I had heard many people talk of him but only fleetingly. I did not really care to listen to too much because they would be talking amongst themselves and I would just pass through.
However, I moved to Pune in 2009 and I went to meet my aunt. This was the first time I was ever going to see her. She is my mom’s cousin and truth be told, I learnt of her existence only a few days before I went to Pune. So, not that close an aunt, as you can imagine.
I went to her place on a Saturday morning and sat down with a cup of coffee. (Filter coffee after a bloody long time. Bliss, already) I started talking to my aunt (who I grew very fond of and who often let me treat her home, and her amazing library, as my own, and who I visited many many times during my stay in Pune) and she was asking me the usual questions of where I studied etc. Out of the blue, she said, ‘your grandfather was a very fine man.’ I was quite taken aback.
A little bit of family history here. My aunt is actually my mom’s mom’s cousin’s daughter. So, my mom’s second cousin from her mom’s side. And here she was talking about my grandfather, who I did not know how many times she had even met. My aunt’s dad (or my grand uncle) moved to Pune well before my aunt was even born and my aunt has been to Madras but only on vacations.
She went on and told me that every time she went to Madras, she used to go to my mum’s place and sit and talk to my grandfather. She said, ‘you know, he was such a cultured man. He used to make us sit around and he spoke to us in such a way that we felt as if we were equals.’
And then I met my grand-uncle (aunt’s dad) and he too said some glowing things about thatha. After that, I started asking my mother for more stories about my thatha and grew ever more fascinated by the man.
I went on a trip to Kerala with my parents and my mama (amma’s brother). My mum grew up in Kerala and we went to Quilon, where she lived for a few years. We met one of her old old friends (one she hadn’t seen for about 40 years!). Quite a reunion that. He had some wonderful things to say about my grandfather as well.
And then my mom told me that in those days, the import of rice into Kerala was not allowed. And in those days, it was almost impossible to get white rice. It was predominantly the par-boiled rice. So my thatha did something quite brilliant. He had an old FIAT. He hollowed the back seat and put rice into it and drove across the border. With my mum and uncle as kids sitting on the seat, no one even bothered to look.
He used to love driving and every trip was fun. Apparently, he was the epitome of the saying that it is the journey that is the point of the journey and not the destination. He used to stop all along the way whenever he saw fresh fruits along the side of the road or when he saw some cashew nuts or dried fruits. Every year, he used to drive to Tirunalvelli (where my uncle was studying in a boarding school), pick up my uncle and then drive on for a holiday somewhere, finishing the trip in Madras before going back to Kerala.
I also learnt some remarkable things about him. I learnt that from 1958 to 1982, he kept a record of the expenses of every single month, right up to the annas and paisas. I learnt that he wrote a diary every single day. I remember seeing him write. He had this wonderful scrawny little font and he wrote every single day, unerringly.
This was a story that will forever stay with me. My mother was born in the end of July. Since everyone thought it was the end of July, her date of birth was entered officially as 31st July. Then, many years later (I think when she was in class ten), an uncle of hers (who was an astrologer) got a doubt. Apparently, another niece of his was born on the 1st of August and she was of another Nakshatram(star). ‘There cannot be a gap of two nakshatrams in one day’, he said. And he was sure that his other niece was born on the first of August.
They checked it in my thatha’s diary and sure enough, the entry for the 30th of July read thus,
‘Am in Bangalore. Have come here for a conference. Got the news. A healthy baby girl was delivered today…’
A remarkable man, my grandfather was; one of those very few people who can truly be called that. He died in 1996. I was barely 9. I wish I had known him better. It’s his birthday today. He would’ve been 89.
Happy birthday thatha.