Friday, April 15, 2011

At Ninety Five, It was a good life.

My grandfather passed away today.

He was in his 95th year. Amazingly fit - still doing yoga, pranayam, regular walking and so on. Completely independent. But he had had enough. He was tired.

For the last few days, he had not been feeling well. He had a bad cough and was getting weaker and weaker. He kept stating how he was ready to go and resisting attempts to medicate him. I think his basic problem was loneliness.

His wife passed away 3 years ago. He lived in the same complex we do, with my Bua. He was well taken care of but lacked company. I tried to spend time with him, but somehow never could find the time.

We went to visit him yesterday, and it struck me how this was the one man in my life whom I have never fought with; and who always saw good in me. Who always saw me as that little baby 'the sweetest child in our family'. Who mistakenly believed I was still as sweet even now. Who was one of the only people who told Vijay 'You're so lucky to have her', whereas usually we seem to be getting it the other way round. The man who unconditionally loved me, and believed in me so blindly is gone. I'm being selfish about this, of course. The fact is that it's good that he's gone with minimal suffering when he felt he was ready.

He was especially fond of Vijay, though. He absolutely loved him. Papa was into Shayari, having studied Urdu and Vijay, thanks to his general interest in the subject could actually keep up with him, and they exchanged many wonderful moments in the last few years engaging on this topic. When Papa would struggle to remember the second line of a famous couplet, Vijay would search for it on his iPhone and delight him with it. There's no one who brought more joy to Papa in his last couple of years, and for that alone, I know I married the right guy.

It's great that Papa got to meet Pickle and Papad - although his favorite remained Peanut. So much so that he actually said that she was as sweet as I had been in my childhood. He often reminisced about the days when I made him take me into the forest at Alaknanda. In fact, just yesterday he mentioned, how obsessive I was about the peacock feather that I needed to find, and that beyond a point how I would get tired and he would have to carry me on his shoulders.

Vijay was listening to this story and retorted with an inspired 'So nothing has changed Papa. I still have to give her the peacock feathers she demands and carry her around on my shoulders'. They both laughed at me for a while and then went back to the Urdu.

Papa's one regret towards the end was that it looked like he wouldn't get to read my book. When he mentioned it a couple of days ago, I obsessively took a printout in a large sized font of the first 50 pages and presented it to him. I checked with him yesterday - he had only managed to read a couple of pages but he was still full of praise for my style of writing.

The funny thing is that I had presented him with some sample chapters - 3 in total out of about 30. He had read them a few months ago and given them back to me. He later confided in me seriously that it was a 'very good book' and that he was 'sure that someone would publish it'. I looked at him suspiciously for a while and asked him if he was aware that there was more to the book than the 3 chapters I had given him just like that. He was surprised and delighted to know that there was more where that came from. Pity he'll never read it, but yes, the endeavor has his blessing.

Papa had a tough beginning to life and so much more to it than I'll know. I wish I had had more patience to listen. But the fact is, I don't think this time round I'm going to be beating myself up on this. I know I did get to spend at least some time with him, though I wish I had done more. I know I gave him a lot of love. I know we had a very special bond. I always viewed him as some sort of a last link to my own father who passed away at the age of fifty three. Papa was an amazingly special, lovable person. I don't think he hurt anyone, ever. In fact, he was a doctor and he saved lives in the little towns and villages of MP where he was posted. It feels good to know that there are some qualities I probably have inherited from him, although maybe they still need to manifest themselves more.

Papa's own father died when he was in the womb, having been killed by some tribals. He had a difficult childhood and was a very sickly child, and recalls his mother carrying him around 'from sadhu to sadhu' in desperate attempts to find a cure for his condition, whatever it was.

I sat down with him a couple of years ago, and opened a word doc on my computer called 'Papa'. I was determined at the time to find out more about his long and eventful life so that I could base some sort of a story on it. Unfortunately, I didn't get very far on it, just spent a little time listening to it and then had to leave and never completed the exercise. But still, no regrets.

Today I was at the office when I got a call from Vijay saying that my mother had called him and that Papa was very ill. I rushed home. I was very lucky to have 5 minutes with him before he passed away. I don't know if he registered that I was with him, and holding his hand. I was the only one who made it in time - I would have missed it if we had stuck with our original plan of my picking up Vijay from his office first, but I got dropped off on the way. I saw Papa looking sicker than he had ever looked before - great, rasping, uncomfortable, gurgling breaths. When it was over and he suddenly became peaceful, I was incredibly glad. He took a lot of care to maintain himself and remained so active till the end - I wish he hadn't had to suffer at all, but it was brief and now I know he is at peace. The loss is entirely ours, but we're lucky to have had him as long as we did.

The point is that even yesterday, in his condition, he was telling us about how God has been so kind to him always - he didn't have any complaints despite the fact that it's been a rocky, up and down ride for almost a century. So if so close to the end of your life, your primary feeling is that of gratefulness, it's probably been a pretty good life overall. At least, that's what I figure.

So yes. We will miss him. But one cannot really mourn this one because the most important thing is that it was a complete life and we were so lucky to be his children.

In fact, after he had told Vijay 'you're so lucky to have her' he remembered to add 'and she is lucky to have you'.

Vijay said spontaneously 'But I'm luckier, Papa...because of her, I got to meet you'.

So anyway. Everything is as it should be. What more can one ask for?


  1. It's a very touchy post, I pray his Soul rest in peace.

  2. Beautiful...a life well lived. RIP.

  3. My condolences Y..What a nice Tribute...and indeed you are lucky to have had him in your life...


  4. I had to comment on this...
    My condolences to the family and since I had the pleasure of meeting him personally, It was great to hear that he was at peace at the time.

    Very touching. As always, you are a great writer.

    I will be one of the first ones to line up and get your book.

  5. Y,
    like you say,no regrets.we spoke abt him a couple of weeks back- you remember?
    Send healing to him through your daimoku,you will be amazed at how peaceful you will feel....

  6. There's no need for me to say, 'May he rest in peace', for, sure, he will! A superb innings! Well played, Papa!

  7. Sorry to hear about it, Y! May his soul rest in peace... am sure once your book is out, he will get to read it from up there and smile in appreciation!

  8. This is such a lovely tribute to him. He sounds wonderful

  9. Very beautiful. Can't imagine what else to say.

  10. Beautifully expressed. He seems to have been a 'grand old man'...

  11. Just read this. I'm glad you were there, and reading this tribute now I know why you moved to Gurgaon from Mumbai when you did. I think you were truly blessed to have him in your life. Big hugs.


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