One of the earliest memories I have of him is of the night we returned from the US. I remember he bought Thums Up for us and though it was three in the morning, the entire family was chugging the drink on the first floor of the beautiful house he had built years ago.
After this, every memory of my growing years has him in it. He would be the guardian coming for our parent-teacher meetings, sit in the room while my sister and I studied in the porar ghor (which is my room today), often falling asleep and leaving us giggling with his thunderous snores. We’d take the opportunity to then pass chits and snacks to each other, while he slept blissfully on the floor of the room, comfortable in just his lungi and poite.
His would buy us whatever we needed—clothes, books, stationary, even underwear and other womanly items. He would cover our books before every school year started while we held the tape for him. Every other weekend, he and I would sit on the floor of our dining room and segregate all the biscuits he had bought in separate jars and tins. We would then eat those biscuits with tea on the floor of his room or the balcony; I would pour my tea into the saucer just like he would. Yes, we spent many an hour on the floor of our beautiful house.
Lunches at the Calcutta Club were always a grand affair, especially the Christmas lunches. A stop at the bakery before leaving was always a must. The discussion at the lunch table however, always embarrassingly revolved around my bathroom ordeals—so much so that today, I have no qualms in discussing the same with just about anyone.
I remember seeing him cry, for the first time ever, and my heart broke. I literally heard the snap and thinking of the image, I cried for hours afterwards.
He would drop me to the bus stop every single day till I was in my A-Levels and stopped going to school by bus. He would carry my bag, hold my hand and we’d cross the road till I was 16 years old. Once when my bag fell over into the fenced garden against which we’d lean and wait, he tried climbing over the fence to retrieve it—he was around 70 then. When it was time to start using the metro, he went on a few trial runs with me so that I would get the hang of it.
The amount of time I spent on the phone was always a bone of contention between us—why wouldn’t I just use that time studying instead? He often lectured my friends and me—he used to say, I don’t have two granddaughters, I have so many, because my sister’s and my childhood friends, especially my three chuddy buddies, were like his own.
The first time we had to rush him to the hospital, I was scared. I was petrified, but for some reason, I did not fear losing him. That thought had just not occurred to me. I mean, he had, after all, said that he wanted to settle our accounts over all the years with his nath-jamais (grandsons-in-law). So where would he go? He was going to give us away.
My AS Level results came a month before he actually left. I was thrilled and so was he—I got all A’s. He showed me off at his office (yes, the man worked till his last day) and brought home mishti. We then ordered pizza and I remember planting a kiss on the forehead of the man who was responsible for my “flying colours”.
About a month later, I had to fill out some forms and submit them to the British Council for a paper I was giving early, for my A-Levels. I took them on Friday but one signature or some such thing was missing, so the submission was incomplete. The perfectionist OCD kind of person that he was, he wanted at least five different copies of these to be kept with different people at different locations, just in case. I brought back the incomplete forms which he then completed.
Monday morning, as I was leaving the house, I looked up to wave him goodbye; he was hanging off the balcony yelling “BC BC!”, reminding me to go to British Council, submit the forms and bring home the photocopies. Anyone hearing this out of context would think he was yelling out a very dirty swear word.
I dutifully did all that I was told and brought the copies for him. He breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that now I would be able to give my exam.
Later that night, I was studying for an accounts test, my least favourite subject. He knew I preferred to study at night. But this night, for some reason, he called me up to sleep by 11:30pm. I would sleep in his room—him of the floor and me on the bed. He used to say that the AC’s direct vent bothered him, but I suspect that was not true.
Surprisingly, without arguing, I too shut my books and went up. He told me he was feeling well now (he had had a cold and fever the past few days) and that I should sleep since I had to wake up early. That was the last conversation I ever had with him. The next two weeks or so are a blur and yet I remember every single moment of it.
Birthdays have always been a big deal for us—a cake is a must. Today he would have turned 85. How I wish he was here so that I could turn to him for advice, and so that he could meet my special someone (I think he’d like him) and so that he could give me away. I try not to shed tears on his birthday; I definitely eat cake. The tears bit is easier said than done, but the cake is easy peasy.
Happy Birthday Dadu. Everything I am today, is because of you—my perseverance, my tenacity, the strength of my character, my values and ideals—everything. I know you’re still around, looking out for Di and me, proud of what we’ve accomplished today, waiting for it to get even better, because as you would say, “Ashol’er theke shudh beshi.” (The interest is always greater and more important than the principal amount).