They say that children with working parents tended by servants or babysitters, to whom the child is nothing but a source of their income, face neglect. My parents, being exposed to the corporate world, had always been busy, each day being stressful, with mere Sundays for repose. It would be quite wrong to say I was neglected. I was never neglected, there was no dearth of affection. There were no babysitters, no maids, but paternal grandparents who spoilt me with their attention and care. They had always been in the limelight of my life. Life without them would have been quite different.
Thatha (grandfather) fed me, bathed me, cleaned my poop, put me to bed, lifted me, took me around on his back, spooned dirty horrible medicines into my mouth when I was ill, dropped me off to school, then fetched me, forced me to complete my homework, made me cry when I got Math problems wrong, cheered me when I stood first in class, bought me the best birthday presents, the list can go on. This man was more than a grandfather to me.
Patti (grandmother) was my favourite playmate, who made me the winner in any game we played, who never got tired of my tantrums, a storehouse of stories, who had the amazing talent to create her own tales and songs, who comforted me when I was low, who bombarded me with her persistent questions, who helped me get dressed up for birthday parties, who loved watching the latest movies in the movie halls and theaters, who ate ice creams with me, who loved clicking photographs with me in various poses, who, in short, was extremely fun loving. The kid within her came alive when she was around me.
The first nine years of my life were sheltered, pampered and shielded from worries. Hakuna Matata! It surely sums up those nine years. Friends weren't as important to me as my grandparents were. They were my caretakers, my best friends, my second parents besides actually being my grandparents.
My life has obviously changed drastically ever since I moved to Pune.
Initially I used to feel their absence in my life. I would eagerly await their monthly visits to Pune and likewise, our visits to Mumbai. I used to hate it when I had to bid them goodbye. Getting used to a new life was difficult, nevertheless it did happen, gradually.
Changes are inevitable, they say.
Being a pre-teen had its ups and downs. I could feel myself changing, physically and mentally. I won't deny it, I had a low self-esteem problem. I always underestimated myself. I could never picture myself as someone popular among her friends. Dad would constantly reprimand me for my changed behaviour, as an offensive nature had crept into my personality, which included a lot of back-answering and bad attitude. It's only when my grandparents visited us, that I got some respite from all the yelling and scoldings. After all I was still my grandad's baby.
Hardly had I become familiar with puberty and it's ways when it was time to say hello to teenage. It wasn't really different, except that as the years flew by, friends grabbed the spotlight and my grandparents receded into the background. Some confidence was infused in me when I began nurturing my talent in music. And so it was, music and friends, not to mention academics. From calling from my grandparents every week, it was reduced to calling them twice in a month. "Hello thatha, hi paati, eppudi irruke?" (How are you?) . Some talk about studies, music , friends, etc. "Okay take care, talk to you soon, love you."
Old age had set in a long time back, but the signs hadn't manifested in my grandparents. But soon enough, they made themselves visible. Gall bladder removal, spondylosis, arthritis and what not. Yet they made it a point to visit us, at least once a year and vice verse.
I noticed that I didn't feel the pang of sadness, the way I used to feel it a few years ago, while bidding them goodbye. "Is that a wrong thing?", I asked my mother. "You are growing up. It's not wrong. Not at all." was her reply, with a smile.
The phone calls reduced. The visits reduced. I became oblivious to the fact that my grandparents missed me terribly. Everything was at its peak ; I was doing well, academically, musically and socially. I didn't realise that my one phone call made all the difference to them, rejuvenated them and broke the sad monotony of their old lives. I forgot that they had been there for me when I experienced panic attacks before any examination, when I was ill and even when I was happy. Had I grown up way too much?
Realisation was still to dawn.
My grandad was detected with cancer early this year. Stage Four, the doctors said. It would be a miracle if an eighty year old man could cope with the horrible side effects of chemotherapy, which didn't promise a complete recovery. A lot of hassles at home, tension, arguments and tears. It was as if someone had burst a bomb in my happy and easy-going life. My grandad had always been there, irrespective of the fact that I hardly stayed in touch with him. The strong man. And now cancer? It was as if my worst nightmare had come true.
A flashback in my head. The good old times, the walk down to my school in Mumbai, eating ice-creams at our favourite ice-cream parlor every summer, solving Math sums, the tasty beetroot soup that awakened my taste buds when I was down with chicken-pox, watching 'The sound of music' together, Diwali shopping, sharing a huge plate of fried fish, every small memory of which my beloved grandfather was part of, ran through my head. The large lump in my throat, it was unbearable. Tears. Temporary relief.
I always pray when I am desperate. (Guess that's what everyone does? Apart from those who completely refrain from praying.) It was a day before my Physics examination. Newton, electromagnetism, electrical circuits,optics, laws and formulae - Bet these were things running through my classmates' minds. Me? I couldn't care less. My grandfather's first ever chemo treatment was due the next day. And so I prayed.
Call it a miracle or God's mercy but Thatha has responded very well to chemotherapy. He has always been resilient, strong and practical. Faith and optimism helped him tolerate the bitter side of the treatment.
I now know what gratitude and relief truly means.
Cancer is unpredictable. It can resurface anytime and create havoc. Thatha hasn't recovered completely but he is in a much better postion than what he was in, earlier this year. Praying for his long life would be quite wrong.Senescence is never a boon. My grandparents have definitely crossed the 'ripe old-age' . A fulfilling, painless life without suffering is what my grandparents deserve. I couldn't ask for anything less. Or anything more.
Thatha's favourite spot is his bed, right opposite to the television. My day begins by having a cuppa coffee with him. He lacks the energy and breath to actually move around. He keeps himself content by reading the newspaper, by watching his favourite programs on the T.V, by having his meals on time and by sleeping.
However, what satisfies him the most is the time he gets to spend with me. My mere presence gives him all the support and a gladsome smile etches itself across his face.
It's end of the day. "Good night, Thatha." I say, with a smile on my face. The look of pleasure on his face fills me with warmth as he wishes me a pleasant night.
As I watch him drift into slumber, almost childlike, his old, wrinkled face touches the tenderest point of my heart and moistens my eyes. I realise time has indeed flown past. :)