MY NANA JI
The four grandparents that we all have, three of mine had passed away long before I was born. Providentially, I had just turned twenty-one when my maternal grandfather (Nana) took his last breath. It was fifty-two years ago - on Jan 20, 1961. His last breath followed a casual conversation with my mother in the kitchen ten feet away. He mostly sat straight on the edge of his plang (a heavy-duty cot) with legs hanging down. I was in Chandigarh doing my master’s. Because of the peaking of the final exam studies, I did not attend his funeral which was a pageantry of a musical band procession with a tinge of grieving, but no wailing.
For his funeral, Nana Ji had meticulously stashed away cash in his wooden safe box placed in a corner of his huge closet built under a staircase space. Sensing his imminent end, he had instructed the elders living in a joint family about it. Of course, he had drawn out a will clearly. That is the way he lived his life of eighty years – incredibly meticulous in the management of his time, money and energies. It was very uncommon in that era of no deadlines. People would literally know the time of the day by watching him walk by a certain point. He drafted legal briefs and advised on property matters. He enjoyed winning bureaucratic skirmishes and helped the oppressed and illiterates.
Nana Ji’s death impacted upon me 2-3 days later, when I could not follow the class lectures. I got scared of my mental state. I rushed to Professor Hans Raj Gupta, the first Head of the Mathematics Department, Panjab University, Chandigarh. Apart from being the greatest homegrown (PhD 1936, Punjab University, Lahore) pure number theorist of India, he counseled, gave out cash, and dispensed homeopathy medicine to the students in any distress. He simply told me, “Go home right away!” I went to Bathinda, heard the stories of Nana Ji’s last days, and returned to Chandigarh fully normal. Unforgettable!
Often, I heard mother saying that meticulous persons, like her father, are never appreciated in their lifetime. I could not make this connection then. Nana Ji provided the best engineering and medical education to his three sons. Additionally, he invested thousands of rupees (in 1940 value) in the opening of a bookshop for his middle son. Besides his own family, he supported the families of his handicapped elder brother and an alcoholic younger brother. The word ‘support’ then meant a lot in terms of financial assistance and live-in expenses. For the 25 years that he lived as a widower, he singlehandedly married his four daughters. At the same time, he witnessed the deaths of his two brothers - one elder and other younger; his youngest son, an Ayurveda physician and daughter-in-law; and a daughter too. This chain of tragedies may have been a reason of his very short temper.
After coming under the influence of Swami Dayanand’s Arya Samaj and subsequent freedom movement of Gandhi, he completely turned his life around. He switched to nationalistic khadi apparels, and eschewed meats and alcohols. He did smoke hookah, but quit it at the age of 75, when it became linked to his asthma. Despite nagging pain in the knees, he never stopped his walking regimen of 3-4 hours every day till the very last day of life. With very limited diet, his physique remained taut – no sagging skin or stomach bulge. I really don’t recall him ever falling sick. There was always a glow of health and authority on his fair countenance. No one ever dared to talk any nonsense to him. Actually, he was feared without being fearsome.
Human life is imperfect by the very laws of nature. According to Hindu scriptures, even the so-called divine souls are not spared of some flaws in their characters. A month ago, while talking with the only living 91-year old son of Nana Ji’s elder brother, I noted that he did not recall even one good thing about him, though now dead for over 50 years. It is amazing how some people can nurse grudges for so many years. Incidentally, this man, who retired as a police official of Allahabad, dealt mostly with criminals and suspects in his life. Seeing goodness in others does not come easy for such persons. Years into any profession, it also rubs into a persona. Apart from it, what I saw in Nana Ji is not the same what my five younger brothers saw in him.
As a pre-teen child, I recall myself squatted on a piece of mat right across his plang and doing homework. He watched me, as I would look up at him reading his newspaper, occasionally writing postcards - both for brevity of time and money. He had saved a bunch of letters from his English bosses who admired his work ethics and command over English language. One dictionary was always at his arm’s length and the other, a humongous one, on a small bookshelf. He was a stickler in the usage of words.
Nana Ji silently admired my academic success in high school and college. But I don’t recall him ever giving me any rewards - something I have been doing for many years for my kids, grandkids, and even nephews and nieces. The bottom line is that a long-term impact of one life on another is largely subtle and independent of routine rewards. Some of his habits, actions – both tangibles and intangibles, and thinking have rubbed off on me.
For instance, for years, I had all kinds of dictionaries in every room and my sitting places - to the annoyance of my wife, at times. Likewise, I saved and organized thousands of letters for nearly 40 years. Of course, I became a good letter writer too. Writing of the present books is only a re-channeling of intellectual energy.
Tracing a source of influence on a ripened personality is a thrilling experience.
March 18, 2013
My hats off to your efforts, conviction and dedication you had in completing different styles of expression especially on family front. Although I have not gone to your books but had a chance to read some of your "Reflections". With Regards, Atul
I want to congratulate you a 1000 times and I feel so proud over this great accomplishment of yours......you really have done it beautifully and I just cannot wait to read more of your stuff of Via Bhatinda and all my best to you. Sneh
This is a vivid description of Bhatinda, as I imagined it when you were a child. One day I will reflect on Vegas in a similar way! Annie
Very beautiful description. I feel sometimes when we miss our hometowns, we see them much more beautiful and vivid than they actually are. I feel like going to Bhatinda myself and pay a visit to the Gurdwara. I have same feelings about Ambala. It was so safe and we could play outside till dusk. I feel sad for my kids that they lack such freedom. I am always watching them as they play. Guru Fateh! Shalu
The parallels you have drawn between Bhatinda and Las Vegas are astounding. Evidently, Las Vegas is your transplanted Bhatinda—your destiny willed it so, Good! Moorty
It is good to know that as you grow older, your creativity is maturing. Incredible! Best wishes for the "Memoir". "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings"? (Wordsworth) Abraham