I was travelling back to Delhi 3 days back. My grandparents were to board the same train, but from Agra. As the train began to slow down at Agra station, I looked out for them, scanning the station properly first through the window, and then at the door. I discovered that they were standing at the exact place where my coach was to halt. My mausi and mama accompanied them on the station.
As I got down the train to get their luggage, and touch their feet, my mama and mausi urged me to first get my grandparents into the train. As I started doing so, with helping nanaji get into the train, I realized how bad decrepitude has hit him. Within a flash of a second, my brain rewound back to the time when nanaji came to receive us at Mumbai station. He would be one of a few men I would call a true man, he still is. He had a heavy built, broad shoulders, strong steady arms, a distinct jaw line and a confident swagger. He never used to let me, my brother, or my mom pick any luggage. He used to pick all the luggage by himself, and still walk at a decent pace, without any stoppages in between. For once, I remember him carrying 2 real-heavy suitcases in his hands, and 2 hand bags on his shoulders, all at once. That day-I must be 10-I asked my mom the secret to my nana’s immense brawn. She told me that he used to eat food cooked in desi ghee. I argued that even we ate food cooked in desi ghee, what difference anyway? It never has taken time for mom to catch her monologue about eating green leafy vegetable, and avoiding fast food. This clicked her as another opportune moment, and she started off. As she kept telling me about all the goods of eating healthy food, I couldn’t help but notice my nana easily treading through the crowded platform with 2 suitcases and 2 bags-each one of which was stuffed to the maximum capacity.
I was lost for a while when suddenly someone barged into me from behind and asked me to move. I held nanaji’s hand and took him to his seat. Then we waved goodbye to my mama and mausi. One could tell from my grandparent’s eyes, how overtly happy they were to see me, and so was I. My nani had brought poori-aalu for me. Without even asking if I was hungry, she opened up the bag, took out all the stuff and gave me close to 30 pooris with aalu. As I looked at her with utter bewilderment-a look she’s habituated to because of her perennial habit of serving humungous amounts of food-and as I did so, my lips curled. I could actually feel the thick layer of love, and remembered that a bargain with nani is beyond impossible. She kissed me on my cheek as she urged me to start eating, she also inquired if I needed any more pooris or aalu. However, it’s a different thing that later I devoured like a pig-I could bite my fingers off for a food that delicious.
After a while, nani went off to sleep leaving me and nanaji alone to talk. I have always adored talking to him. He would share his job and childhood experiences. His typical style of narration with extensive yet appropriate use of abuses here and there has always generated curiosity in my mind. His stories have always made me feel how paltry and insignificant my achievements are. He’s a vedic mathematics expert and can easily do the most complex calculations on his fingers unlike me who would run for a calculator instead. He told me about how in his school days he once whistled at a girl during the school assembly unlike me who doesn’t even know how to whistle. Also, he got off easily as the headmaster of the school was his uncle.
He has always played his cards carefully. During his hay days when he used to work with the railways as a ticket collector, he used to kick ass. Everyone feared him. His way of dealing with people was unique, just a look in the eye was enough. I remember, once when he told about taking up a fight with group of politicians who threatened him to take away his job. He didn’t lose his cool even then. After an argument that lasted more than 2 hrs, my nana had the last laugh. He made them realize, who was the daddy there! All his friends asked for his advice every time they got stuck in a quandary, his opinions were considered the best. I sometimes wonder, if I had even one percent of my nanaji’s courage, I could have done much better in my life. He has always asked us to fear nobody and learn by trying.
I remember when I was 12 how he used take us out on morning walks at the beach, and how he always bought us chips and gum on our way back. We just had to point at the item and it was ours. Now, when I see him struggle to even get up and stand on his feet or walk, I feel deep pain inside. It grieves me when I see him not being able to listen properly or how his distinct jaw line has now disappeared with slack mass of skin hanging down his face. The person’s still the same from inside, but the aging has set in. Nevertheless, he remains my source of inspiration, and he always would!!
The train journey ended soon, but my praise for ‘the man’ can never cease. I know he wouldn’t read all this, nor would I ever be able to tell him how I’ve always felt about him, but I had a deep desire to pen down everything, and here it is.