It was a Friday, the first of fifteen days of holidays. I was in the 9th standard. And, having just shooed away the exams in a thoroughly nonchalant and disdainful way, I was in my element, but I was not particularly happy because I was away from school – I couldn’t wait to get back to those classrooms. I was just practical enough to understand that this was a welcome break – a break that would make the return to school even sweeter.
I ran down the stairs and went to my grandparents’ place, and promptly switched on the TV. I remember that a cricket match was on. It was a time when I used to watch quite a lot of cricket. I never was fascinated with the sport – I realized that only later, sadly. I had been watching cricket only because I got to do that with my Thatha. He was a cricket fanatic. An ardent subscriber to India’s adopted National Sports Religion of Cricket, if there ever was one.
We always used to watch cricket (whenever possible) – together. Those were fun times. We used to sit in chairs with the TV just a foot away from us. And, my mother used to go ballistic, seeing that I was already bespectacled and that such close viewing would do me no good, and that only ‘Doordarshan’ was my cup of tea.
And, she used to get quite good-naturedly irate because the old man sitting next to me was bespectacled too, and used to pay no attention to her, whatsoever. She used to get bemused by such childlike behavior from her father. And I, in the secure clutches of Thatha, defied Amma easily and floated away into a world of boundaries and sixes with him.
Our discussions on cricket used to be really intense. We never got into fights – but we used to argue our cases passionately, enjoying ourselves. And it was only much later that I realized that I was able to watch and enjoy cricket not because of the game, but because of the resonating quality of my evergreen companion.
Little did I know about what was to come.
Thatha entered the room, coughing quite violently. My sister followed, with a very intense and worried expression on her face. As she was punching in some numbers on her phone, she was trying to coerce Thatha to go to the doctor with her – for reasons unknown then. And, on the behest of that call from my sister, Amma came rushing downstairs.
And, then, amidst the barrage of sound from the idiot box, I learned that Thatha was unwell – that he had coughed up blood. But, trying to act the hero – he did not want any of us to worry – he kept saying that he was really fine, and that incident should not mean something red. And, while the worried and anxious figures of Amma, Paati, and my sister tended to Thatha, I was still glued to the TV.
And, while the worried and anxious figures of Amma, Paati, and my sister tended to Thatha, I was still glued to the TV.
Eight months later, Thatha passed away.
After eight months of unthinkable and intense suffering, Thatha passed away.
I really have no sane idea of how many times I have thought of that incident in Thatha’s living room – when I watched TV while Thatha was ill. During the days that followed his death, I have been woken up many times in the middle of the night, being riddled and warped by that fateful incident. More than five years after that incident, I can say that I have got no closure whatsoever. And things have not changed – I still get nightmares that circle and ravage me.
I feel very guilty of being negligent of my Thatha then. That day itself, I had begun to lose my dear friend.
I have learnt so much from him. He taught me the Vishnu Sahasranaman. He was a man of immense spiritual intellect and he was a great teacher. I also learnt how to be punctual from him. And, to this day, for things that matter, I am punctual. For that matter, my parents are the epitome of punctuality too. So, I have had a host of people to look up to.
A curious matter came to light later on, via Appa. Apparently, Thatha never accepted money from any of his four children after he retired. He used to believe that he could conduct the affairs of his partner and himself admirably and independently. The pride and honour that he epitomized – I have rarely seen elsewhere.
Only after his demise did I realize that I had known so little of Thatha. On the night of his death, I was conversing with Paati – just light stuff; I was hoping to keep her mind off things. It was then that she told me about Thatha’s childhood days. And, I was in for a chilling tale.
Thatha’s family had been royalty. Yes. In their district, his father was the king. And, apparently, Thatha had been around places in chariots. And, his family had handed out clothes, food, and so many other things to the people. They were a happy, royal family. And then, due to unknown reasons, Thatha’s family was reduced to poverty.
Devoid of his father, and having to support his rather huge family of twelve, he set about to prove that he was the captain that was going to steady their dangerously rocking ship and sail them away to safety. And he really did do that.
I realized that I had known precious little of the man who had been my cherished companion for so long.
I realized that I had known precious little of the man who had been my cherished companion for so long. And my respect for the man grew to astronomical amounts as I realized that despite his childhood difficulties, he had given his family the best facilities, and had enabled them to be well-placed in the world. A great man he was, most definitely.
Thus began my seemingly never-ending journey though the sands of regret and remorse.
Last year, my sister showed me a picture of Thatha in his teens. He was with four of his friends. She told me that in his teens, Thatha and his friends had been the founders of a library there – the first library to house books in English. I was amazed at such a revelation. I was such a voracious reader and I was well on my way to becoming a rampant bibliophile, and yet I had never known that about Thatha.
Thatha’s death changed Amma and Akka irreversibly. I noticed the changes, yes. And Paati has never been the same again. Her health has deteriorated, and she misses her man more than ever.
Contrary to the wishes of most of the household, and being completely unmindful of Amma’s threatening tone, Appa took me along to the cemetery where Thatha’s last rights were done. Appa said that I was mature enough to handle it. People thought that I would break down; that I could not handle such things then, as I was still a child. But, I did not cry. I just took in all the proceedings like I was just a mere spectator. All uncles and elders consoled me – but to say the truth, I needed none of it. I was fine then because it just really had not set in – that Thatha was gone.
I will never forget that man’s presence.