That’s odd. I could hear the clock ticking, the birds chirping outside, even the faint whirring sound of the air pump in the aquarium. Usually, I am welcomed by two boys locked in a fierce fight, with decibel levels surpassing the legendary fish market and the dogs jumping all around them, barking away, almost cheering them on. That day however, I came home to three snoring dogs, one pup quietly chewing his bone and the oldest of the five, trying to guard the gate, half asleep.
No response barring the dogs waking up and letting out excuse of a woof before going right back to doggy dreamland. This was getting worrisome. I dumped my bag on the table, and sprinted upstairs only to be greeted by books strewn everywhere imaginable. Somewhere in the pile of books were two boys. Glasses resting on their noses, both of them completely lost in the pages. I stood there watching them-one lying on the floor and the other on the couch completely oblivious to my presence, the ticking clock and the birds outside.
They looked up, completely disoriented as if they had been pulled out from the story unfolding in the pages itself. They saw me scanning the floor and were jolted into reality, expecting me to explode anytime.
Vivaan scampered to salvage the situation by collecting whatever books he could. Ishaan, adjusted his spectacles and launched into an explanation.
‘Ma, sorry. You had told us to clean the library and we did try!’
‘Hmmm….I can see that.’ I was trying very hard to keep my fast vaporising cool.
‘But then I found this book Ma, look!’ He shoved the old book in front of my face, its musty nostalgic smell hitting the senses.
Right there, on the first page, was written a date from decades ago along with my name. The handwriting brought a smile to my face. Each letter beautifully formed. As a child I always tried copying his handwriting but miserably failed.
‘That was given to me by big Nana!’
Big nana is what he is referred to by the kids. Big nana for them and nanaji for me. Unmindful of the mess, I flipped the pages of the book and gave the boys a smile.
‘ Its okay.Just put them back once you are done reading.’
As I saw them sink back into the pages, I silently thanked Big nana. In all these books, was a part of him – forever with us.
My mind went back to the days when I was a three foot something, plump girl with hair tightly knitted into two plaits by my mum (called choti Indu by nana). The clanging of the gate followed by a call, ‘chust ramji, badi Indu!’ would get me running to the gate. Being called badi Indu, meant I could launch into a series of complains to him about his daughter ‘choti Indu.’ Chust ram ji was bhaiya more so because papa was called ‘sust ram ji‘ (roughly translated lazy bones!)
And there he was -head full of shocking silver hair and a hint of a smile on the face. Crisp white khadi kurta pyjama, a shawl folded and neatly slung on his shoulder.
A big smile followed by a series of affectionate pats on the head later, he would put his hand in his pocket and fish out the treasure – the bus ticket with todays dates punched out, two recently launched postage stamps and a one rupee coin! The stamps would go in bhaiya’s album, the bus ticket in the folds of some book and one rupee in my pocket, carefully guarded.
Nanaji’s visits meant stories of animals boarding a train (complete with sound effects), evening walks (fairly long ones) and books! I remember everyone playfully poking fun at him for being a miser but trips to book fairs proved otherwise. Price tags were never checked when he took us to the World Book Fair. We would come back with piles of books without once being told to stop! He brought the world of books into our lives in addition to many other things. And today the legacy lives on. The boys have more books than the study can hold and far away, two more kids have similar tales to tell! Bhaiya’s place too can never have enough book racks.
Back in the days of exams, sometime in college, I got into soup. One of the whimsical examiners asked me to re-do the file a day before the final practical exams. When I say a file, I mean 200 odd pages written over the whole year. I came home in full panic mode walking in circles, almost visualizing the external examiner failing me. He very calmly said, ‘Never mind. Let’s start.’ And patiently he helped re-write the entire thing. From dictating paragraphs after paragraphs, to the tulsi tea in the morning, he was there. It was done and submitted in time much to the shock of the examiner who was expecting me to beg the next day!
He influenced all our lives in subtle ways which continue to define us today. Nanaji taught us to be grounded. He could have a fleet of cars at his disposal if he wanted, but he always chose to use the public transport. Today, I don’t hesitate for a moment before boarding a bus full beyond its capacity if I have to. I remember walking a steep mountain trail with him to get to a famous temple and while all of us went in to pay our obeisance he waited outside. He believed in God but not symbolism. Today, religion for me means being good and truthful; not bowing down in a temple and being indifferent outside. That’s a reflection of what he stood for. The rhyming letters neatly written on postcards, endless collection of stamps, bus tickets, books, stories heard while riding his shoulders-he left marks on us each step of the way. If I wrote every little thing that I remember of him, it would go beyond the scope of this blog.
As I sat there, lost in memories, Ishaan came running to the room with an old postcard in his hand.
‘Ma. Who sent this? jivet….sharadah….shatam .’ He struggled to read.
I took it in my hand and smiled at him.
‘Big nana sent this. This is Sanskrit for may you live a hundred years.’
His wish for us always. His wish that we carry in our hearts forever.
Your physical presence is always missed nanaji but you are always with us. When I see the kids immersed in books, I sense your smile. When they tends to the plants in the lawn, I see you, kneeling in the dirt digging carefully around the plant in sweltering heat. You are there. And forever shall be.