Thursday 28 August 2014

An old fashioned song, on his 100th

The old folks don't talk much
They talk so slowly when they do
They are rich they are poor
Their illusions are gone
They share one heart for two

The old folks don’t talk much’? John Denver did not get it right. Or maybe that’s because he never met my grandfather. Old folks can talk a lot, I tell you. Mostly, about things and incidents from the longest time away, as if memory starts ageing backwards and what remains freshest in their mind’s eyes are those choicest of images from younger days, cherry-picked – to be mulled over in free time or to be shared. With grandchildren, first and foremost. What a fortunate relationship!

Two days back, my nana ji turned 100. No, not on Earth. I have no conclusive proof of better places but I do know that wherever the dandy went he must still be wearing his best skin, and not just because it’s his birthday. Some gentlemen are like that. It’s their birthday, everyday.  

You know how it is after a certain age. You start preparing for your exit. Not that you are ready to go, no matter how much you say otherwise, for who knows what reality unknown lands may hold? So, they prepare – in worldly matters and matters spiritual, clinging on to the former and clasping on to the latter for dear life. 

'They are rich they are poor' makes me think. The will is signed with bad eye sight but eyes which have learnt to see people much better. See through them too. That gets done and dusted, signed, rolled up and locked in, before the ageing mind plays tricks of its kind. But that’s serious business, and I am digressing into a mood I don’t want to. This is about him as my grandfather. Why get a will into it? 

Where was I? Ah, rich-poor. Perhaps as a way of acknowledging the big number, my nana ji started a ritual after he turned 80. Every birthday he would give us four cousins money which equalled his age in number. Did not leave him much poorer but made us all so rich. Or was this his way to keep us looking forward to the increasing numbers? Praying for them too? Maybe. He alone knows. I for one enjoyed the pocket money. And still wonder how hard he must have worked to arrange the exact change.

The paan wallah at Astley Hall chowk must have helped.
Their homes all smell of time
Of old photographs
And an old fashioned song
Though you may live in town
You live so far away
When you've lived too long

Oh, for sure their homes smell of time. Time has a smell. And by the time it takes its toll on your senses, your nose is the only one which cannot smell it. The young may pucker theirs because odours from balms and favourite woollens, newspaper clippings and boxes with precious little are not something they can take for long. Others who stay around the old get so used to it that a house scented with designer candles would make them want to throw up. 

My nana ji had lived a glorious life, which found innovative ways to be preserved. Why not! A wooden cupboard which went from being an out-of-bounds treasure trove for our children's eyes to one which creaked, always ajar, as if asking desperately to be noticed. Right behind where he lay. In it we believed were things from his past, though no one really ever found out. The finest suit pieces he wore, the diary which documented how he never lost a case in his life, odes to Gandhi when socialism became an obsession, a wrist watch held so dear that it ticked away its life hidden from all eyes. And a radio, the sight of which will make you smile. Silent now. A life and its times preserved, to be rummaged through in the middle of the night. When sleep refused to come, or a nagging ache kept him awake – in the heart or in the mind? No idea! To think of it, I never slept next to him. Never spent the night with him. I wonder why?

But, what’s the point.

Have they laughed too much
Do their dry voices crack
Talking of things gone by
Have they cried too much
A tear or two still always seems
To cloud the eye

Can laughter reach a ‘too much’ point? The teeth may go, the lips wrinkle, but there’s more to laughter than just that. Or so I think. Why else would he guffaw remembering us four tots playing 'Paploo' with playing cards till his dying day? Must be the joy of seeing us kids together. Just for that I would swallow this inherited pride and become Miss Paploo all over again.

His voice was cracked but what could act a dam to the flood of stories he came with? Stories from old folks that make us travel to scenes and situations which no children’s story books contain. A world used to open in front of our hungry eyes. Fergusson College, Lahore to High Court, Allahabad came alive with his voice. Dehradun in all its lost glory, with its clubs and bars, and the Rs. 2 shared-auto experiences when coming to meet his grandchildren. If only words could translate into pictures, real pictures to hold and slide into family albums, what a collection I would have had today to boast about. 

The scene he recalled the most, and with utmost pride, was the one that unfolded between him and a Brit lawyer in a bar. Where he overheard ‘Hamlet’ being discussed at the white table, being quoted incorrectly. Oh sacrilege! He went over to repeat the soliloquy and gained a friend for life, that is once the incredulous look expected on hearing an Indian quote Shakespeare verbatim in those B/W days was washed off his white face. And then down with good whiskey. This friend flew home to England and left behind ‘the house with a 100 rooms’ - the one in Doon, the one especially constructed as if to play hide-and-seek in. With the gate that opened every evening at 5 pm to walk the kids to the dairy. Fresh cow’s milk, and an excuse for the cousins to meet!

Tears? I remember none. None of regret, for sure. He was a proud, proud man. Perhaps, that helped with keeping the back straight till the 92 years of his life. Kept him fit and fine. And he tried, tried his best to make us four as proud of ourselves as the ripest plums are. My cousin was to work towards becoming the finance minister, and I was to do a Ph.D. She’s at it, getting there with her love for numbers and scores of yore which made him go into extreme states of beaming happiness. I quit. I could not complete my Ph.D like he dreamed. Maybe he went too soon. Or maybe, I was just left without any inspiration any more.

They tremble as they watch the old silver clock
When day is through
Tick tock oh so slow
It says yes it says no
It says I wait for you

Then comes a point when their thoughts become their confidants. It happened with him. Slowly, but surely, he was busier with them than with us as if they had replaced all of us. Sometimes walking on a street in Pakistan. The next moment attending Gandhi’s talk in Delhi University’s gardens. When he came out of his reveries, panic would strike. A phone call to my father to come, hurry, something is happening to me. False alarms. Or fear? The tallest, most regal succumb to the fear of the dark valley. The sharpest of minds end up not recognizing their own kith and kin. That's what happened with him. One day he thought I was the nurse, another day another stranger. No longer his granddaughter. It hurt, in his last days. 

But then, what if we were to believe that they reach their new worlds much before they leave ours? Maybe, it is indeed a beautiful homecoming after a glorious journey on Earth is done?

Yes. Just the thought that I was looking for.

The old folks never die
They just put down their heads
And go to sleep one day
It doesn't matter now
The song has died away
And echo's all around.

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - Prompt - Take the third line of the last song you heard, make it your post title, and write for a maximum of 15 minutes. GO! – I picked “Old Folks” by John Denver.]


  1. Enjoyed reading this post as it brought back memories of my own late Nanaji. Pleasant memories, as well as sad memories like the "point when their thoughts become their confidants."

    1. I think we will all have similar memories of our grand parents. There is a 'sameness' about old folks which cuts across all man made labels and lifestyles. I too connect with others' memoirs about their grandparents.
      I see you read this even before I shared it. Thank you, Pro. Your visits are always looked forward to. :)

  2. Nostalgia, for my Badi Mummy and Daddyji ... The old world as I saw it through their words, their eyes.
    When they go away, they take a world with them. It is as if they shut the door lock it and take away the key

    1. :) So true.
      Thanks for reading, Ritu ma'am.

  3. That is the best sort of nostalgic post - the melancholy of loss subdued by the joy of remembrance.

    Hmm - I am afraid that I look into the mirror and misquote Hamlet too - "Tubby or not tubby, that is the question" as I contemplate the idea of exercise and diet - and reject it :)

    1. I like how you found the essence of this post, Suresh. :)

      I love how you made it your own. I say 'not tubby'. You just climbed up and down a mountain for God's sake!

    2. I've given up asking that question...

  4. I never knew any grandparents so cannot relate to much of the story.

    I was never a diary writing type. In fact I did not start writing anything until 1997, when I was alone and cold in a strange land. That phase ended within a year and a few failed blogging attempts later, 2 years ago I finally made this blog stick. And my blog is slowly becoming a dumping ground for stories from my own past, recalled in detail. I'm wondering what that means. I'm not close to 80 yet, but it seems the memories are already bubbling up. :)

    This is a very thoughtful piece, shows a side of you I haven't seen before. Maybe I need to visit more often because I like this very much. I made one attempt to write about my father and it took so much out of me that I haven't tried anything similar since, though the thoughts are still there in my head.

    Is this a very long winded comment? Well, I'm already well into my 50s and as I said senility seems to be striking early....

    1. I don't think increasingly writing memoirs on your blog has got anything to do with age. I think if anything it means you are writing for yourself first and foremost. I would love to document my life in its minutest of details so someone down the family tree will one day read and know more about me, my world and my thoughts. I think every 'bubbling memory' deserves ink, or rather, a word document. :)
      And what side would you mean? :) I wrote this with all my heart. So yes, this will always be one of my most personal and emotional posts ever. You come off and on and I'm happy still. Just keep coming, Slo.
      No, not long winded at all. I liked having this conversation. Senility has no age. Maybe I have beaten you to it. :D
      PS - Write that post on your father next. Please direct me to your blog too.

    2. I did write about my dad here:

      Yes, I can see your heart was truly in it. No question about it... These are the pieces that really do shine, when the writer feels it and is able to pass that feeling on.

      You've been to my blog before. :) You seem to be on / off as well...

    3. Just read the post about your father, Slo. Extremely moving. Comment on the blog.

      Sadly, those bloggers connected with me on FB get read more often. Only and only because of visibility. Are you there?

  5. Like all the other readers, this post reminded me of my own paternal grandfather. We played 'Coat Piece' 'Paploo' and he taught me how to play Bridge. A heartfelt tribute. I am sure he is smiling and showering his blessings on you Sakshi.

    1. To think I never knew it's 'Coat Piece'. I always thought, for some silly reason, it's 'Court Piece'. The grown ups still play this game in our house.
      Thank you for reading this tribute, Alka.

    2. Yes , I thought it was Court Piece too. Hmm.

      Time do some research and see if Alka is right! :) I'm sure she knows what she's talking about, but the voices in my head tell me to leave no fact unchecked. Besides, it's just a glorious time-pass, this fact-checking :)

    3. Well, Alka will have to confirm that for us. I'm not a cards person, except those meaningless games like 'spit' and 'bluff'. No, no trivia online about those. We almost invented them as we played. :D

  6. Sakshi, I'm sure you've already read my posts about my grandpa. He was a father-figure to me and whatever I couldn't tell anyone, I told him. Reading yours reminded me of his last days too. Somehow, I always felt that he didn't deserve what he had to go through in his last days. Just like yours, mine couldn't recognize me on the last day when I met him at the hospital. That broke the 13 year old me. The next morning around 5 a.m. I woke up to the wails of grandma, mom and maasi and as I sat up on my bedding on the floor and looked out of the window, I saw his body covered in white being taken out of the ambulance. I had so much to tell him but he couldn't wait. Feels really sad.

    Wonderful tribute to your grandpa!

    1. Yes, now that you mention it I remember that touching post. Rekha, my thoughts are the same. For 92 years he didn't need to pop a pill for even a headache, whereas in the last few months it was all downhill. I particularly did not like the delirium that accompanied ageing, gradually.
      We will always have much to tell them.
      Thank you for reading this, Rekha. Lots of love.

  7. Loved reading this post :)
    Like everyone else, the post was nostalgic even for me. As always the flow of words you weave into your posts is amazing. I wish I could write like you :)

    1. I am sure you write better than me, Anmol. :)
      Thank you for reading. Glad you connected with my post.

  8. I have read couple of your posts (humour ones and loved them) and skipped many more despite being number one on indiblogger. For me this is one of your best for its simplicity and connect with heart and soul. BTW my grandparents were also from Allahabad, later moved to Mathura.

    1. Thank you so much for reading me today. I hope I can continue to keep you interested in my writings. Never planned it genre-wise, but I see some laughter is long due on the blog. Humour soon, Mamma. :)
      Happy you connected with this post.

  9. That was a wonderful reminiscence about your Grandfather and I loved the way you used those lyrics to bring out your memories. I played the song as I read this piece, it made it all the more poignant and soulful for the reader in me. Yes, it did remind me of my grandparents whose company I unfortunately was deprived off when I was young. I imagined what it would have been like had they been around longer...

    1. Isn't it a lovely song? :) You are a true reader to have played "Old Folks" alongside. When I look back I rather have my grandparents' younger days memories in my mind than those just before they went. So for whatever happened on your side of the world, there is a silver lining, cruel as my saying this may sound. :)
      Thank you for reading, Seeta.

  10. Left me speechless .. not many things make me do that .. as i was reading this post my mind was suddenly overwhelmed with all the thoughts of my Granddad and my dad..

    dont know what to write Sakshi.. I want to go to my room and Cry now


    1. :)
      Thanks for reading, Bikram. Also, stop crying. Just write it all down. :)

  11. This truly was such a lovely post and resonated with me at so many levels Sakshi. My own memories of both my grandfathers is nothing short of lovely and it is with great pride that I say that both of them did their own thing to contribute to my love of reading and writing today in significant ways. While one of them encouraged me to read a variety of books, the other one encouraged me to pen down my thoughts all the while and I am sure that whatever blogging I do today is a result of their gentle prodding. And, my love for the written word is just one of the aspects about my grandfathers that I have mentioned here, as the rest of the memories would take more than a few blog posts to detail :)

    1. My other grandfather I never met, Jai. I was 6 months old when he passed away. One of the many losses in life is that of memories too, ones which are never formed but could have been. :)
      Thank you for reading. :)

  12. Beautiful poem and poem, Sakshi. Your Nanu makes me proud as an India, the perfect rendering of Shakespeare and we have something in common, Fergusson College. The blogging world is such a small place and no wonder, he passed the intelligent genes to u:)
    I am sure he is always looking at you from the heaven and smiling, 'Look that's my Grand Daughter:)

    1. Thanks, Vishal. That was very nice to read. :)

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