Monday, May 03, 2010

Lessons in life...

D. He doesn't know his real age. It has never really mattered.

He came to them as a fourteen year old , about a thousand moons ago. He and they, both hailed from a hamlet , a few miles inland from the South Konkan coast. Except. He was the first from his family to come to the city, and they were the 4th generation of the folks that had come to the city at the beginning of the 20th century. They had a small son , a year old, and were looking for some live-in help, and his folks suggested his name on a trip to their native village.

(It's true that one may estimate his age from the little boy's age. But he certainly does not look it, and besides, the ration card mentions his age as 65 . Which is a joke, because the little boy he came to look after is now 64. )

There were two more children in the family after that, a girl and a boy. And they have the most memories associated with him from their childhood. Being taken to school , double-seat on a bicycle. He coming by with a lunch tiffin during the school lunch recess. Last minute ironing of forgotten uniform items, broken fasteners and buttons, school bag buckles, and he quietly shooing them to be quiet as he industriously strived to repair the stuff , before their mother shouted at them. His amazing pickup where nutritional aspects of food were concerned, picked up from their mother , who was very particular about traditional cooking. When the children were small and wanted to accompany their mother to the big vegetable and fruit central market, he would always come and ensure that there was someone to carry things, as well as someone to ensure that a kid suddenly enticed by some great looking fruit elsewhere, didn't wander and get lost.

They did an addition to their small flat at one time, and the balcony had flower beds that were then in vogue. And an abiding memory the little girl had was that of him whistling to himself, scraping and peeling cucumbers etc, directly into the flower beds. Various fruit peels followed, along with the innards of papayas with the seeds. The man of the house, was aghast at the various organic smells emanating from the balcony, but he was equally proud of the exemplary profusions of roses that grew in those flower beds, to the intense scrutiny of the neighbors and passers by on the road. At any given time, you could see a rotten tomato, spoilt cilantro, orange peels, pomegranate peels and similar stuff decorating the soil. A seedless papaya plant grew rebelliously at an angle , jutting away from the balcony roof. The children would watch this botanical display with wonder, till one day, aesthetic considerations and the threat of water dripping on to someones patio downstairs put a brake on all these activities.

It was time to grow up. He did and so did the children. Careers and other considerations took people to far corners across oceans , and for a few years, everyone got busy with their own. He got married, and had children. He now had a day job as a helper in an office, and made many new friends. He had a small place of his own now, and his children went to school.

For many years in between , communication between the older family and him was minimal as job transfers, children's education etc, ensured that much time was spent out of Pune.

D. retired somewhere in the early 90's. His own children were now grown up, some married. He had a bit more free time, and he continued to come visit the old couple, who were now well into their 80's. In a world studded with fancy machines, and so called labour saving devices, he and the two of them, stood firm, frowning on the stupidity of machine-washing all the clothes together in the same dirty water, as opposed to each piece scrubbed individually by hand, buttermilk hand-churned by the traditional wooden mixer, and various spicy hot crunches and chutneys, crushed just so on the big stone with the crusher, all adjustable and fined tuned for taste, based on what the hand sensed, as opposed to a massive free for all, super fast, invisible rotation of a desperate blade.

The daughter of the house often came to visit her parents, and the highlight for her kids was accompanying D, now in his 70's himself, on to the terrace, where he climbed precariously on to a tilted branch of the jamun tree, and tossed some down to the children collecting them in a basket. There was also a mango tree, often laden with fruit, and he would climb it with childlike enthusiasm when the little kids visited. Afternoons would see him collecting the dried branches of the palm tree (as old as the daughter of the house) , and sitting on the landing, cutting and sharpening the fine dried leafy part , converting it to semi rigid rods, to make the stiff brooms. The little kids have never seen anything like this, and their afternoons were spent imbibing lessons in life sustainable activities. A special broom was once carried home to Mumbai, with folks in the train wondering why so much fuss was being made over who was to carry it, given that half the kids their age, in Mumbai, wouldn't want to be seen , with, of all things, a broom.

The end of the century was also the end of an era. The lady at whose knee he had learnt lessons in living and growing in a city, passed away very suddenly. For the daughter of the house, who was the only child in India, he became a friend, someone to consult and ask for advice, when questions arose. Grandpa, who was the one who had brought him to the city more than half a century ago, was now alone, and in a way , lost, as it was always his wife who managed all the nitty gritty stuff, and was the more aware person , where judging outside people was concerned.

D now dedicated his time to looking after him. When the family grandchildren came to visit, he would automatically and magically produce delicacies from the fridge, having mobilized for them beforehand; he had learned from grandma, and nothing ready made was OK; he'd organize the milk, make yogurt, hang it, sweeten it, spice it, mix it, and store it tightly covered in the freezer, to bring it out at mealtimes for the grandchildren just like their grandmother did. One of the grandchildren abroad was advised some Ayurvedic mixture containing turmeric powder (for some general allergy tendency reduction), and he advised that the ready made powdered turmeric in shops was a dicey thing, not to be trusted, and he went and bought some excellent turmeric roots, duly sun dried them, and for a few days, you could hear the rhythmic thump of the large iron pestle in a larger iron mortar, where he crushed it all to a fine powder. He packed it in zip lock bags, the fragrance and personal care tightly packed in. The daughter of the house likes to think that his care had a lot to do the with the subsequent success in the allergy situation for the grandchild abroad, who would take it faithfully, not because some doctor said so, but because old D had made it for him.

Grandpa was now getting really old, would often forget things, and sometimes imagine things. His support for education, rural health , and women's issues was well known and people would flock to him for help, some of it financial. D kept a keen eye on the going ons, and would keep the daughter of the house informed on what was happening. He often took it upon himself to mislead who he thought were tricky types, trying to get things under false pretences, by telling them that Grandpa was out of town, when in fact he was resting inside. Whenever she visited, the daughter would meet up with the visitors and try to ascertain the genuine people who he could help.

Came a time when Grandpa was bedridden. The head and heart was willing but the limbs would not co-operate. The daughter spent more and more time with her father, but the entire framework that held up the system where her father felt "nothing had changed" , existed solely because of D, and his innate need to ensure that grandpa would get the sort of personalized care , had grandma still lived. He learned the rudiments of bed-sore dressings which were applauded by the visiting doctor for the attention to sterilization and antiseptic environment. He and the daughter would often check out some native solutions with the doctor, something D knew a lot about. Grandpa was a great walker, and had hallucinations about having gone for long walks, while actually unable to sit up. He would often insist on "being taken for a walk" which consisted of D and the daughter lifting him into a wheelchair and wheeling him to the balcony from where he gazed longingly at the garden where he walked every morning for so many years.
During Divali that year, when the daughter was planning to organize a better wheelchair and take grandpa to the park where he had walked for so many years, D, was the most enthusiastic supporter, organizing folks like the downstairs local fruit seller and cycle repair chap next door, to come help lift the chair and grandpa downstairs. He realized Grandpa would get tired from this excursion, and rushed ahead to have some hot stuff ready for Grandpa to imbibe, while the neighbors came down to meet Grandpa in the park.

When they got home, for the first time in many days, Grandpa exhibited some appetite, being fed by his daughter and D, and had , what could be called, a very restful deep sleep at night.

The daughter was the house was aware that D had his own family, and insisted that he go home at decent times on all days, at least when she was around with Grandpa. He would hesitate, because that meant she alone would be there to handle things. He was more than an old faithful by now; more like an elderly relative you consult.

The day that was to be grandpa's last, she had sense of foreboding around midnight, when there was no response. Energy levels throughout the day had been low, but they fluctuated, and there was nothing in grandpa's observed spirit that said things were worrisome. Of all the various calls she made in the middle of the night, the doctor and D responded. There was unseasonal winter rain that night, D rushed over, his sons accompanying him , worrying for his safety, and he walked a couple of miles before a three wheeler agreed to bring him at that time of the night. The doctor was just leaving when he came. It was all over. The doctor would come again around dawn and do the paperwork, as per the rules.

He still treats the house as his karmabhoomi, and worries about the daughter of the house. He comes by to clean the place , check for letters, which still pour in. He asks about her children, every time he calls, enquires about those across the seas, and very often, in the amla(=gooseberry) season, will call up to say that he has bought some excellent amlas and will be grating and drying them in the hot sun to make some delicious amla supari, about which one of the grandkids abroad is crazy. He also visits some close friends of late grandma and grandpa, who are themselves not doing too well, and he takes them fresh fragrant champa flowers from the tree in the garden.

He is also the wise elder now in his own family. His kids are married, he indulges his grandson and granddaughters, and is very particular that they attend school, something he never did himself. His face lights up when his grandson talks a few phrases in English. His wife is now herself fairly old, and suddenly decided to shift back to the native village. Just like that. D lets her be. He stands as a rock for his family that needs him in the city, making a few visits to the native place, where there are several relatives who can care for his wife.

To grandma and grandpa's daughter, he has now become another parent to care for. And for him, she is a responsibility. All done with great genuine concern, very willingly. No connections of DNA. No genetics. No exhibitions of attitude. Just plain and simple human family feeling.

His own daughter complains that he doesn't eat properly, drinks too much tea. He still carries huge containers of water up three flights of stairs. He himself is probably approaching his eighties. He doesn't know and he doesn't care. She says he hasn't been keeping too well after grandpa passed away. Keeps ignoring minor sniffles and niggles. But late Grandpa's neighborhood is impressed, and grandpa's doctor himself had him come over for a proper checkup once , advised some vitamins, and declared him fit.

... A huge lesson on how to be a rock solid person in life, where entire generations continue to walk by, stop, rest a while, talk about their lives and troubles, imbibe some useful lessons, and lean in comfort, knowing , that D will be there, egging you on, shaking his head, saying, "Not to worry, we'll find a the meanwhile, we need to get on with life...."


  1. It is wonderful to see that at times, we get support from the most unexpected places!

  2. A nice read, realities of life well worded.

  3. Really beautiful! Your family has been truly blessed with the support of such a wonderful soul

  4. Great post, as usual! You've beautifully described the special relationship between your family and D.

  5. wonderful to have such a person around. we've had a person like him in our family too. they are an asset to the family. Dear daughter of the house, I am sure you would do for this man what you would have done for your parents. i know you will.

  6. Oh well, I think I am a great fan of D :o)

    There is so much love pouring out of your posts, it's amazing and greatly conforting.


  7. Tears are welling up in my eyes after reading your beautifully written post. As a first timer here I am bowled over.

  8. I wait for your posts these days...I smell my grandparents, their lives, the people who inhabited our lives when they were alive..these are connections that we miss in nuclear families these days...My grandfather was like D, a bedrock for everyone in my grandmother's family since the time they were married, and she was the first born in a brood of 11. Now my mom's family nears over 100, but in every family gathering, my grandparents who are no more are remembered with a lot of love....D reminded me of him...Thank you...

  9. What a wonderful man! May he have a healthy and comfortable and productive old age which keeps him happy.

  10. Thank you everyone for your comments of appreciation...