As my son Hemant grew up, it was also a process of growing up (and down) for me.
As I was a single parent and a working woman, my family always supported me in bringing up Hemant. Most times, my father stayed with me and took care of him while I was at work. My mother was already on the job of looking after my doctor sister’s son at Bangalore.
My father who never had the time or the inclination to be involved in the upbringing of his own children and left such ‘mundane’ matters to my mother, was now saddled with the responsibility of looking after his grandson..So actually, along with Hemant and me, my father too started growing up... as he insisted that we will not have a full time maid and that he would like to be a hands-on Thatha (grandfather in my mother tongue Tamil).
To the extent possible, I would keep everything ready and accessible for Appa (my father) so that all he had to do was access them and utilize...Occasionally, I’d get frantic calls from him at the bank about something or the other not working or something not found. God bless him, he never complained about Hemant and the kid too clung to his grandfather. My eldest sister, who lived in another corner of Delhi (Janakpuri) while I lived in Karol Bagh, was my support system, often giving some relief to my father. My close friends Anandi and Brinda working in the nearby Karol Bagh branch, took turns to visit my father during lunch time and make him a cup of tea! They dote on Hemant to this day...
When we were young, my father was a terror and a strict disciplinarian. We were quite regimented as was common in those days...But if I reprimanded Hemant even slightly, his thatha would spring like a coil in his defence that made me recoil in utter shcok! I’d then get lectures on “child psychology” and “not letting off my professional and personal frustrations and steam on the child at home” and blah, blah, blah! It’s often from neighbours I’d know about how Hemant kept my father on his toes the entire day! But not a word from the doting thatha!
Over a period of time, my father was Hemant’s father, friend and playmate. I always wondered from where he (already in his seventies) got all the patience and energy to handle the kid.
Knowing that my own religious faith bordered on the sacrilegious, my father every night, would make Hemant repeat thrice several shlokas (prayers) invoking all the possible Gods and Goddesses! For a while, three year old Hemant, who by then would sleep only with his thatha (more about it later) too repeated them religiously (?!). However, one night, the kid was so sleepy that he told my father,
“Thatha, all Gods three times. Good Night. Sleep!”
Thereafter, without demur, my father restricted the number of times he made his obedient grandson repeat the nightly prayers! The poor old man also had to put up with the solid kicks, territory claims on the cot and several minor and major disturbances that Hemant subjected him to during the night! Even if I tried to take the sleeping child away from him, Appa would not allow it because he felt that I too needed rest but never expressed it in so many words (tears in my eyes as I write this, as I was always very critical of my father when he was alive and often fought with him...).
Most of Hemant’s childhood years were spent in Delhi and Hyderabad where I was posted by my Bank. Appa took care of him totally – bathing him, taking him to school, feeding him his lunch, bringing him back, taking him to the park, putting up with his tantrums and nonstop childish prattle and also buying provisions, vegetables etc. Quite often, he wouldn’t let me pay for provisions and vegetables and sundry expenses that were met from his meagre Post Master’s pension. And he still felt, he ws living at his daughter’s house...
Appa never complained about anything, not even about my hurried, disinterested and lousy cooking ... (again tears in my eyes...!) He took Hemant to movies like Sholay, Hatim tai, etc., though not fond of movies himself... Once he even learnt to make some snacks from my neighbour at Delhi for his grandson! This, by a man who had never entered the kitchen in his life...was not required to, what with a great multi tasking wife and five daughters!
Once Hemant attained the age of fourteen, my father was too old and joined my mother then living with my brother at Pondicherry. But the bond between the grandson and doting grandfather never diminished over the years...during the course of which he picked up many things from my father – notably, thatha’s shirt and thatha’s watch that he wore proudly and showed off to his friends!
The doting grandfather remained forever proud of his grandson, took a ride in his car when he bought it, blessed him at his wedding, showered him with so much tangible and intangible love and devotion.
I don’t know why I have written this piece on my Appa and posted it too here...guilt complex...? Because today sometimes, I find myself quite stuck up about certain issues, but my parents, despite the generation gap, accepted and took in their stride, so many “unconventional” (at that point of time) things about me...and also Hemant’s upbringing...?
My only regret is that Hemant’s thatha, who passed away at the ripe old age of 99 on 31 January, 2006, missed by a whisker my lovely granddaughter Riya, who was born on 22 December, 2006!