Saturday, June 23, 2007

Passing of a Grandfather - For a 12 year old.

Just when the memories of my grandfather are fresh in my mind. Blogger and writer Sam DeBrito presented this wonderful, heart-rending piece of memorial for her grandfather by 12-year old Pia from the remote town of Weipa in Queensland, Australia.

Hate, love and in-between

I hate funerals, everyone crying, whimpering and sobbing, Kleenex and soggy hankies flying everywhere. I can hear the Frank Sinatra My Way music sailing in as my grandfather's coffin is carried by my older cousins and relatives.

"Regrets I have a few but then again, too few to mention," I hear the deep, strong-as-a-lion voice of Sinatra belting in my ear. It is like a big annoying fly I can't get it out of my head, that won't ever go away.

I'm certainly not going to cry. I'm not that sad. There are an obese amount of people here, relatives I don't even know, you'd think my grandad was Elvis Presley or something. I'm sitting next to my mother who's literally crying her eyes out. She's looking at me sideways like I'm some extra-terrestrial. She must think my blood is made from ice and that my heart is a hard, freezing icebox, refusing to make any emotion whatsoever.

"He was a wonderful grandfather, Dad, and a mighty man all round," sobs my cousin Ben. He looks like a wreck, his eyes like gushing waterfalls, full of fresh, raw and clear water.

I've got better things to think about. It's in the middle of the day and the sun is outside, sauntering through the windows, bringing life into the dark and disturbed room. You'd never know it, there's nothing shining in here mentally. I'm too ashamed to look at anyone in case they take offence or get embarrassed.

Everyone is dressed very formally; tailored suits and dresses, good shoes, make-up. Most of the outfits consist of black, navy blue and brown - the most depressing colours in the rainbow. My grandmother is dressed up the best I have ever seen her, wearing a matching skirt and vest with horrible, 80's style, so-over-and-done-with shoulder pads. I feel like telling her to get with the times and throw them in the bin.

Everyone puts roses, daisies and tulips on my grandfather's coffin, which is made of hard oak with a nice glossy sheen, the best money can buy. Beautiful flowers, daffodils, tulips, some bright and some pastel - colours that stand out on the shiny coffin lid. They look fresh and premature like the beautiful gift of life has just burst into them.

I feel a lot of emotions: awkwardness, confusion, wonder, sadness. I start to remember. He was a wonderful man; tall, beer gut, bandy legs and a croaky voice. He liked a beer or two, or three or four. He was a great bloke to have as a grandfather; he treated me like a goddess, but with restrictions too. He taught me right from wrong, how to say a few Russian words and when a tomato was ripe enough to pick.

I'm suddenly struck by the fact he's no longer around. How will life go without him? I talked to him everyday, sometimes about my innermost thoughts and I never had to explain anything. I feel like an arrogant, too-good-for-this, too-high-class, insensitive idiot for not crying. I'm overcome with feelings of goodness and joy; the world feels like it has stopped, paused for a few moments.

A slow, long, wet drip slips from my eye and runs down my cheek. It feels like ice on my warm face. How did I let this happen?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Grandfather's passing

Why are children and grandparents very close?
Ans: Because they have a common enemy.

I got the call from my sister, I was at work, I heard the news and couldn't comprehend it for some time, then called my father, he was at work too but he did not know yet. I walked away and drove home, missing a few red-lights, not starting at a few green ones. My grandfather, one of the very few relatives I respected had passed away, I cannot think of going back and meeting him because he won't be there. What I will be meeting is the family he spawned and see his qualities in them.

Though we talked very less, it was more of the understanding that we shared. When he knew that I would be leaving for Australia he did not question my decision, rather encouraged me to go ahead. When I went home for the first time, I saw him first. He was there, tall and strong waiting for I don't know how long for me to come out of the terminal. When I touched his feet, he hugged me tight.

One of my earliest memories of him was sleeping besides him waiting for him to tell me a story. But he was working, cutting away at one of his Burqas. He used to stitch this gown worn by muslims, a Hindu himself. But work was work and he was good at it. He would come back and tell me a story of an elephant. I don't remember the story, 'cause I slept. It was a sleeping story.

He got all his five daughters married. It is a huge achievement in India, where the father of the bride does not only burden himself with the weddings but also a bit of dowries, he handled them all. He was around for the wedding of two of his grandchildren, my sister and my younger cousin. He wasn't just around, he helped with my cousin's wedding as well, monetarily and physically. He was lucky to play with his great-grand child-my niece. He was 85 when he passed away.

Always up for treats: ice-cream, sweets, Biryani, Paya (Hoove's curry), kidney curry, it was readily made under his orders. The grandchildren got most of his love. No request was denied. There would be no reason to request anything, they were readily available.

Always up for exercise and being fit, At 85, his diabetes was under control. He could walk down five storeys of a building without help, his much younger wife couldn't perform the feat. (Any one with problems with legs would know that going down a flight of stairs is harder than going up.). Him and his two elder brothers would finish a whole cooked goat in one go. I have never seen him sick or not at work. There were times he would be asleep, but the orders for Burqas would come from far and wide. His favourite story would be when he would walk all the way from Hyderabad to Secunderabad (about 12 km) to meet my other grandmother (my father's mother) who he was distantly related to.

All major events were celebrated with pomp. A garland and sweets for all birthdays were a must followed by a feast with Biryani being part of the main course. All of us grandchildren would demand feasts which were honoured. Invitations to such events could not be refused.

He was an epitome of optimism: Everything good always would happen (according to him), there was no reason for pessimism. My sister was getting married when my then would-be brother-in-law wasn't yet employed, when most of us wouldn't think of going ahead with wedding plans, his word was final: "He would get a job.No reason for us to postpone the date for that reason". And that was that.

In Hyderabad, Muharram is observed by Muslims. He was a part of it. The reason I mention this is because he being a Hindu was a significant participant. One of my ancestors (and his) found icons of Islam in a river and would make those icons a part of that Muharram observation, the rite passed on to him and he did his part, with great dedication. In January this year, when I was there, he couldn't come see me off for the same reason. Responsibility before family. I was disturbed that he had to apologise to me.

The most significant thing he did for me was he was always there. He had so many responsibilities but still there for me. When I went for my Defense Academy interview he came to the train station to see me off, he would tell me stories, he would take me along to feed pigeons, he would stand in a crowd for over two hours for me to come out of the airport, he would take me along to buy me a police dress (when I was four), he would want his grandsons to wear suits and he got them stitched for us (when I was 26), he was there by my side when I broke my leg and I was whimpering in delirium with pain (my father fainted then), he was an inspiration, he was the strength helping me make decisions, he wasn't a guide but he is the goal for me in my life. I wouldn't forget his optimism, his love of life, his love for celebrations and most of all his responsibility and love for his family. Baba I love you and rest in peace.