It was a beautiful spring morning today. I remember opening my eyes near 4 a.m. (B.S.T) to find the first rays of the sun peeping from the hills in the distance. I don’t know why I woke up then, but I didn’t analyse it at that moment. Sleep wouldn’t come back, so I settled down to ‘Bear Island’.
A few hours later I got a call I did not want. As of 8:30 a.m. IST, my grandfather was no more. My thatha. He was 2 months shy of his 91st birthday.
Its funny how before writing this, I kept getting these ideas, these memories, these sentences that I wanted to say; these thoughts that I wanted to convey. Now, I am at a loss for words.
This was not the first time he had gone to the hospital. It was not the first time he has suffered to the point that one can only pray for relief. But it was the first time that when I spoke to my father that indefinable feeling of dread; that this may be the so-called worst-case scenario was very apparent in the way he spoke. But, somehow I wanted to believe he could come back home again. It was thatha. He had battled his disease for the last 10 years without missing a breath. He had suffered almost cruelly, only to recover each time. He would recover again. He had to.
I remember the first time it had gotten so bad that he could not breathe on his own. It was one of the longest times he had been in the hospital. And yet he came home. He needed an oxygen tank, and a nurse; but the life was very much in him. I remember being awake at 2 a.m. when he would suddenly panic when he missed a breath; and I remember waking my father. I remember setting up the oxygen tank 4 nights in a row; somewhere deep down inside knowing that this could be the time. And so, not wanting it to happen, I would turn that nozzle. I remember sleepless nights (ever the insomniac :)); and listening outside his door at the slightest noise from his bedroom. I never told anyone. People were worried enough, without me adding to it.
Everyone in the vicinity had met him over the last 10 days. Some of us couldn’t. I couldn’t. I saw him in February. And now I see him in a random snap that I clicked of him at the time. The heart does not agree. I want to see him again. I never will.
Memories come flooding back. The pride when I said my Sandhyavandanam perfectly for the first time. The happiness when I completed my Thala-avaniavittam with yagna and all. His happiness at my results. My admits. Showing off my graduation picture. His concern, the very first time he found me wide awake and studying at 2 a.m. The smile on his face when he could attend the avani-avittam with both grandsons and both sons at the temple for the first time. His laughter when we would share sweets together in the afternoon; unknown to my patti. Coming to ask me in his polite English for help in entering his slip-book entries. I even did it last September. Sitting with him and patti and having tea in the afternoons I was home. Testing my Sanskrit. My math. Praise of my writing. His stories about family. About mythology. Chuckling when corrected by Patti. Teaching me to eat payasam the way it is to be eaten.
So many little things. I’m going to miss seeing him leaning back in his bed. His calling my name in a tone only he had. His getting angry when we made too much noise. His making-up to us by cracking some joke afterwards. Sticking to a schedule, punctuality and timing. Pride in what independence he had. His smile. His joking with us kids every night about his gums by drawing back his lips to our squeals. He shed tears when we left the country.
Tears are coming out now. But I’m not crying. Not yet. There will be a time and a place.
I never told him, but when I came here; and used my full name for the first time I was proud. To share his name. And my father’s. Satish Easwar Viswanath. I modelled my signature after his in a way. He was the grand old man of my family. People were shocked when I would tell them he was 90 and fit. That at 86 he could sit straighter than I could. That he did his own washing until 83.
There is so much I know about him, and so much I admired. His courage in coming to the big city when no-one would. Working his way up, getting his children well educated, setting up the lives of his 4 brothers; being the head of the family. He took responsibility practically. He taught us the basics of so much we children know today. He did his daily puja with us kids sitting next to him whenever he could. He liked to eat food with us.
I’m going to miss him. Very much. Thatha, I love you. 4 words I never had to tell him. He knew. He loved all of us. So very much.
Thatha. I love you. I’m going to miss you a lot. We all are. You finally got the relief you’ve been praying for. You were wrong on only one thing. Taking care of you was something we wanted to do. You had done it all your life for all of us, we learnt from you. It was a privilege. You had so many dreams for all of us; we’re going to achieve them.
For you. For your smile. We love you.
In memoriam: C.E.Viswanath (15 Jun 1915 – 12 April 2006)