfort. It was only when the cancer had progressed to a point where he was unable to speak and bear the pain, did I see any signs of him having given up on life.
He passed away at the age of 82 silently into the night. I always believe, how one leaves this earth is of little consequence as compared to how one lives when he is on earth.
Grandfather was honest to a fault, stubborn as hell, well read like no one else I knew, disciplined but fair, strong as an ox, gentle as a lamb, more caring towards me than his own children and the closest I ever had to a father in my life.