Silver in his Hair, Gold in his Heart

“I am going to come to your school riding a bullock cart, wearing a turban, sit underneath the banyan tree in your school garden and eat curd-rice on a banana leaf”

Grandpa would often say this to a six year old me and for some reason the very idea of him coming to school would frighten me. I’d retort back saying “Bullock carts are not allowed inside the premises” or “They’ve cut down all the trees in the school garden” or “You don’t get curd-rice in Punjab”.

This has been one of my fondest childhood memory. For no particular reason, I’d always oppose whatever he said with a childish reasoning and he would indulge me with counterarguments. Grandpa was really one of a kind. I had never seen a man like him before. Of all the people I knew at the age of six, none looked or spoke like he did.

As a child, I always used to think of him as a unicorn. He left a little sparkle wherever he went.

Here is a picture of my grandad and me.

His head was all silvered over with age. But he made me believe otherwise. A particularly interesting anecdote that I remember was when he’d ask me every night, before going to sleep, to take a tour of the home and check if all the windows were bolted and the doors were locked properly. I’d ask him the reason and he’d say, “OH! But you surely don’t want a thief stealing all my silvered hair” He’d add “Do you know how much a single strand of it is worth in the market?” Though it seems comical now, at that time he managed to convince me of the apparent “gravity” of the situation, and I’d carry out the night rounds with utmost sincerity. It was a long while before I realized he was just messing with me!

One of my many weird habits is that I tend to panic after I see a pen without its cap on and don’t rest until I find it or am able to replace it. It is a strange OCD but I can’t bear to look at a pen without its cap, it kind of causes an irritable itch in my brain that you can’t really get rid of. Now that I think of it, this habit of mine has its roots in my grandpa’s insistence of doing the same.

Like in every household, mine too was flooded with a barrage of pens and pencils amongst other stationary items. Grandpa, who was always reciting shlokhas while walking about the home, would go on a pen-hunt and unite all the missing caps with the respective pens.

While he was at it, he would also find spare sheets or pieces of paper that had been discarded and quickly make boxes out of them. It was amazing how he did that! He’d take a little under a minute to make these paper boxes. The end result would be a flat sheet of paper folded neatly at corners and then he’d bring the box to me and ask me to blow air in it. And Voila! A neat little box would appear as if out of thin air. The boxes he’d make would put any fancy paper-and-glue boxes to shame.

We all must have gone through the process of writing essays, paragraphs, articles, and notes during our English classes while in school. One of my teachers’ words that stuck with me were,

Writing an effective brief is the single most difficult task that people, who are good at writing, face.

I have often heard members of my family praise my grandfather’s exemplary writing skills. Having written many a letter during his time, people would vouch for his ability to convey the length and breadth of his thoughts in a simple language without straying away from the central topic. We have preserved some of his letters, at his home in Tiruchirappalli, that could teach a thing or two about the language itself.

The clarity in thoughts and simplicity of the language used is something that I have witnessed up close when communicating with him. My grandfather is a man of few words. In a room full of people, he’d probably be the person who’d speak the least and still have the ability to steer the conversation in a particular direction while voicing his opinion.

He was interested in all facets of public life and was a highly aware person. He read a lot and the TV set in his home would almost always be tuned to a news channel. Not only English and Tamil, in his older days he picked up new languages (like Telugu and Kannada) along with their scripts, solely by watching these channels.

In the years that I have known him, never have I seen him sit idle or complain of boredom. He always found tasks to keep himself busy and happy. He passed away a couple of years back. The discipline with which he led his life to the very last breath is truly remarkable. More and more that I single out people who have influenced me and inspired me the most, my grandfather increasingly finds a prominent spot.

 “The strength of human instinct seems to be quite overrated as it is so feeble it requires a lifetime of guidance, education, training and practical experience to develop. More critically, without conscious and diligent effort across one generation to pass its knowledge on to the next generation, all that was gained will be lost, forewarned by an increasing rarity of the reminiscence, “Every secret of life I know, I learned at my grandfather’s knee.”
- T.K. Naliaka

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