Tuesday, April 6, 2010
There’s Something About Dadu....
Dadu turned 76 yesterday. Most people (and I sometimes) find it rather unbelievable, that I actually have a grandfather who is 49 years older to me. Well he is. He married young, had a daughter, his daughter married young and had me within a year of marriage. The result? A 76 year old grandfather of a 27 year old granddaughter – both living it up and loving life immensely!
My childhood memories are ample–and memories of my grandfather go back as far as I can remember. We have always been a small, closely knit family and as such, my grandparents have been an integral part of my life. But I think I’m going to admit it. Of the four grandparents I’ve had, I was accustomed to categorizing them in order of preference. Dadu was always my favourite and ranked highest on my list of grandparents. After him, the categories were rather blurred. I mean I loved them all dearly, but I think I have always loved Dadu the most – no hurt intended to the dearly departed paternal Dadda and Thamma and my adorable Dida. I never questioned this classification, it just happened. And I continue to be as fond of him as I used to-possibly more so now since I know him better. I can’t help it. There’s just something about Dadu.
My scattered memories of childhood, youth and adulthood all have Dadu featuring prominently in them in the fortunate intermittent moments which I managed to spend with him. My earliest recollection of him dates back twenty years. No wait, more than twenty.
Dadu and Dida are pucca Kolkata people, having spent their entire lives there. Pre-retirement, Dadu invested a major portion of his working years with the Punjab National Bank in Kolkata. As such, he was often subject to transfers within the city and due to this, Dadu, Dida and Mom moved around Kolkata quite a lot.
My earliest recollection of Dadu’s home in Kolkata was this HUGE (by my standards) standalone bungalow, replete with a small garden at the back. I still remember the characteristic fragrance so typical to a Kolkata home, wafting in and out of the house. I remember the blue wooden doors and windows, the stone stairwell which connected our home to the landlady’s above, the adjoining sunny bedroom complete with mosquito netting, suitcases tucked away and attached devotion-imbued altar, the dining room with the dark, simple, wooden dining table and four chairs, the sparsely attired kitchen which like a mythical Greek jar, always had something for the hungry and the squeaking water pump outside the house.
What I remember most about the house though, is the corner table located to the right of the opening main wooden door, and more importantly Dadu’s green helmet which used to always sit on it, like an alert sentinel guarding the gates of a palace. Dadu used to drive a Bajaj scooter, riding which, was the highlight of all my early Kolkata visits. In those days Amul had designated milk outlets all over the city. During my visit, every morning, Dadu, astride the faithful Bajaj and with me standing guard in front of the seat, holding the handles, would head off to the nearby Amul milk dispensary. I used to revel in walking up to one of the taps, inserting the coin into the slot, placing the container under the tap and watching it eagerly as it filled with the precious liquid. I never remember doing that in Mumbai (which was Bombay then). My eyes light up even now, whenever I think of these little outings with Dadu, the grand old Bajaj scooter and the katoris filled with milk. Such simplicity! Such peace! Such wonderful memories!
My grandfather used to love narrating stories, while he put me to bed each night. Stories of his youth as a football player and how he cracked his bones during a game, grisly macabre stories of ghosts like how the banana tree shadow on the glass window was actually a forlorn dead bride waiting for her husband in the afterworld, anecdotes from his childhood when his father remarried and how his step mother tortured him, cross border stories of the partition, roots which go back to Chittagong in Bangladesh and how the partition tore the country asunder leaving indelible scars on the affected families forever, his meeting with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and stories of how as a children, Dadu with his friends, pelted stones at British officers from their terraces during the Independence struggle. Oh and yes, I remember him vividly on some nights when he would snuggle into the sheets, tuck in the mosquito net and sing me haunting lullabies like “dol dol dol, tol pal tol, chol bhashi shob kichu taiga.”
In the day times, I would keep him preoccupied with my obscenely naughty behavior. I remember lying him down bare chested on the bed, sitting on top of him and plucking out his chest hair one by one. I would be thrilled and there wouldn’t be a peep from him. (Surely, one who has silently endured pain such as this, to keep his granddaughter constructively or destructively in this instance occupied in such a manner, surely deserves the top spot in the said granddaughter’s affections). And then there would be the incessant visits to the Kolkata Zoo and the markets and the parks with the bunny rabbits running free and the green valley where mountains spanned the horizon till as far as the eye could see.
Leaving Kolkata would always be a veritable tear-jerker. I hated leaving Dadu and Dida (especially Dadu) for my lonely life in Bombay. An avid lover of stars and space, Dadu would educate me about the Saptarishi and other constellations, about the moon and the sun and the planets and the solar systems and all of this fueled what later became an awe-filled obsession about the cosmos, our origins and fundamental questions like where our place in the universe really is.
A continuous learner at heart, he was always reading and telling me about various plants and their fruits and flowers, interspersed with fictitious tales related to the botanical individuals in question. He has always been a man of books-driven by the written word and the awe of research.
In the later years, Dadu shifted to another house, which I remember for the tea served with animal shaped biscuits, visits to the Victoria Memorial and the famous market place at Park Street where they sold the spiral multi-coloured candy, the colouring books which would keep me occupied in the afternoons, the kitchen which continued to be as sparse as always and the lone singer in the flat opposite Dadu’s, who inspite of sporting a rather hoarse singing voice, kept at his riyaz day and night, much to the chagrin of the neighbours.
After a stint at this place, Dadu decided to shift to Bombay (Mira-Road to be specific), to be close to us. We selected the apartment, they came to Bombay bag and baggage in hand and Dida in her characteristic way made the house a home-a veritable heaven free of clutter, imbued with simple living. But a Kolkata person will be just that-a Kolkata person. Sure enough, they soon began yearning for their beloved city of joy and before we knew it, the house was sold and they had headed back to the city where they had lived their lives.
Now Dadu and Dida stay at Birati-close to Dum Dum Airport and by God’s grace I have been able to visit them more often in the past two years than I have been able to in the past 15 years.
And yes, as I said earlier, there’s something about Dadu. If I were to define him I’d find it difficult and easy at the same time. For he is one of the simplest, most uncomplicated individuals I have ever had the good fortune of coming across. He has no hang ups about life and money to him is just something one buys ‘Mishti Doi’ with. He seems to grow handomser each passing year and I have come to believe that this is not due to the sharpness of his physical features. This kind of handsomeness is brought on by beauty of personality, by many years of wisdom and by the light of respect that only a truly pure soul can warrant. And I can say without a doubt, that he is one of the most respected gentlemen in his circle. He LOVES his newspapers, holds no grudges and bears no one any ill will (except corrupt politicians who he detests witha vengenance).
He makes a joke of everything, he LOVES it when his family is close to him and his face darkens with equal intensity when it is time for them to leave. He revels in the sunlight and the rain, in the purity of love, in the joy of sitting in his verandah or walking amidst the trees. He refuses to call himself religious, but he participates with renewed vigour in every pujo every year. Underneath the façade of his “I don’t want to live anymore in this polluted world” routine, he lives each day with such positivity and infuses such brightness into each moment, that it becomes seemingly impossible not to love and adore him for who he is. That is how he braved and overcame the cancer that had threatened him with a sinister foreboding so many years ago and that is how he has braved pretty much everything in life.
Dadu just had laser surgery for cataracts in both his eyes and his vision is now as good as it can get. But I’d say his mind is sharper and his tummy larger (he’s a foodie, I treat him to butter cakes, parathas and sizzlers on the sly whenever I have the chance) now that he’s 76.
And yes, he really digs the astronomical telescope Sushil and I presented him recently.
What can I say? There’s just something about Dadu.