Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Love So Grand: Part I

There is a saying in Hindi: Asal se sood jyaada pyaara hota hai. Roughly translated it means that interest is dearer to a moneylender as compared to the actual amount. This is usually quoted in the context of the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, the inference being that people love their grandkids more than their own offspring. The inverse, I like to think, is also true.

I was one of those fortunate people who had both sets of grandparents alive and healthy for all my childhood.

My Mom hails from a small but hugely famous town in Uttar Pradesh. All through my school life, we had a largely fixed summer ritual. The day after the school closed for summer, we would travel to my nani’s (maternal grandmother) place after a day long journey by train. It was the one month I looked most forward to. The huge assortment of cousins who would gather was the biggest attraction. In fact, I used to think that that was the only reason I used to love spending my vacation there. But now in hindsight, after so many years, I realize that it was not just the kids. It was the sheer joy that my grandparents felt at having all their grandchildren around them that made the months special.

My nanaji (maternal grandfather) was a lawyer – highly successful and respected. I remember people coming from far and wide to discuss legal issues with him. The courts also used to close for summers and his vacation largely coincided with ours. He liked to cook, especially for us. He would prepare huge mounds of sandwiches and gallons of thandai every morning for the horde of ravenous children (there were eighteen of us, ranging from teenagers to mere toddlers). Always had some input for the lunches and dinners. Special requests for mithi guzhia was always granted.

But what I loved most about time with him were the quizzes and puzzles that he set out for us to solve. These brain teasers were fun and interesting. He would ask about and tell us trivia in the hot afternoons while we demolished plates of mangoes, watermelons, berries and melons. He would peel and cut the fruits, distributing it fairly amongst us, coaxing me to eat the melons, which I did not like and trying to protect the mangoes from being pillaged. And then there were stories too. Of Akbar and Birbal, Tenalirama and Mulla Naseeruddin.

He liked gardening and if any of us were around while he watered the plants, he would tell us about the flowers and the fruits that he had in his garden.

He loved reading too. Children’s magazines like Nandan, Chandamama and Champak were subscribed for him, along with intellectual reads like Wisdom and Reader’s Digest. I think I inherited the love of reading from him. Yeah, I am quite sure.

He had answers and infinite patience for all our questions. Celebrations and parties for our academic achievements were sponsored by him. Ice creams and chocolates. Taught us new card games and new tricks too.

Not that we never got dressed down by him. Oh, countless number of times. We were extremely naughty, especially the oldest six, which included yours truly. We considered sleep a waste of time since this one month was all we got in an entire year to spend together. And as we grew older, there was a sense of urgency to pack as many conversations and games in as little time as possible. The chats and games lasted late into night. This was all very well if we were sleeping in a room separate from all the adults. Obviously, when the adults were sleeping close by, we had to be more cautious – whispers only. Once, three of us were busy making wild plans, which included opening a detective agency and its potential branding, with nanaji sleeping in the adjacent room with the connecting door open. At one point in the discussion, we got extremely excited (we could not decide whose name should come first in the partnership) when a bark to shut up from Nanaji made the decision for us.

It’s been so long since I had the benefit for his stories and his admonishing. Nobody makes mithi guzhias like he used to.  Sometimes, I wonder if he saw me today, the person I have become, the successes I have had and the failures that I have chalked up, what would he say. Would he be proud? Would he be disappointed? He would have retired, perhaps but forever busy. He would have spoilt his great-grandchildren. He would have been one more vociferous voice cajoling me to settle down. I can almost hear him say this in the same voice as when he asked me to eat melon or drink thandai.

Ah, nanaji. I miss you.