I have come to believe that the most compelling stories of love can be assembled from what one finds in a tight knot of small acts of kindness.
When I was five years old, my mother was in a neighbouring town pursuing her M.Ed., and I, for the first time in my life, had mustered the courage to sleep in our room, alone. A series of nightmares racked my then tiny frame, and soon, I had fallen off my bed, injured my nose, bawled loudly, nose and eyes stinging, finding myself alone in a dark world. The first person to turn the lights on, cradle me in his arms, coo, coax and rock me gently back to sleep, was my grandfather.
I have slumbered on his tummy as a chit. I have adorned his sleeping face with lipstick. I have had my hair combed by his thick fingers, had my school socks put on lovingly by his firm, rough hands – the same ones that would nimbly weave black ribbons at the end of my plaits.
My superman taught me to whistle, how to pick musambis and brinjals. And how to treat every human of every walk of life, with respect. I acquired from him, pride, stubbornness, a flaring temper, a few theatrics, the love for animals, a sweet tooth, and the habit of reading.
His room has always smelled of talcum, and an unfathomable, grandfather smell. A smell that’s sunken so far into the room, that even the thick volumes in his shelves also smell of him. His blankets and sweatshirts are the snuggest – the ones I slip into when in troubled mind.
Home, for me, is a person. Home, for me, is my grandfather.
I am the only one in the world to call him by half his first name – and with successful response. The only one to call his nose a gigantic Samosa that was stuck onto his face as an afterthought. The only one who challenges his notions that he’s been graced with the looks of a Greek god.
But he is my unchallenged hero.
I have played with his prickly early-morning stubble, rubber-banded his scant hair with Love-In-Tokyos. I have hidden his dentures, and a few of my Hindi exam transcripts, secrets and tears. We have fought over seats beside my grandmother, the last chocolate, curfew and points of view. The rules to our Hide and Seek games are different: he never tells me he’s proud of me, but lets it occasionally slip to a talkative relative.
He has waited with me for school vans, bidding me into the brightest mornings of my childhood. He has waited for me to come home after work. Waited for me to grow up, understand the complexities of the world we live in.
We don’t talk very easily. When I’m overwhelmed, I hug him tight. When I can’t get myself to see how swollen his feet are, how tired his eyes seem, how creased his forehead is, I hold his hand and feel how alive he is, I tuck him into bed, press his feet, play with his eyebrows, and watch his tummy rise and fall as he sleeps.
We don’t talk very easily. So we sit outside on the balcony of his hospital ward, discussing the gold-kissed bamboo shoots that overlook it at a spectacular dusk, sharing a peanut-butter sandwich. The breeze tugs at his mood, and it soars, a colourful kite. He giggles.
We discuss books, music, movies, god, the future, the past, beer, marriage, children, careers, compromise, money. And each time, he gives me a piece of his mind, or a piece of his heart. And I tuck them away delicately, deep inside, holding on tight to every little gem he blesses me with.
His large, proud frame holds my small shoulders as he walks. One step at a time. I secretly revel in matching tiny footsteps with a superhero. My superhero.
Back in the ward, he reads my copy of Matilda, giggling as the pages fly. He consults with me about whether or not Mrs. Wormwood reminds me of his eldest daughter – my eldest aunt. We giggle some more. And soon, he is nodding off, his School-Principal glasses sliding slowly from the bridge of his Samosa nose.
I don’t notice that he’s awake, and that he’s been watching me for a while now. He asks me, “What are you reading?” Startled, I show him my Neil Gaiman. He reads the title aloud, weighing it, “Fragile Things”.
I read him my favourite quote, “I would rather recollect a life misspent on fragile things, than one spent avoiding moral debt.”
His eyes smile. He says, “Tell your grandmother that.”
Though I know I can never admit to you how scared I am,
I hope you know how much you mean to me.