Ten years ago, right around this time, my parents and I moved across the country, leaving Kolkata behind to be closer to my paternal grandparents. My father simply told me that they were growing old, and weren’t feeling well. They had just been with me a few months earlier- their annual visit that I always managed to convince them to extend for months at length. I figured that it might just be joint aches that would not let them make these trips comfortably anymore. That’s cool- they would just be a few hours’ drive away; I’d visit them over extended weekends, short holidays, whenever. Nothing mattered. New middle school, new friends- who cared. Not I. Being an only child, I did not care for the company of my peers. I would always have my grandparents- four people who would dote on me, and always let me know that I am cared for.
Before moving to the new city, we dropped by my grandparents’ home in Kerala. They had just built another story to the house, as a separate residential quarter, and they asked me to go upstairs and read the plate that hung outside the door. They had named it after me; it read ‘Tejas’. I see it as a symbolic gesture to this day- I would always have a place with them. Never to be turned out. Never to not be allowed my space. Never to be neglected. Never to be taunted. To always be loved, cherished, given guidance, and affection. To be protected from the raw cruelty of the world’s harshness. Earlier that day, while in the garden with my cousins, I noticed my grandfather, sitting on the porch, looking at us melancholically. I approached him and asked him what was up. He told me that: he had tears in his eyes, because we were all so young and guiltless, and we were going to grow up, and there he was, old but looking upon the young. It was beautiful, yet heartbreaking… and he sang this song ‘Jot se Jot Jagate Chalo’, a favourite of his, which displeased me because I only had patience enough to hear the first few words, and it sounded like ‘Jyoti se Jyoti’ to me, and Jyoti was what we called my older cousin at home. To say I was jealous, would be an understatement. Obviously, he meant none of it. Today I realize the beauty in the meaning of the lyrics of this song, and my childishness makes me smile.
About two months later, on new year’s eve, a while before it was noon, I lost my grandmother. December 31st was also my grandfather’s birthday. On January 2nd, at about 4am, he passed away too. I have gone a little over nine years telling myself that it was all a lie. Every movie or TV show that showed people meeting the spirit of the loved ones they had lost, a short rendezvous to make peace, I bought into it. I convinced myself that I would have that chance too. I was supposed to visit them over my winter vacation- for the first time since the busy move. I never planned on losing them, else I would have visited them every weekend leading up to it. Every day since, I have simply tried to live in the way that I did those two months. In the absence of the knowledge that they were in pain, and through it, they loved me still. There were never any physical signs. I lost them to the pain in their hearts. They were my cocoon, and I shall never lose the feeling of being loved. However, these past few months have been slowly therapeutic. I don’t blame myself for my innocence.
While putting together a montage of sorts for my youngest cousin’s 13th birthday, I chanced upon this photograph with my grandmother. It was at a celebration of sorts, and whoever took the photograph definitely fell short of capturing what ought to have been happy kodak moments at the event, but I am ever so grateful that (s)he got this instead. This photograph tells the story of the relationship that my grandmother and I shared in a click. She was easily a soul mate of mine. If anybody ever knew how to comfort me, it was her. She was most sensitive to my needs, and to see her lying there was traumatic. Although I gathered enough courage to touch my grandfather’s cold body, I never could do the same about my grandmother. I just pretended it was all an elaborate set-up. There was no way she could have abandoned me, and forgotten to say goodbye. What would I do without her? Did she think I would be alright, growing up like that without having her around every once in a while, telling me stories, sleeping by my side, hugging me during her afternoon siestas, or gorging on peanuts with me, or always remembering to buy me candy cigarettes or those pedas from the corner-shop in Palakkad that I always loved.There were never any grand gestures, but it was the little things that defined it for us.
Today, I live with my maternal grandparents. I lived with them as a child too. Right until I moved to Kolkata. I am letting go of my hurt. I am not afraid of it anymore. I look beyond it to see the power of love and belonging. That which brings cherishment to my existence. If there is any purpose to living, it is this.
My grandfather knew it when he said he loved that song.
And the graceful old couple at Krishnamurti Foundation knew it when they told me that the proof of the pudding was in tasting it, and life was only lived when in relation to other people.