Kindness is Extraordinary

Summer vacations were good back when I was a kid. Moderate heat, staying at my grandparents’ house for a whole month, devouring yummy mangoes and so on. Needless to say, when I got back to my parents I was chubbier and my face had a happy glow. My routine there was set, wake up late in the morning at around 11am, have a hurried breakfast and shower, help my Nanu with his regular fish tank maintenance, have lunch, then go off to the neighbours house to play, come back home for dinner, see TV with my Nanu or hear stories from my Nani, and fall into a sleep filled with imaginative, colourful dreams. Life was sweet, the taste of the heavenly cake, gudh-papdi and aamras that my Nani would pamper me with. I enjoyed the trips to the garden opposite the building, the lovely air of South Bombay, being so close to the sea, and all the fast food hogging that occurred during my stay.

My Nanu, or my maternal grandfather, was truly an extraordinary man. To start off he asked me to call him Nanu instead of the traditional Nana, because it sounded like I was saying ‘no’ twice. Every time I slipped and called him Nana, he would imitate me in a funny voice and wag his finger at me to remind me, and I would burst out laughing. I was always a small person (short is not a cool adjective), so my fingers, even on tiptoe, would not reach the bathroom switch. Nanu, for all those years, patiently switched on and switched off the lights for me. Yes, even in the middle of the night. He also made up a singsong about it, so he could embarrass me in front of other visiting relatives!

I remember the pot bellied man, waking up early and doing half the household chores. He taught me how to pray in the temple in the bedroom, and gave me the gudh he kept for Prasad as a reward for doing it well. My hands still feel the smoothness of the Shivalinga when I washed it and the intricate carving of the cute baby Krishna statue that was my favourite. I remember when I was in ninth grade; I had gone to Mani Bhavan with my friends and a teacher from school for an elocution competition. Nanu arrived there, his hands full of vadapav parcels for not just me, but for all my friends. He came to see me, even if it was for just 15 minutes that he got with me. I remember waiting with him for an hour at the bus stop to go home, because of his habit of saving money that would be spent on a taxi. I remember my cousin sister’s thread ceremony, when they took a family picture. I was probably in the washroom, because I missed it. Nanu couldn’t bear to have his favourite granddaughter out of the family picture of course, so he contacted someone and got me photo-shopped in the picture. I am glad that he did, because that was the last picture I have now of my complete family.

Nanu was active, always bustling with some or the other chore. He rode the bus to the station and got his fish supplies, and vegetables and fruits for the house. He was a very efficient person as well; he could do basic plumbing and electric work so that they never had to hire a professional unnecessarily. One fine day, he was working on the water tank in the overhead storage, standing on a ladder, and he fell. Short version: he was hospitalized and later brought to my parents’ place for caretaking. I was high on a national level drama victory at that time, and while he was getting better he asked me to see a recording of my performance. I told him, “You’re here for a long time now, don’t worry. Get better till you can walk to the hall and I’ll show you the video.” Those were perhaps my last words to him, for the next day, his heart failed and he was gone from our lives forever.

He left us an undeniable gift, a great legacy: kindness. You see, he would talk nicely to the watchmen, the fruit and vegetable vendors, the coconut vendor, the paan shop owner, and the list goes on. As the talks went on after the funeral, as it happens when many relatives and friends meet, I came to know so much more about him. He was legally entitled to a factory after his father’s demise, but he gave it up to his younger brother. He never let greed take hold of him. There were many days where his family of a wife and three daughters lived hand to mouth, yet he never turned down a person in need of help. He raised and educated three strong, independent women even with those economic conditions. It came to light that there was a feud between two of his sisters, they would just not talk to each other. This gem of a man kept in touch with both of them through all the years and the other never knew. Such was his gentleness.

I regret deeply that I didn’t give him more hugs, told him that I loved him more often; because perhaps he parted thinking we didn’t love him. After that day, I decided to never hesitate to express how I feel. I miss his daily calls, his requests to come over as soon as I had holidays. The lovely Breach Candy house now feels empty without him, without his very bad sabudana khichdi, his loving cups of lilly chai, and his ever present callouts from every corner of the house, asking me to look at something. His massive coin collection now sits next to the 1 rupee and 2 rupee coins he gave to me as a child, on a shelf in the cupboard. But more than the regret, I have learned from him. I learned that kindness is extraordinary. I know today that I must never hold back from saying ‘I LoveYou,’ that I must always help others if it is in my power, that I must keep in touch with people that matter and I must be kind to people of all statures, because that is what he has left me. I know I will think of him when I crack open my first beer bottle (yes, he wanted to have a drink with me, he was super cool like that), and every time I have grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream at Right Place. I know today that if I cry before or after a performance, on my graduation day, or even on my wedding day, it will be because I miss the man whom I loved with every inch of my heart.

Vrushali Maste