Friday, November 10, 2006

Of Ancestors and America

He was a sprightly old thing, my grandfather. Waking up at the crack of dawn, rushing through his morning rituals; the datun, the bath with cold water - and never mind that we were bang in the middle of a hill-station-winter - and the prayers.

The prayers were, to us, the funniest part of the process. We'd actually shake each other awake with urgent whispers,"Wake up! Nanaji's doing puja again!". He'd be putting on his shirt and coat, all the while reciting shlokas at rapid-fire speed. That done, there'd be the frantic whirling of the lit agarbatti in from of the assortment of small idols and photographs in the pasty-green-painted puja room.

We never understood though, what the rush was all about. He'd retired from practice (he was a lawyer) ever since we were old enough to know him, but come every. single. morning and there he was, popping out of bed like toast again.

By the time we'd be groggily sitting around the table for breakfast, he'd be all ready to go. In his black coat, and crisp white suit, wooden cane in hand and impatiently tapping his feet.

He was very proud of us, his 'foreign-returned' grandchildren and he'd show us off to all the acquaintances he'd meet on his interminable walks around the city. "These are my grandchildren. Do you know, they live in Nigeria!" as if living in Nigeria was something so fraught with danger and exotica, that the fact that we were alive was nothing short of miraculous.

But what I remember most about him, is the way he'd speak to us; always in English, and very loudly. Almost as if our inability to speak Hindi rendered us slightly deaf as well.

After we moved to India, he'd visit us once a year, and that one month would be filled with episodes of frantic-spectacles'-searches (which he'd manage to misplace at least thrice a day) and squeals of shock as we'd occasionally find his dentures by sitting on them.

I don't know whether I was his favourite grandchild or not (or maybe just the one who looked like she could do with a good dose of general knowledge, or hell, any knowledge) - he had way too many of them - but I was definitely his first choice when it came to discussing American politics. I use the term 'discussing' broadly though; mostly it would be him asking me questions in his booming voice, "Do you know who is the president of the United States of America?", and me meekly replying, "Yes nanaji, it's Bill Clinton".

He'd positively beam at that, and then go on to expound on the good things the Clinton administration had done for America in particular, and the world in general.

I wondered at some point if my grandfather had ever heard of the little episode with La Lewinsky - his complete and utter adoration of the man never waned in all the time I knew him, but with his generation, you never could tell, could you? The man had two wives and seven (!) children and I never, in all those years, heard him address my grandmother as anything other than saahib*.

He would have been a happy man today.

*Mate/Companion. Also, owner/ruler/lord.


Sougata Sarkar said...

Beautifully written.


ggop said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ggop said...

I'm with your nanaji on that one. :-) Getting a BJ in the Oval office from an adult woman (and it was consensual) is way less evil than sexually harassing other women ( a la Arnie) or killing millions of civilians (like Bush and Rummy) or buggering minors (Foley)..

Akshay said...

My grandfather also woke up at the crack of dawn and his morning ritual usually involved a round of golf and breakfast at the club. Sadly he didn't surive to see the Clinton Presidency which is shame really because I didn't get to talk to him much but he does seem like an interesting man to have known - since he did happen to fight world war 2 not to mention he took his box camera along (read common genes).

You should do a part 2 to this post in 2008

Anonymous said...

very nice post

Chronicus Skepticus said...

Yay, you're back! And ummm...thank you.

Oh I agree with him completely! Or at least, as far as the republican vs. democrat issue is concerned. I think most sane people would, no?

Akshay: Sweetie, count your blessings. Y'know what MY genetic inheritance is? My height, or the lack of it, to be precise.


Anonymous: Are you who I think you are?