2.11 am. The night of 25th January. It was drizzling outside in Delhi. My phone rang, a call from my uncle who was in Koliatha to tend to my ailing grandfather. I have written about my grandpa a couple of times, many who have never met him, think I am influenced by him.
Anyway, the uncle kept silent. I should have understood. But we had never agreed on a code of silence. So, it was appropriate for me to ask him matter of factly “what’s up”, with a little more elderly reverence, of course. He had to pronounce the words that every bringer of bad news must. “bapa has passed away”. As if surprised, I responded with a “oh shit”. It was all appropriate, every foul language forgiven. I asked him if anyone was with him, as if at fifty he needed someone to take care of him.
We are all adults. The concept of death is not new. I was glad he was gone. Having lived a structured and routinised life, a little short of being regimented, he was offended by the attempts to feed him. Fiercely independent, a man with a huge ego, my grandpa was not used to be being helped. At the age of 88, it was the first time that he had seen the inside of a hospital as a patient. His health has been impeccable and his mind an aggressive predator until the last few days.
In between being carried to the bathroom, talked to loudly as if he could not hear, and being fed pomegranate juice, he would manage to slip a few words out. Even mumbling was difficult under the influence of powerful medicines, but he managed once in a while. Upon receiving my wife’s greetings, to whom he was especially tender, he submitted an inaudible apology – “I am helplessly under the clutches of medicines now”. And, he smiled. Or, that is what we thought.
Father of six sons, all of whom crowded the hospital lobby, he would summon one after the other and inquire about the date of release. Everyone would assure that it would happen soon, but it did not. He would crib to some of the elders that the sons had grown up and discrepancy has cropped up between their words and actions. Some tried to reason to him that he was lucky to have hundred people show up the day he was hospitalized. But his patriarchy never left him, never mellowed him down.
The village was 70 kilometers away from the hospital in the city. So, it was decided to rent an apartment in the city, close to the hospital. A large house was arranged the same night, all his furniture was brought over from the village. And, we waited. For him to wake up from the drugs.
During the five years of my marriage, we had raging debates about me having a child. The only thing he told me during on his waking moments was to remember the discussions we had. We had sparred and dueled over various issues since I had started formulating sentences. He would smile, he would hold my hand, he would poke his index finger into the ground to make a point. He, with his command over language and reason. My only weapon was irreverence. To deny him the authority of wisdom, the advantage of age, the flourish of language. I tried to run like a bull into his matador’s sword and break it with sheer brute force. My mother would watch us fight from the sidelines, shrug her shoulders when he would appeal to her to interevene on his behalf. She would tell him that I was as much his offspring as hers, he should manage to get his word across without aid.
His death is an intellectual issue. I think it is not only irrational but disrespectful to cry. What would that solve? I wanted to challenge his ghost to a duel on the timing and the manner of his demise. How it had ruined the 26th January holiday for me, how it was hard to catch a flight to see him burn on a pile of wood, to listen to that pop when the skull explodes….to know for sure that my lifelong opponent in arguments has been vanquished. I wanted to tell him that I have won in age what I could not win in intellect. It may become lesser grandpas to be happy when their offspring won. Not mine. I would expect his ghost to rage and storm about at the prospect of a defeat.
His death is not a social event for me. There is no need to go for the rites, to stand with my uncles and pretend to console each other, to play by the established rules of grieving. It was his decision to die. I should have no sympathy for his loss. He should have stayed and fought if he wanted to win one last time.