Written on 22-Feb-2012
He was my grandfather. He is no more. It is not easy to put into words, all that I have known, felt or thought about him. It is not easy, especially when he’s gone, to think long and hard about all that he did and all that he stood for – 92 years’ worth of thought, action, belief, love, kindness, generosity and support. He was all of these; and much more. And he has left us poorer. It is not easy to be all these things. It is not easy to write about such a man.
He was born in a dusty corner of Bengal, in 1919, when the modern world was being born – out of the embers of the Great War. With 7 younger siblings to guide and shepherd and an uncertain world to navigate, he surely had his share of burdens and demons. Cometh the hour; cometh the man.
My grandfather was a self-effacing man, a trait he probably picked up from his father. By his own admission, he was dismal at studies, though that never stopped him from demanding the highest academic standards from both my father and me. He used to say that there is no substitute for hard work and perseverance. And work hard he did; as indeed he needed to. There were younger siblings that needed to be put through school; sisters to marry off and parents to support. Although he had support from his elder brothers, their stories were cruelly curtailed, far short of their prime. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
My grandfather lived through an earthquake, a famine, a world war, a revolution for independence, another famine and finally a partition – with the riots that followed. A little later, as a parent and a husband, he coped with the Emergency, the Naxals and the sharp downward spiral of Calcutta and Bengal. It was not a stellar existence by all accounts. Certainly there were people around him that were more famous, richer; there were mouths to feed, backs to clothe, bills to pay, responsibilities to shoulder and standards to maintain – in some of the most difficult times that India has faced in the last few centuries. My grandfather did all this and more with a smile on his face, good cheer in his heart, faith in his maker and an unshakeable belief of never deviating from the straight and narrow path of honesty and personal integrity.
My earliest memory of him was the sight of him bending over the teapot at tea time in the evening, pouring boiling water with tender loving care of a father, or the pained meticulousness of an eye surgeon. He would stir the tea, mix the sugar and pour the milk, all commonplace acts; but he’d make it look like the most exquisite strokes of a master-painter or sculptor. The spoon would be tapped a precise three times on the rim of the cup and then set down next to the cup, on the saucer and offered. It was simple, clean, uncluttered somehow pristine and pure. It was as if every cup was different, every drink somehow tailored to the person drinking it. I have never felt the same thrill and anticipation at any other proffer of edible material ever.
This pained meticulousness was evident in every aspect of his life, especially his clothes. There was never a crease out of place and most were sharp enough to cut butter with. His clothes were simple, but also somehow always contemporary and stylish. His preference for things that endured was never more apparent than in his choice of timelessly elegant attire. He was, in a very Kiplingesque way, the pukka sahib of the old Raj. Resplendent, at ease and disarming; a kind word here and a gentle nudge of support there – the very essence of the enlightened, educated and liberal Bengali that made both the Empire and India what it was.
What especially brought us closer in the heady days of my pre-teenage adolescence were the stories about “Bantha”. This dog of unknown origin and lineage belonged to a friend of his from the Army. And for hour after hour during weekends and summer holidays I would be found perched on his knee listening to the latest escapade of this dog and his staunch ally, the family parrot. There were dangers from assorted milkmen, cats, religious zealots and all sorts and hues of people. I do not remember a single story, but I remember feeling somehow safe. Somehow, life was better because of Bantha.
Elsewhere in these chronicles, I had mentioned what my grandfather felt about his father, and that perhaps, in some small way will mirror what we felt about him. In the end what it all adds up to is love; not love as it is described in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order and encouragement, and support. His (my grandfather’s) awareness of this was an incalculable source of strength, and because real love is something unselfish and involves sacrifice and giving, he could not help but profit from it.
He was my grandfather; he was many things to many people. He lived his life in quiet happiness. He did not aim for the stars. He was content to be happy, with a little, to share that little with the people that he loved. Happiness, he once told me, was a choice that one needs to make. Dadu made that choice, every day; for himself and others around him. There will not be streets named after him, nor will there be monuments and statues dedicated to him. He will have to be content to be remembered by a few people – with great affection – as a good and decent man, who loved life and the people around him, who gave as freely as he received, who sacrificed a little of his future, so that others may have a far better one; and every once in a while be sought for advise, order and guidance about life and other acts of God that impede our time on this little rock.
It is not easy to be such a man; it is even less easy to write about him. But we will remember him, for who he was, what he stood for, what he taught us and what he leaves us with. It is a far greater calling, than he had in life – to be the light for those still here, from beyond the veil.