01 October 2016.
It was a night like no other. Eerie silence pervaded throughout the house. Light sobs broke out occasionally. All the lights in the house were on. Our house was filled with people. Everyone was gathered around, trying to find comfort in each other’s company. It was the first time I had encountered such a situation. And there I was, peeping at it all from the gap between the stairs.
I had been studying for my SSC prelims in my room, when the doorbell suddenly rang. I was startled, and looked up to check the time. It was past 10, on a Sunday night. ‘Why would someone come home right now?’ I couldn’t help but wonder, as I quietly crept downstairs. There was something weird about the whispers that were flitting through the house. The door was ajar, but I couldn’t see anyone around. ‘Where was everyone?’ I shrugged, but thoughts of Geometry occupied my mind and I ran back upstairs. I sat down, got back to struggling with the theorems….tensed about the prelims which were to start in 2 days. Yet again, I heard someone enter the house, the whispers getting louder. I tried to concentrate but curiosity got the better off me. So I was back to creeping downstairs, when suddenly my grandfather’s brother intercepted me. “Shivani…” His voice broke into a sob. A chill ran down my spine as I looked at him with a questioning glance. “Half an hour ago…” He couldn’t go on; instead he just silently lead me down. Into the room where my grandfather had taken residence almost 3 months ago. There he was, sleeping peacefully. Finally at peace. Having left behind all his pains. And us.
It was the first time I encountered Death at such close quarters. I gasped and ran from the room. I looked around for my grandmother and there she was….sitting in a corner, lost to the world. She wasn’t crying, but her eyes had a vacant look. My mother was in another corner, just staring at the floor. My father was near the telephone, informing the rest of the family. My aunts were there with their families; my cousins looking at me. People just kept coming into our house, but I had stopped registering their faces. Someone hugged me; someone else patted me on the back. Someone tried to console me by saying ‘Everything will be alright’, but my mind was in utter shock. How could he leave? How could the most stubborn man I’ve ever known, give up his fight so easily? How could the head of the family walk away, without a Goodbye?
He was overjoyed the day I was born. My uncle tells me how my grandfather couldn’t wait even a second to see the newly born me. And the moment he saw me, he fell in love. He was a strict man, but always lenient with me. He let me sleep in long hours, he let me get away with my mischief around the house. He laughed at my attempts to speak, and he lovingly nurtured my love for reading. Each birthday and achievement earned a book and my language flourished over the years. The first time I actually tried my hand at expressing my thoughts, ironically, was the night he died.
I thought back to all the memories with him, and the words flowed that night. I kept writing at a furious pace, hoping that the void filled itself up. Ten years later, I am still writing at a furious pace, knowing well that the void will always remain so.
A void that I call ‘Nana’. A man who built some famous bridges across the city; and also built relationships who outlived him. I was often asked by complete strangers if I was Narayan kaka’s granddaughter, and my heart always filled with pride as I nodded my head. There was a news article about him a few days after he passed away. I had read it hungrily, and was shocked to realise I knew so little about him. And perhaps, that was his biggest achievement.
That he never flaunted, never bragged. He was a family person, who cared and looked after his loved ones. He helped me with my homework, played cards with me, sat himself in a discreet corner of the audience when I faced the stage for the first time. He was proud, and yet he never let on. He encouraged us to be better, he made sure we never backed down. He was his own man, never dependent on anyone.
So perhaps it was no surprise that when an illness left him bedridden and dependent on others for every little thing, he preferred to die. We saw him sink and heard the doctors tell us ‘It is only a matter of time.
He used to always sit across me, at the dinner table, looking over at me slowly eat my food. He was always the first to finish, I was always the last. He always asked for my help while changing the bed sheets, and till date I feel him tugging them from the other end. Looking back, I don’t remember ever directly joking around with him. I was in awe of him and even today, I wonder if he approves of my life decisions ever since. He wasn’t there when I passed my SSC and HSC exams; he wasn’t there when I chose English as my major subject for graduation. He wasn’t there when I flew to the UK for my Masters and he was missing from my wedding. So many milestones in these ten years, and each witnessed only by the photograph hanging on the wall. What would he say, had he been there?
I think I know. Because although that night, he physically left us, he still lives on in various ways. My father has his eyes, my cousin has his hair. His grand children have his stubbornness. And the entire family has memories, some exclusive and some shared.
With this ‘grand’ personality who once lived.