A bittersweet memory…

It’s now over a decade since my grandfather (paternal) passed away. Everyone has their own memories to share when it comes to remembering Thatha. I hear from Paatti stories about what a sharp, intelligent mind he had. I hear from Appa about how staunch a supporter he was of education. I hear from other family members tales of how hardworking he was – what all he went through to come up in life, to build a family and to provide for all their needs. I hear from my sisters / cousins about what a great grandfather he was.

And I… I have one memory, and it’s bittersweet.

Unlike my relationship with my grandmother, my bond with my grandfather was never strong. For reasons unknown to anyone in the family, my grandfather and I got off on the wrong foot. No one remembers why or how, but my grandfather and I hardly ever spoke to each other. We didn’t grow apart; this wasn’t something that happened gradually with time… it’s been that way for as long as I remember. We lived under the same roof for over a decade, yet, the only conversations I remember having with him from back then involves either me inviting him after dinner table was set, or him letting me know that someone was looking for me, or me acting as a messenger, relaying a piece of info to him from someone, at the most.

Growing up alongside him for years together only strengthened my resolve to keep my distance. And it made me reason with myself and dig out theories as to why I didn’t take the initiative to get to know him better. While my sisters and cousins would merrily gather around him to hear him tell a story on a Sunday afternoon, I would go about doing chores. While the children in the family would run to hug him when he returned home after a trip, I would stand there and stare. While everyone in the family showed both respect and fear for the patriarch, I was merely indifferent. So, like I said, our relationship was complicated… or was it simple and straightforward? Depends on how one looks at it, I suppose.

The lack of interest in mending the broken bond (or, should I say, in creating a bond where nothing existed before) was mutual. It wasn’t just me who was unconcerned; he took the same stance. His affection for my sisters had no bounds. And they reciprocated. Perhaps he had the same warm grandfatherly feelings for me as well, but it never showed… when it came to me, he only got involved when requested and let me be otherwise. With time, both of us adapted to live comfortably in the our own cocoons without needing the other’s company, learning how to well hide any emotions – be it anger or fondness –  we may have felt for each other.

Years down the line, my father secured a job in a different city and we moved out. This only weakened what was left of the relationship. We grew farther apart. Some holidays were spent visiting the grandparents, and the excitement, for me, was only about meeting grandma, not grandpa. And it didn’t feel like I was missing much.

In the summer of 2000, we moved back to Madras and lived, temporarily, with the grandparents while my parents looked for a suitable residence near school. At this time, my grandfather’s health was deteriorating by the day. All his children and their families were around. Even with rising health issues, he managed to spend as much time as possible with his family. It was then that my affection for him surfaced a bit. I don’t really know if it was seeing a strong man like him bedridden or if something inside of me really changed, but grief overtook me the same way it did all others. And, hence, when the elders decided that it was better to let the children be elsewhere and not see their grandfather in that condition, I refused to go; and, left with no other option, my sisters and my cousin were sent away to spend a couple of days with my uncle and aunt, while I stayed back.

I can still remember that afternoon like it happened yesterday. I was in the terrace with my cousin when my uncle came rushing. He told us that the doctor was called as Thatha wasn’t responding all too well, and the doctor arrived only to give the news that Thatha’s organs were failing, one after the other. He doesn’t have much time, my uncle said, he wants to see you. I exchanged a gaze with my cousin and got ready to walk behind her to see what Thatha wanted her for. My uncle let out a cry – why are you staring at her? He wants to see you!, he said. And before I could totally grasp the fact that he was talking to me, I was rushed inside the house.

I sat by the bedside and waited for Thatha to open his eyes. My uncle leaned towards Thatha and whispered to him that I’d come. Thatha opened his eyes and put in all the efforts that he could to keep them open. He took my hand in his and with much difficulty spoke… I want to go for a walk; I want to go outside; will you please take me? he asked. I looked around and then at Thatha. I told him he wasn’t in a position to go out for now and that I would take him as soon as he got better. But this is as good as it’s going to get. It’s all downhill from here. And I have so much left to do. I have to get to the bank now. Let’s go, please, he pleaded again. I held his hand closer, gripped it tighter. The sight was nothing short of heartbreaking. How can the man as strong and as powerful as he be pleading to me? I controlled my tears as much as I could, but they refused to stay in. My eyes went blurry. I tried hard not to lose eye contact. I told him it was just a matter of time before he got better and I would take him right after the doctor gave me an ok. The next few minutes were spent with everyone around him trying to explain to him that everything can wait and that, right now, he needed to rest. But I want you to take me out. You’re the only one who I know will listen to me, he uttered and closed his eyes for one last time.

I cried. Those were the only few minutes of our lives that we spent in such closeness. To date, neither I nor anyone knows why Thatha asked to spend his last few minutes with me. When everyone – his children, his grandchildren (my elder cousins), his daughter-in-laws, his son-in-law, his doctor and most important of all, his wife – were all around him, why me? I don’t know and I never will. I’m just grateful that I got to spend that time with him. It’s those few precious moments that has given me a fond memory to last a lifetime and more.

Had he lived through his ailment and been around today, I don’t know where our relationship would stand. There are still things that I can’t look past or let go. And it is for that reason that I am unable to picture a perfect loving relationship with him. I might have taken steps to work out our differences. I might have opened up to him about what actions of his made me develop a cold front towards him. I might have given us a chance to reconcile. But none of that matters… All I have left is a memory, etched so deep in my mind, of the day I sat beside him, held his hands and, I hope, helped ease his pain a bit. And that thin ray of light brightens our relationship and aids in overlooking, if not forgetting and forgiving, the dark shadows that surround it.

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  1. #1 by Jas on August 16, 2012 - 12:43 am

    I can understand how painful it can be to lose your grandfather. The thing that he wanted to see you at the end shows how deep, even if it was not all sweet, the bond was. God bless you.

    thank you…

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  2. #2 by The Girl Next Door on August 16, 2012 - 1:17 am

    Sigh! This is so sad, Titaxy!
    I hope those last few moments of closeness you had with your Thatha relieved his pain at least a little bit.

    i hope so too…

    Like

  3. #3 by Ashwathy on August 16, 2012 - 2:10 am

    This post brought a lump to my throat. Hugs!

    thank you for the hugs.

    Like

  4. #4 by Bikramjit Singh Mann on August 16, 2012 - 4:57 am

    Dont know what to say, I was very very close with my grandfather both of them , and shared so many beautiful moments with them, they both taught me the values of life , sadly both of them are no more now , and I miss them .. you were there with him that time, I am unlucky i was not their and I heard the news on a phone call i was in uk then.

    I am sure he is watching over you .. Hugs your way .. take care

    Sorry to hear about your grandfathers, Bikram 😦

    Like

  5. #5 by kismitoffeebar on August 16, 2012 - 12:16 pm

    Hugs to you. Those few moments you had with your grandfather are beautiful – beautiful way to say goodbye. You were with him, held him ….. It may evoke extreme feelings of happiness and sadness all at once but just knowing that it happened is comforting somewhere….. Hugs !

    thank you!

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  6. #6 by Kragsr on August 16, 2012 - 1:42 pm

    It is just that different people attribute different meanings to the same thing. What you might have perceived as X, your grandfather might have attributed a different meaning and reason to the way he behaved. What ever they might have been, certain bonds are strong enough to show their strength at the right time.
    This is one thing i generally get afraid of – that there might be a time in future when i might look back at the way things were, and worry that for some reason or the other, i could have been better with the people i love and care about ….. .

    true. but, honestly, i don’t look back and wish things were different, in this case. had he lived longer, our relationship might have taken a different course – given that i would’ve grown up enough to talk to him openly about things that bothered me. but otherwise, i wouldn’t change a thing…i don’t feel bad for the years i missed out; it was because of some of his actions that affected me deeply and that wouldn’t change.

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  7. #7 by Comfy on August 16, 2012 - 3:29 pm

    Relationships are so complicated, are they now? In a way, I think he was relieved that you did not upload him to the expectations of being the grandfather that everyone expected him to be. That he never pushed you to think differently or shower you with unnecessary love when you were clearly not open to it makes me respect him as a person. Glad you have that one special memory of him and that he had you with him when he needed it.
    Hugs T.

    the ever-so-wise Comfy, puts it so aptly. thanks for the hugs!

    Like

  8. #8 by Psych Babbler on August 16, 2012 - 4:53 pm

    It’s a very touching post T. In some cases it’s like a better late than never situation. It’s interesting how we might go through life ambivalent about someone or something and then, an opportunity might arise to show us that they do mean something to us after all. Hugs T!

    thank you!

    Like

  9. #9 by Achu on August 17, 2012 - 5:23 am

    A totally heartfelt post. Made my eyes well up. 😦
    I guess death beds are where people have certain realizations. Even having been aware of your relationship with him, maybe he couldn’t do anything. Sometimes we ending up waiting all our lives expecting the other person to make an approach. I am so glad that he chose to spend his last few moments with you. Hugs!!

    yupe, i’m glad to have had those few moments too. thanks!

    Like

  10. #10 by metherebel on August 17, 2012 - 8:25 am

    So touching. Very beautifully expressed! How we wish we could have changed somethings about the past.

    thank you!

    Like

  11. #11 by Priya on August 20, 2012 - 6:22 am

    Bittersweet indeed! Like Comfy says.. relationships are complicated.. and we cannot be very sure of what the other one is feeling or going through..
    Very touching post T. Hugs!

    thank you!

    Like

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