I am closer to people than it seems on the outside. My maternal grandfather passed away three days ago, on his birthday. His health was failing so his death was not so much a surprise as a sad realisation; like most realisations it would take time to sink in. It is interesting how death affects you even when you expected it. The effect was not negative; it was pleasant, but it did change things ever so slightly.
My paternal grandfather (another impressive, inspiring man) died over a decade ago so I had spent a short-lasting albeit splendid and memorable time with him. I like to think I was his favourite grandchild (everyone seems to agree) but my memories of him are based on whatever memories a ten-year-old kid carries around: not entirely inaccurate, but an enriching blend of reality and imagination if one must be honest. But things were different with my maternal grandfather since I had the time to get to know him.
We met and spent time often although not half as often as most kids spend time with their grandparents. I never spent my summer vacations with any of my grandparents for that matter, and the time I did spend with them was as much as a week sometimes, but a few days was mostly all it was. But days add up and, over the decades, I have got to know my two living grandparents quite a lot. One of them is not more but knowing him has been eye-opening in more ways than one.
He was free-spirited to the core; he married the woman he loved, sadly lost her quite early on, loved to go on incredibly long road trips on his motorbike (he owned a green, 250 cc Czechoslovakian Jawa which has a cult following in India today and is probably where my love for my 500 cc Royal Enfield comes from). All said, perhaps his greatest virtue was that he spent most of his life helping people (he was a doctor) and almost always going out of his way to do it.
For decades he traveled around as a government-funded medic often charging his patients next to nothing—and often plain nothing—for his treatments. Around the beginning of his career he was the only doctor within tens of miles for most rural, disconnected villages along the western coast of post-Independence India so his days were often spent traveling and helping as many people as he could; to this day many people in those villages welcome us with a smile and fondly remember his work.
A day before the funeral, on the day my grandfather died, my father too recalled the old days when, no matter how much he disagreed with his father-in-law, the one thing he could not deny was that my grandfather was always ready to stretch his hand out and help as many people as he humanly could. He did not have a fortune and always believed he did not need it; he made do with what he had and even found a way to share some of it with others.
I was not with my grandfather in his final days but those who were all had one common story to tell on the day of the funeral; it was a story that agreed with everything my father had told me the previous day: apparently, grandfather had nursed an old woman back to health, free of charge, just days before he passed away. ‘There she was, back on her feet,’ they said, ‘but sadly he breathed his last. But even for those couple of days he was incredibly happy that he could help her.’
This past weekend (my birthday, a day after his) was spent cremating my grandfather. For all his good deeds he had a few negatives too and they taught me as much about life as the good ones did. I believe in learning from the errors of another person and not dwelling on or criticising them so I will not discuss anything unnecessarily. There are two sides to all men, neither of which should be dwelt on beyond necessity.
Like my father and me, my grandfather too shared a love for watches although it was more of an excitement for watches in his case. He had one of the earliest watches that spoke the time but soon tossed it aside for a watch that blinked lights in 8421-weighted binary code. The watch he had on him towards the end, though, was a classic analogue timepiece. It had a cracked dial which had probably happened when he lost his balance and fell a few weeks ago. He had been confined to the bed ever since, moving into and out of a hospital.
He left behind a bagful of almonds when he left. He always carried almonds with him everywhere he went and had a fascination with the business pages of a newspaper. Like most men he had an overt fascination with politics too, and he had a sufficiently imaginative mind that let him make up stories convincingly enough that he would soon lose track of reality. He leaned right to my centre-left but never once tried to force his opinion on me, which I respected.
His neighbour for decades and one of his closest friends could both not attend his funeral. But they had good things to say about him. ‘He lived a hard life’, said his neighbour. Perhaps. Losing his wife at a young age and living alone for the remainder of his years would not have been easy, but he went through it with a feverish, undying enthusiasm that betrayed no signs of sorrow. If things did not go his way he would laugh and move on. It was also why he relied on his friends for company and he had several friends from several strata of society.
Over the last two years he had lost two people close to him and that had dampened his spirits slightly. His close friend (a former military officer whose grounded rigidity balanced my grandfather’s joyful bounciness) with whom he had been sharing a flat died suddenly. Some months later his nearly century-old mother, my great-grandmother, too died. He was the eldest living member in that line of the family and that probably made him reminisce about the past more often than he used to.
With his passing, though, I enforce my core belief about celebrating the people closest to you. I hold family in high regard (As Vito Corelone once said, ‘A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man’.) and the loss of a family member is significant. But I am not one to see the glass half-empty and I have my own way of celebrating people. I think anyone who knew and loved and respected him should go through my grandfather’s death as he would have wanted us to himself: cherish the good life that he lived, learn from his few mistakes and appreciate his many virtues, and happily move on.