Well, the vacation happened and it was nice, which is just as well since tough times loom ahead – the family situation is getting more intense generally. Shortly after touching down I learnt that my grandfather had passed away around 36 hours earlier. My dadi, one of the strongest, most pragmatic people I know, decided not to call and inform us because she felt it would spoil the last day of our stay and anyhow we couldn’t have made it back to Delhi more than a few hours before we were scheduled to. We missed the cremation, and that’s something I feel very bad about. My last memory of dadaji is of him wishing us well, telling us to “have a good time in Ceylon”. He turned 90 this March and much of his natural poise and authority – which impressed so many people during his lengthy army career – had been undermined after a stroke a couple of years ago. But he was still very alert given his age and circumstances, and still partial to a peg of scotch every evening.
Also, the vaguely old-world British style of speaking English was in place till the end. “How are you, my dear?” he would say to dadiji each morning in a clipped but warm voice, though most of their longer conversations were in Punjabi. They would have celebrated their 60th anniversary later this year and I worry about how she will cope. She had been prepared for his passing for a long time, and often voiced her hope that he would be the first to go (since he was so dependent on her), but dealing with the actual loss is of course a completely different matter. They had been together since she was 20 and he 30, and though it wasn’t a love marriage in the often-myopic way that we use that term today, it was built on respect, an attachment that kept growing over the years and an understanding that adjustments had to be made (in both directions, not just on her part) given their very different natures. They traveled the world together on his postings, on one occasion living for years in another country with no other family to depend on; they brought up a son who was to be a constant source of disappointment and trouble, and later in life they did everything they could for a grandson who couldn’t always be around for them. It’s difficult to imagine the strength they must have derived from each other through all the good and bad times.
Most people don’t have to wait till their thirties to experience losing a grandparent for the first time, but in my case one grandparent (my nana) died before I was born and the other three have had extremely long lives. This has had its good and bad sides. On one hand, it’s been painful to see them get old and fragile, constantly afflicted by illnesses, dependent on domestic help on a day-to-day basis while also dealing with other family woes that I won’t mention here. When Abhilasha and I got married last year, my dadi joked that she wished it had happened when I was in my early or mid-20s since they would have been in better shape then, and would have been able to pamper their granddaughter-in-law the way they would have liked.
On the other hand, their longevity has meant that I've been able to spend some quality time with them in the past few years – something that wouldn’t have happened if they had left earlier, when I was in the much more self-involved phase of growing up and working hard to establish myself in my profession. I’ve cherished this extra time, the fact that it’s helped me fulfill a few of my responsibilities towards them, or even make them happy through little things like seeing my name at the top of a newspaper article.
Though I’ve lived with my mum and nani since I was a child, I’m also the only grandchild of my dada and dadi, and for all practical purposes their only immediate family too – so the level of responsibility has been high, especially in the past few years as they have grown more infirm. (I should clarify that for most of this time, my dadi has been astonishingly resilient and very determined that my life and work mustn’t be compromised on their account, except in the most extreme situations.)
Am going to do what I can to persuade her to stay with us now, but there are many complications, many things that have to be settled first, and none of it is going to happen quickly. It looks like I’m going to be spending a lot of time moving between houses and dealing with tetchy matters in the foreseeable future. Might also have to cut down on work after I’ve finished with the few assignments I have pending.
Will post a few old photos of my grandparents once I have them scanned, and will also put up some pictures from Sri Lanka soon, but otherwise it looks like activity here will continue to be sporadic for some time. More updates when possible.