Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Tuesdays with Morrie. And why I miss my Granddad

Tuesdays with Morrie. I read this book over the weekend over two interrupted hours, being called out from time to time to help with setting up the Navaratri Golu, move assorted furniture and generally move my reluctant butt. Though the reading was haphazard, I enjoyed the book very much. Touched is the right word. Mitch Albom shines a close spotlight on his teacher Morrie, a man he loved, the view so subjective, so intimate, so replete with affection. Or maybe that’s why it shines through. In cynical times, unselfconscious writing on love, family, death and its converse, life and what makes it worth living. The writer must have had some guts to write like this. I say guts, because if I even tried something like this, I would be checking myself all the time for overt sentimentality, mushiness, you know, that Anne-Geddes-card kind of thing. This post isn’t about a book review though.

Reading the book set me thinking about my own grandfather. Not that Morrie resembles my granddad in any real way. But I got to thinking about a person who played such a big role in my life, and influenced me in many ways. Neelu thatha was a person with a quick temper, sometimes a harsh tongue. But he was the first person I knew who ever treated me like an adult. Even when I was a child. When I was about eight, I used to cry often with real and imaginary stomach pains, my fears subsiding into the pit of my stomach and turning into aches. I feared ghosts, I feared the darkness and I feared many other things which I did not have a name to call. Neelu thatha had come to visit us then. One day, when my mother was giving me a tonic as usual, he started telling me a story about himself. I loved stories.

This is what he told me. “When I was a young man, much younger than I am today, I was working in Bombay. Your grandmother used to stay in Madras with your mother and uncles. Then I fell sick with a strange illness which no one had seen before. I visited many hospitals, but no one could tell me what it was. Then finally, I went to a big hospital far away, where a famous doctor used to work. This doctor after examining me, suspected that I had cancer. In those days, cancer was still a rare disease which no one knew how to cure. So before confirming the bad news, they wanted to check thoroughly what it was. Every day, I got on to my cycle and rode all the way for ten kms to go to the hospital and get myself checked. And everyday I went through different tests and waited to hear the bad news confirmed. I couldn’t tell anyone. Your grandmother was far away. And I didn’t want to worry her needlessly. So I kept the news to myself, and rode my bicycle everyday, waiting everyday to hear the doctor tell me that I had the cancer. And along the way, as I rode through the town, though my heart was sad, I got used to hearing the news in my mind. In that way, I prepared for it. Finally, the bad news never came. It turned out to be something minor that the doctors could cure.”

When I think about this story today, I find it incredible. Cancer? I didn’t even know what that meant. The likelihood of death? Seems horribly morbid for an eight year old. But thatha was different. Most subjects, he didn’t look at it that way – child-suitable and adult-suitable. If he thought there was something I could learn from it, he would tell me. And usually I did. His stories sometimes had morbid elements like this, but that’s not what they were about. At the end of the story, I would be left with the hope that my granddad had faced tougher situations, and why, he was allright, and so would I be. Today, I am tempted to think that some of my stubbornness and willingness to fight, even in grim situations, comes from him.

Be fair. Be honest. Things will work out. They always do. Have confidence in yourself. No work is mean work. Read, read, read. Learn about the world around you. Don’t worry so much about what others are thinking about you, but be sure what you think of yourself. Always do something new – a new hobby, a new skill. Most of these were extremely simple things that he taught me, and best of all, practised himself. From cooking to making a perfect braid to every electrical odd-job around the house, he could do it all and do it well.

He wasn’t perfect ofcourse. He didn’t know when to step down and give in. He could say harsh words that he would regret later. Sometimes he could get grumpy when things didn’t go the way he wanted. No, he wasn’t perfect. But he was almost there.

Seven years have gone by since he left, but it doesn’t seem so long ago. I miss him still. His stories stay with me though, sad, funny, strong, hopeful, always there to give me that little boost when I am down, and remind me that I was privileged to know a lovely man like this once…

1 comment:

chikuado said...

I loved the book.. and totally agree with you :-)

Your granpa must've been an amazing person indeed :-)