Growing up, many of us have that one best friend with whom we are truly ourselves. It could be a classmate or a neighbour. Or a sibling. Or even a parent. For me, it was my Grandfather.
Being the youngest, I was always grandfather’s favourite. He unabashedly lavished all his attention on me to an extent that I grew up, a cheeky little brat. His unconditional love, kindness, patience and humour made him my Hero. I remember painting all over his face one afternoon as he was sleeping in his armchair. When he awoke, much to my surprise, he wasn’t the least bit upset and even went on to admire my handiwork!
Grandpa loved to tell stories. He was the one who taught me the most important of life’s lessons, cleverly hidden within delightful bedtime stories that I’d listen to with rapt attention, cuddled up on his lap. I remember many of them to this day.
He‘d await me at the bus stop every single day. Mother would often remind him that I was old enough to walk the few yards from the bus stop to our home by myself, but grandpa wouldn’t hear of it. His face would light up, watching me alight from the school bus. It always made me feel as if he’d been waiting all day to just see me and now that I was finally back, his day was perfect. It was such a warm, fuzzy feeling to be welcomed back from school in such a sweet manner. He’d even insist on carrying my heavy school bag, and I’d let him, chatting nineteen to the dozen about my day at school.
Grandpa was the man who spent his time doing what he loved doing, and that included a lot of walks with me. Every evening, we’d go on our regular stroll, either to the shops or to the temple. I always remember coming back with some little treat or the other. Gardening was yet another passion of grandpa’s. He’d toil every single day in his tiny garden – watering, weeding and pruning with those gnarled old hands of his. He had an uncanny ability of making things grow out of nothing! The garden was his little haven, of wild and green things. The sight of a plump pumpkin in his pumpkin patch would bring a twinkle in his eyes and make him hum a merry tune in his off-key voice. Those were the times when kids were untouched by technology and most of my evenings were spent in our garden, tagging behind grandpa, bothering him with pesky questions, which were always answered with a patient smile. I haven’t seen him take a break from tending to his beautiful garden even for a single day.
As any kid would, I took it for granted that all of our days would be filled with fun and amusement – until the day I came back home from school to a locked house and was informed by a neighbour that grandpa had taken ill all of a sudden and had to be rushed to the hospital by my parents.
It was a dark time for us – a time of hospital stays, of long days and nights in the waiting rooms of intensive care units. Grandpa was diagnosed with cancer of the prostate gland. Given his age, the doctors felt that it was too risky to go for a surgery. It was simply a matter of time, they said. We brought him home. He was no more the strong, independent person, who wouldn’t miss his morning yoga for anything. It was strange seeing someone so full of vigour and life, wither away so.
As I watched his body fail him and take its natural course, my world as I knew, came crashing down. He was in terrible pain, but never once did he complain about it. I’d come back from school and spend some time with him, even though he was fully confined to the bed by now. I’d tell him about my day at school, or the roses in his garden that were in full bloom. On some days, I’d simply sit by him stroking his hand and watching him as he slept. He’d sometimes stir and open his eyes for a few brief minutes. I don’t know what passes through a person’s mind in that state of semi-conscious delirium. But his weak smile would give me a faint hope that perhaps he’d survive his illness and come back to us.
But then, one afternoon, he decided that he’d had enough. At 89, he’d lived a long fulfilling life, with not many regrets. He’d fought a good fight and was now ready to go to a better place. That night he breathed his last.
It’s been several years now, but I often think of him and feel blessed to have had him in my life as a role-model and a mentor, who taught me how to age with style, humility and a sense of humour. For teaching me to face life with courage even when there were a million reasons to cry and complain about. For teaching me to love a little deeper, cry a little harder. In his death, he made me realise the strength of love that withstands even the hardest of times and darkest of hours. I am eternally grateful for his life and all the memories I have of it. His spirit shall forever remain with me.
When people ask me about grandpa , I don’t say that he died of cancer, I always say ‘’He died, having lived.’’