Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cinnamon Powder III - Ajuji

It was a cold winter evening in New Delhi and we were busy thinking what to cook for dinner. We had to give it more thought than usual because Aju and Aie (my maternal grandparents) were visiting us and they wouldn’t relish a quickly cooked up dinner. While we hummed and hawed about it in the tiny kitchen, we had left Aju and Aie in the living room. Both of them were covered from head to foot and Aju was also wearing his woolen cap. The TV was on and the news reader was talking about the falling temperatures in the city with images of the homeless on Delhi’s streets. We went into the room just to check on them if they were comfortable. Immediately, Aju freshly influenced by the images on TV and the growing coldness said – “Let’s have bread and soup. And don’t spend too much time in the kitchen in this cold.” While we thought that was unusual and he wouldn’t really relish it, I knew that Aju had thought of all of us being together in the warm room and so that we didn’t feel the guilt of not cooking up a lavish dinner added in his characteristic style, “This is English weather. So, we might as well have an English-style dinner.” That was Aju…forever concerned about the comfort of the people around him.
It was through Ajuji’s narratives of the freedom struggle that people like Gandhi and Patel seemed so believable. While I was studying for a paper on Gandhian thoughts, he was the happiest man. He would sit me down and narrate to me stories of how the youth at that time were so passionate and how they had something to live for and die for, how when Gandhi gave the call for civil disobedience, he and his friends had given up anything that was foreign and had just walked towards the voice that called out to him. While talking about the freedom struggle, Aju would narrate incidents and speeches and then would pause…for a very long time before he could say the year when India became independent. It was the Alzheimer’s that made him forget…

My earliest memories of Aju are those of his false teeth that he would playfully knock up to the front and try to scare the little ones. And then, these teeth would rest in a glass of water looking happy. Ever since I can remember, Aju was always dressed in khadi and this was from his days of fighting for the independence of this country. His was the perfect white kurta and the white dhoti, impeccable and with the typical ink stain on his kurta pocket. And then his anecdotes of how he scored 100 on 100 in Maths and used to like English literature, but was never very good with history. This last bit about not scoring high in history would come as a comment in his typical understated style when Aie would remind him of something that he had or had not done. :-)

There are a million memories and many traits that all of us have picked up by virtue of having been in his presence. I remember the walks that we would take when he was in Delhi and how he and I would walk till Safdarjung flyover and stand there and look out at the buildings in the distance. It was either constant chatter or complete silence. With Aju, one had to repeat one thing many times because he was in the grip of Alzheimer’s. This taught me to be patient and to be caring.

How can I forget the innumerable times that Aju came back from an afternoon walk looking distraught because he had placed his walking stick next to some shop to buy some yummy jamuns for us or a packet of biscuits and had forgotten it there? He would fret and think of the loving time he had spent with that loyal friend of his.

His spirit for life was amazing. Here is the best anecdote – One fine summer afternoon with the Delhi sun glaring down, my sister and I returned from school to find Aie looking up at the jackfruit tree in our garden. We asked her what it was that she was looking for…she ignored us and kept squinting up and then suddenly said out loud that “the one on the right branch was just right”. It was then that we realized that she was talking to Aju who was up on the tree trying to get down some jackfruits! At the time of this incident, Aju must have been 80 years! Need I say more…

Aju was a connoisseur of Parker ink pens, of watches and keeping time, of good food and better food, of get-togethers and family functions, of worrying about small things, of celebrating small things. It is almost a year since he’s been gone but every day, memories of his happy, peaceful presence seem to watch over us.

Ajuji, there will never be another like you…