It’s been almost a year since my NANA died. Recently, my mom told me how he never saw his mother. She died when he was about 6 months old and was raised by his aunt. Mom was reminiscing, perhaps as a result of longing than pride in her Baba. Stories of his life were never really dramatically glorified, or repeated like a family folklore. He led a very non-chalant life.
Born pre-independence, he was a Gandhian through and through. One of my favourite anecdotes from his life was how he loved my mother the most of his 6 children for she was her first-born daughter. Daughter – to celebrate a girl-child in the rural, conservative corner of India in the late 60s is as rare as education in his state of Bihar. But in his time, he was a graduate. Infact, More educated than most of his kids or grandkids today. Though what I always found attractive about him was he seemed to be the first elder who was clear in his ways of life yet never authoritative or imposed it on us. This is in a society where everybody was akin to a routine passed down generations, perhaps, as a cautionary mindset germinating from the terrors our nation has been through. But in this very chaos, he stood alone on his feet with his hand holding a book, rather than grabbing another hand.
Decades later, he left behind that book for his dear daughter. In 82 years, he never took a penny from his sons, just left a lot behind. He made his own living in a shop attached to the house he lived in. I have fond memories of that house. Perhaps, one of the most happy places known to me.
As a kid, the only thing I could appreciate was vast open places to play. And the house had lots of it : A terrace, climb another flight of stairs to another terrace and then walk across to the front of the house to another terrace. Every morning my NANA would feed grains to a flock of pigeons through generations of pigeons and humans. There were multiple ways to get to these terraces but perhaps my favorite was through the stables where he kept the cow and the calf. I never learnt their names, but they were dearest to my NANA. I never had a pet and the stable was closest to my understanding of the word as a child.
The cow was let out for fodder at sunset in the morning, after he died. He would not travel much for his cow won’t accept care from anyone else. The cow came back quietly sitting outside in front of the house. It won’t move. Many tried, but it won’t go inside. Mom said there was tears in her eyes. She sat there, perhaps mourning her father. A life interwoven with so many lives has evacuated the home that morning. I never knew why but some monkeys paid visit to his corpse as it was laid in the courtyard.
My best nights will always be on the khats laid out there under the stars. I always liked to visit the village for the stars. It is this what my NANA called his humble abode. His fulfillment and perhaps, internal peace.
About a month before he died, his first grandson had a daughter. It was as if life has reached a full circle from his first daughter to his first granddaughter. He flew all the way across the country to celebrate the birth of his great grand daughter, and demanded it be a grand one. Even in modern India, the birth of girl child could be deemed in a grey tone. He insisted on making it a grand affair inviting everyone to grace the occasion. He was in perfect health, fit to travel, and animated to talk.
He met everyone, said goodbyes, his final one. Nobody obviously knew that though, except I think he. Before returning, he disclosed to my mother the wealth he has left behind for his wife — my NANI. He left the book and the money with my mother, and declined the invitation to, then upcoming, my sister’s wedding. It’s as if he knew his time has come. Him and nobody else.
At 82, he was a self-sufficient man wearing his all-white attire, cleaned to the thread. He died after he reached back home, 4 days later. 4 days! I clamour for an extra hour with my best friend as I used to leave for college. But he –
I would dissuade from asserting what he felt. I didn’t meet him in his last days. Everything I know is an account from my mother. But even if I did, I don’t know what I could write post “he –”
May be humility, internal peace, or happiness. Or may be a word that scholars didn’t invent for they never could understand. It was his time – to retire from his life. One of my favorite human beings, Naval Ravikant, told: Happiness is a sense that nothing is missing.
I don’t think I have met anyone who was as humble as him. His content spirit etched in the consciousness of all of us. He didn’t seem to miss anything. My mother likes to say how my father cried a lot, even more than my mother. I don’t know why I just wrote that.
The night before, for the first time in about 50 years, he worked till midnight as he closed all accounts and shut down his shop. Tying every knot. Tied every knot. Filled his own glass of water, gulped it down and rested his eyes. He died an hour and half into his sleep. What did he dream in those 90 minutes? Perhaps, he learnt THE TRUTH in these last moments. Or perhaps, nothing!