Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tough as nails

My maternal grandfather - "Dadubhai" as we grandchildren used to call him and as he used to call us grandsons had a certain aura about him. Images pulled from as far as my conscious memory goes always seem to project that one single image of him. He was not a very large man, no, not at all. In fact, if I can retain such a lithe figure when I reach his age, I would consider it to be a major achievement. But in his diminutive figure, he seemed to carry so much weight, every pound of his worth 5 of ordinary men. The fact that he spoke so little added to the intensity of his eyes which would register a spark of surprise only when a goal was scored in any football match he would be watching on TV. Even his final days when he had become old and infirm could not snatch the power he could exercise merely through his eyes!
His legend was built even more around the stories we had heard of his younger days, none of which - in a most self-effacing manner came from him. Stories about how he had to leave his home village in Bangladesh for Kolkata on an extremely short notice with the local police looking to arrest him for being an active revolutionary for India's freedom. Stories about his genius at playing bridge and mathematics, about how he was a magical football player didn't do him harm either. You'd need just one look at the man, and then you wouldn't doubt the truth in any of these stories. The clinching proof if any was required is the fact that my dad, like most married men not the greatest fan of his in-laws still has that awe in his voice when he speaks of Dadubhai's carrom and mathematical skills.
Dadubhai was never the most emotionally expressive person around. His affection for his grandchildren would at its most extreme assume the form of his knobbly, tough hands stroking our tiny palms. But his presence in the room was like a giant umbrella under which we would play unfettered. A sporadic guffaw would bring to our attention that he was indeed keeping an observant eye on all our activities. I remember being especially fascinated by the little box of smooth wax matchsticks and the packet of Navy Cuts that were always by his bedside. He was a regular smoker and when he was not in the room I would pick up the packet of cigarettes and revel in the strange odour of unburnt tobacco that I love to this day. I frequently wondered to myself whether this was the secret to his iron-clad mystique.
It's been years since Dadubhai and a few years later Dimma passed away but we've still got some furniture from my grandparents' Salt Lake flat. The chief attraction for me among these is the folding camp bed which would be opened out in our honour whenever we stayed at the Salt Lake flat. Mom and grandmother would tell us exciting instantly made-up stories about being in a jungle as we lay in darkness on the squeaking 'folding khaat' as we kids called it. But now when I see the bed gather dust in the corner, the first image that it brings up is of this simply dressed man who would without a word open it out for us, smile a sly smile and go on with his routine ways. If there was ever a man whose idealistic, dependable character spoke through his behaviour, words being superfluous, that was my Dadubhai.

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