I was charged by my paternal uncle with the seemingly simple task of creating a power point that described the highlights of my father’s life to be shown to schoolchildren in Goa, who would be participating in an inter-school elocution contest in memory of Dad, Dr Subhash Raghuvir Naik. Now Dad was very much a son of the soil and his Goan identity played affected him deeply; his emotional connect with his birthplace and family was always obvious to me, as it was only when he spoke of his childhood that I would see his eyes wet with unshed tears and sheer nostalgia.
Anookaka’s persistence is legendary in our family, and it took several calls to galvanize me into action. I had had a busy week at work, but I was also procrastinating. I knew delving into memory lane would take its toll on me emotionally. But there was no escape and last weekend, I found myself leafing through old pictures and condolence letters. Words swam in front of me as I shed tears that have been contained for over a decade; the mind flash-backed into scenes I thought I had forgotten. My mother watched me calm and composed as I let myself drown in a strange sort of sorrow. Sweet sorrow, as it were.
It is always hard to cope with the loss of a parent, or any dear one. The initial months are hard in the sense of getting used to life without the lost one, the years after are hard because you learn to cope and the guilt of that never leaves; and many years later, you think the trauma has left you but all it takes is a quiet afternoon and a few photographs for you to come undone.
Am blogging a few of the images I scanned for the presentation. I am smiling today, as look at these because I am not the kind of person who can weep for long, I am a proud daughter to a dad who taught me always see the glass half full; and because I know shit happens, but life must go on…
Watching my children grow and hearing the absolutely astonishing things they say and do, I often try and remember what I was like when I was a child. Of course, I cannot. We only know partly what we were and a lot of what we think we know is informed by what older people have told us of our past selves.
This morning, Udai lost one tooth in a really fun way. These two front upper teeth had been hanging loose for weeks. He was to go see a dentist today, but even before that, in a little squabble at waking up time, Aadyaa punched one tooth out of Udai! Now instead of that becoming a full blown fight, we had a whale of a time squealing in laughter, with Udai thanking Aadyaa and the little one admiring this fallen tooth, this hallowed symbol of being grown-up-er!
Udai then went about trying to distract the rest of us so he could hide this tooth in a secret place. Was it so exciting for me, this breaking of my milk teeth? I don’t remember, though I do remember that ritual of my dad tying a thread around these hanging teeth and yanking them off by tying the other end of the thread to the door knob and banging the door shut! I also distinctly remember that feeling of pushing the tender gums around the newly appearing teeth, constantly feeling that gap in a bitter sweet pleasure (I was amused at hearing myself tell Udai not to do this because the new teeth would come out crooked, why do repeat the stuff we hated to hear as kids when we become parents).
These past few days, my children have surprised me in many ways. In Ramgarh, I discovered that Udai is no longer a slightly timid boy who fears taking risks. Instead, he became the lead walker in our small treks, negotiating little slippery patches and jungle streams with confidence, finding the right path and helping us across. I saw his concern for his grandmums, me, Aadyaa, all the women in his life. I admired him, and was touched as well. I also found out that Aadyaa is an unending well of energy, who can walk far more than I had imagined and is up for challenges all the time! From a rather demanding and attention-seeking toddler, she is turning into a well mannered, reasonable little girl, able to keep herself busy and make intelligent enjoyable conversation. Moreover, I found that the siblings had decided to bond, spend more time in harmony that in discord and that certainly made the holiday far more enjoyable! Making and flying paper planes from a book Udai had carried accounted for a lot of the time spent. No TV, no ipad, no phone games….quite the break it was!
The infamous rape incident in Delhi has also changed things in our home. Udai has been an avid newspaper reader for a while now, focusing on the sports pages but scanning all else as well. But now he points out to me tips for women to be safe. He read out rape stats to me by state yesterday, telling me that Uttarakhand (“where we have come from”) was the 2nd best state for women’s safety, etc. Of course he does not technically understand what rape is, but he does know that it is something “very bad” that men do to women, that rape happens because men believe women are inferior, that women and men are equally capable and deserving of respect, etc…..I actually asked him about what he made of this and this is roughly what he told me, no kidding! Partly, he overhears discussions at home and he knew I would want to hear this, but even so….for a boy not yet nine, to glean this from news reports and conversations and take a position on it seemed pretty mature to me.
I am sure many parents are astonished about how their children are reacting to all the awareness and activism around us right now. In times like this, children grow up faster. Their inquisitiveness propels them into unknown terrain and they put pieces pf the puzzle together pretty fast, and well (of course it’s up to us to help them and not mislead, over-protect, hide). Yet, they remain innocent. It’s a wonder that flies in the face of our belief that certain things are ‘adult’ and other things are for kids….
Children are so incredibly resilient and we adults, parents included, underestimate them all the time. My kids never cease to surprise me.
Last night, Aadyaa started complaining of earache. Now that is bad news indeed, for it is an ailment that she has recurrently a few times a year and it is bad news! The earache is usually acute and takes a while to subside and means half a night of her howling in pain, while we scurry around trying to medicate, placate and allay the sinking feeling in our hearts. Over the past year she has had this problem, we have an arsenal of homeopathic, home remedies and mild allopathic medicines ready to combat it. For some reason, last night all the ammunition failed and Aadyaa and we were up most of the night in pain, hers physical and mine mental!
There was the added stress that she had her annual sports meet at school this morning. Something the kids look forward to and have been working really hard to prepare for. She would have been heartbroken if she had missed it and till midnight I was hoping the earache would oblige us and go away. Well, as you know, it didn’t. Surprisingly though, Aadyaa deviated from her pattern of howling through the night and was exceptionally tolerant of the pain. We read books, munched biscuits and chocos, chatted, sang songs and caught 15-minute shut eyes through the night, peppered with the various doses of medication we were trying out.
Eventually when she fell asleep past 5AM, we had decided that sports day happens every year and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if she misses it. On the other hand, she made me promise that I would take her if she woke up in time, even if it meant she simply sits in my lap and watches!
Morning came and we all got ready before we tried to wake Aadyaa up. Not only was she up and about, but she went on to complete all the activities that were planned at the sports meet, displaying her usual balance and poise at all types of physical challenge. No tantrums, no crankiness. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised.
Small things I observed today made me realize just how vital school, her routine, her friends and her teachers are to Aadyaa’s world. For instance, she demanded her teacher’s attention and sat in Mudita didi’s lap through the morning assembly. Once reassured by these minutes of comfort, she gave her best to the day’s proceedings.
I’m glad I decided to play along and let Aadyaa take the decisions this morning. I was rewarded for my trust and she gained another few notches of self-confidence. All in all, a good day!
Udai’s reading a book of nonsense verse, and he is sort of addicted to it right now. He heard Michael Heyman, the editor of this specific compilation, speak at the Bookaroo. When I say speak, I mean perform. He was there, guitar in hand, soft voice and expressions full on, converting young impressionable children, recruiting them to the cause of nonsense!
When we were in school, I was just as enamored by the absolutely hilarious poetry of Nissim Ezekiel. When I read it today, of course, I see sharply its political context and the enormous influence that Indira Gandhi and the Congress legacy had on creative people of that time. Sample this:
I am standing for peace and non-violence.
Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding.
Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
I should say even 200% correct,
But modern generation is neglecting –
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.
Other day I’m reading newspaper
(Every day I’m reading Times of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn.
Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming –
Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
Be patiently, brothers and sisters.
You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
I’m the total teetotaller, completely total,
But I say
Wine is for the drunkards only.
What you think of prospects of world peace?
Pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
Really, most harassing me.
All men are brothers, no?
In India also
Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
All brothers –
Though some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.
You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company.
Another poem titled ‘The Professor’ is entertaining as well, in the same style, passing sharp commentary on his times in a humorous way. Then there was a poem about a nose that got up and ran away. For the life of me, I cannot remember the poet nor the entire poem. Nor is google-baba being of any help at all. If any of my Loreto friends (it was in that little book of poems we used) or anyone who studied ICSE in 1990-92 remembers this, please please let me know….
When the dates for my mother’s trek to Kailash Mansarover came in, her biggest concern was how her mother would be looked after when she is away. Amamma spends the summer months in Gurgaon and lives the rest of the year in Chennai. Over the past few years, as she approached her mid 80s, age gas begun to tell. And her sprightly outgoing personality has given way to someone who is content to get tasty meals on time! She tires easily and her strength has ebbed, but she still retains her sense of humour and a sharp eye for what is happening around her!
For example, the maid overcooked the pumpkin today and she asked her who she thought didn’t have teeth in the house! It was a joke on herself in the light of the dental treatment she is undergoing at present! Hilarious indeed.
Anyway, as you can see, the problem of taking care of her in mum’s absence was resolved by moving her to my home. I spent two years living with her and my granddad when I was very young (between ages 2 and 4) when my parents were away on fellowships abroad. I convinced her to stay with me claiming that I can look after her for one month if she could put up with me for two years back then! That tickled her immensely and lightened her up about the unexpected new situation.
Looking after her has not been too difficult, but there are days when I find my patience wearing thin. Like a child, she has questions about the weirdest things. She cannot hear too well so it is a challenge getting through at times. I’m having to work on my Tamil. Much of her vocabulary in Hindi and English has been lost with age and disuse, having lived in Chennai for many years. And yet, I feel so grateful for this opportunity to spend time with her. I feel the emotional bonds renew. I see how the presence of a great grandparent affects my children, sensitising them to the facts of ageing, developing patience in them and all of us. It’s much like looking after another child, but one who you owe a lot to.
In the beginning, it was about getting through the month. But slowly I found myself growing into the role of caretaker. When her teeth demanded attention, I found myself proactively taking on the responsibility of taking her for the required treatment. After all, how can we repay the debts of unconditional love, unlimited care and countless blessings?
After my head had nearly split listening to the incessant squabbling, tattling and whining amongst the kids, I thought I had had enough. Mostly the older kids would hang up against Aadyaa and she would lash out at them. With everyone else busy today with Arnav’s Upanayan ceremony, I was dealing with the cousin gang by myself. Boredom usually results in squabbling. It was the same when we were kids, I kept telling myself. It was ok. My headache would not go away, however, apparently not responsive to reason and logic.
Eventually driven by the need to give the kids some occupation, I drove them to Miramar Beach. The exquisite sunset, the cool sea breeze and the easy bonhomie that water creates overtook us all like magic. The headache ebbed and i watch fascinated as the kids squeal, jump, laugh and bond beautifully with each other. it’s monsoon and the sea is rough. I watch over them keenly but I revel in their enjoyment of nature. The crowds notwithstanding, they interact with the water and knead the soft wet sand. This is bliss. This is life.