Monday, 30 September 2013

Home is a person.

My grandfather passed away on Saturday - 21st September 2013. I cried the entire night. And the night after. I also cried once at work and came back home early to cry some more. Then I stopped crying. I spent two days feeling intense anger at the world. I asked questions to myself that had no answers. And then the anger got replaced by nothingness.

How do I feel now? Sad. Just sad.

Before writing this note I kept thinking, this is a personal loss - should I even be posting anything about this? But I realized I want to share. I want to share why my grandfather was one of the strongest influences in my life. A strong influence in the lives of many people who met him. I wanted to share what I know about him. 

My grandfather was a poet... Is a poet? Poets don’t really stop existing do they? Poets live on through their words so I am going to try not to use past tense here. He IS a poet who wrote in Bengali. Honestly I don't know what he wrote because I am not good at the language. I cannot understand the nuances of the language. When I was younger and he was healthier he used to go for poetry gatherings where people would flock to hear him and his words. You could sense the unspoken respect. I may not have known or understood the depth of his words but I remember and cherish the beauty of his resonating voice, the smell of the papers in his warm study, the ink and the vision of him – always in his crisp white dhoti and kurta – writing away with his treasured fountain pens.

He gave me my daak naam (nickname) – Reetee - my first identity. My grandfather was also my first friend. He had the patience to hear my stories for hours. While he wrote I sat on the bed next to his study table and wrote too. He had handed me a notebook of my own and a pen, at an age when I was still trying to write with a pencil. My own pen and my own notebook - can you imagine the joy! A pen - something the 'grown ups' used, and a notebook for my private stories! He fueled my imagination. I was the 'paaka budi' in everyone's eyes but a girl with an opinion for my grandfather. He never ever - not once - disregarded what I had to say. He was probably the first person who showed me that I was the protagonist of my life. I told him everything - things I thought were wrong in this world, things I thought were wonderful and things I wanted to do when I grew up. I had never ending stories and he had timeless patience. He thought I could be anything and I wanted to be him. 

My mother tells me that he was a loving but serious and strict father. As a child I used to laugh and wonder how is that even possible! My Dadubhai was strict? Not possible. But snippets of stories tell me he was. He had responsibilities that he had to deal with at a young age. And he dealt with them quietly. My mother was raised in a joint family where no term called cousins existed. My mother and my aunts were sisters. That is it. When my aunts had sons, they were my brothers. And we have always been one big happy family. I don't think he knew what that meant to me. 

Even I realized the importance of this when I hit my teenage years. I was a child being raised in the Defence, moving from one city to another and starting life anew every three years. When I read books where the protagonists would wax eloquent about their childhood homes – the homes where the doors made a particular sound and the walls had tiny marks that had a childhood memory attached to it – I did not think of the multiple Air Force houses I had moved into and out of. I thought of him and where he stayed in Midnapur. The home he stayed in was my home. He gave me my roots.

Sadly, through the course of writing this post I discovered how little I knew about him as a person. Who was Amarendranath Sarangi? What was he like at my age? Was he idealistic like me? Did he think he was going to change the world? How did he feel when he had to take on bigger responsibilities? Was he prepared? What did he think in his quiet moments? What did he regret? What did he love? 

I don't know the answers. By the time I reached the age where I could ask these questions, Parkinson's disease had already gripped him. And it had gripped him good. I could ask but I would not have been able to understand what he was saying. His speech was slurred. His hands were not in his control. And he could hardly walk without assistance. But he wasn't a man that gave up. He wasn’t built that way. When I met him the last time – a few weeks before he passed away – he could still recognize me. He couldn’t speak or move, but he held my hand tight and smiled. He was still the man who continued to write even when his hands were failing him.

My grandfather meant the world to me. But - I, the eternal Google search maniac - cannot do a search on him online and discover the man that he was. This is the one regret I have. This is the one thing I promise to change. One day, when I have learnt the language he loved, I will find him in his words. I will find him in all those diaries and loose sheets in his study and in his books. And I will keep him alive - for me, for my brothers and for the generations yet to come.  

NOTE: After I finished writing this, I called my mom and she told me that one of my uncles had written a beautiful piece about Dadubhai. This uncle of mine was in college when I was quite young and I remember him coming by and spending time with Dadubhai. They were quite close and shared a mutual love for poetry. Now he lives in the U.S. and I get to read his fantastic blog posts from time to time. Even though I did not really know him that well growing up, today, when I read his tribute, I discovered some shared memories and some new insights into the man that my Dadubhai was. For that I am grateful beyond words.

Thank you Gora Mama.