Monday, February 07, 2011


My grandfather died last Thursday.

He was an incredible man, definitely the patriarch of the family, the standard to which all others in his orbit aspired. While my aunts and their families lived with him in Chennai (at least for the bulk of the last 30 odd years) my dad struck out to live abroad and then on the other side of the country and so my memories of my grandfather are vastly different from those of my cousins. We took the long train ride through India each summer of my growing up years to spend a month or so at his house. Each year he would disburse pocket money, birthday money and growing-up advice about studying hard to me and my brother while on that summer vacation. The pocket money would go up incrementally (as it did for all the cousins who got paid monthly), it would be for each of the 12 months gone by and with the added bonus of birthday money it would be a tidy sum for a small person. The advice was always the same: work hard, work smart, be efficient.

My most endearing memory of him is of walking on the beach. He loved the beach and in summer he would take us there for a walk and ice cream whenever he could find time in a very busy travelling schedule. We would go in his white ambassador, he would have a walk while we generally tumbled around on the sand and then we got to choose our ice cream and walk to the water to let the waves lap at our feet while we watched the sun go down and listened to the water dance. He would gaze at the sea and I remember how in those few short almost quiet moments he would look so at peace, so content with life. There are so many more memoires I have of him that are just snatches of pictures and words in my head: his sacrosanct afternoon nap (for which the phone had to be off the hook), his love of mulligatawny soup, his voracious reading and brilliant debating skills, his white ambassador car, his practice of yoga every single day, the orderliness of papers, his reading chair and lamp, his smile when all his children and grandchildren were in the same city.

He was warm, loving, firm and straightforward. He lived his life with great drive and determination, succeeding at a very young age but he never forgot his roots, always helping siblings and cousins and nieces and nephews and friends with their educations or pursuing their dreams.

After a fall that broke his hip a fair few years ago he never quite recovered his health. From using a walker and wheelchair to being unable to read any more or hold things steadily, it was a rapid and terrible decline. The indignities of old age and ill health required full time care and humbled this brilliant mind. The sad truth is that at his age and having been ill for a number of years his passing was not unexpected in the traditional scheme of things. It was a matter of when rather than if and in many ways a relief that he is now past the suffering that he no doubt endured recently. None of this makes it any less of a loss and I have felt the weight of sadness sit upon me since the night I heard like a black shroud shawl.

Having been desperately ill and drugged out on anti-biotics for tonsillitis and laryngitis, looking after a small child with very little help and for a variety of other reasons I was unable to go back and be with my family at this time. All five of the other cousins were there along with my dad, mum, my aunts and their husbands. I wish I could have gone. I know I was there in spirit. His ashes were immersed in the sea on Saturday. I think he would have liked that.

He was a loved man, my grandfather. Father of three, grandfather of six, great-grandfather of ten, friend of countless individuals, this remarkable man touched all of our lives and we are most definitely richer for the experience. I miss you muthasan.