Dadubhai left for Bengaluru yesterday. It signalled the end of a dream sequence for us. His presence meant a complete sense of being loved, relevant and being cared. We had him for eleven months at a stretch, to be precise. It was nearly after a decade that we lived together. He had left home after doing his higher secondary; He would visit us at infrequent intervals for very short durations. Naturally there was little opportunity of meaningful interaction with him. I may say that I felt like drifted apart from him. Now that I and my wife are in eighties with age related disabilities and consequent restricted movements. We lead a very uneventful routine with little excitement.
The pandemic induced a revelation. A little introduction would be in order. We are octogenarians staying with our eldest son for well over a quarter century now after retirement. Our family may not be entitled to be called a representative of technological society. Three generations living under one roof in a nuclear family is an anachronism. It may be representing vestige of the primitive joint family. It would be more correct to say that we stay with our daughter-in law. She is a senior scientist in a prestigious institute. Our son mostly remains outstation due to his professional obligations. He is a physician with affiliation and commitments to several international organizations. He may be said to be a frequent international flier. Our only grandson, Dadubhai, too is only an occasional visitor after long intervals since he went out for higher studies a decade ago. He did his B.E chemical Engineering from BITS,Pilani, Hyderabad Campus. Then he proceeded to Kyoto University. Japan for post graduate studies in Chemistry on scholarship.. He returned after earning his Postgraduate degree. He stayed there for more than three years. Presently he is a Ph.D. scholar at IISc. Bengaluru.
By early march last year, warning bells of the impending pandemic were ringing loudly, Dadubhai came from his institute as his institute asked the students to vacate their hostels for a month. Vivek, our son came in the third week of March from Australia.
Lockdown obliged us to remain together for an extended period. It is now a valued nostalgic memory1. It was a study watching them being together and sharing company.
The three of them managed housekeeping and kitchen jointly in absence of domestic helps in the earlier part of the pandemic. Two of us were kept confined to our room, though we joined them at the dining table.
What I observed was that each of them was seemingly comfortable and at ease in the new environment. It was remarkable adaptation on their part. Vivek, my son, did not appear to be uncomfortable at being grounded. He continued to carry out his engagements through webinars and online meetings and Sunita, my daughter in law, had a rare lifetime company of Vivek as well as Manik at the same time for a prolonged period. Manik too continued his studies online. To the best of my understanding each of them had taken effortlessly and successfully to internet to continue with their needs. There seemed to be no disruption.
After lifting of lockdown his parents began attending their labs on weekdays during daytime. In their absence Dadubhai would take care of our lunch and overall needs. It was a fulfilling experience for us, as his Didda might have done when he was a child. Roles were reversed. He was our guardian for all practical purposes. He was very strict and caring. During these eleven months Dadubhai had become a vigilant presence for us. We had submitted ourselves to his commands. It was such a rare and precious gift to us.
Dadubhai is amazing as a person. He gets on well with everyone with grace. He wore several hats during his stay effortlessly and with equal aplomb; He prepared several dishes in the kitchen. He performed the various odd jobs that a professional gardener carries out such as handling lawn mower, watering the field, and taking care of saplings and other plants retaining his engagements with studies. In the garden he dug pits and prepared compost from the kitchen waste and dead twigs and cut grass. Three pits were filled. It was such an efficient operation.
Technology has moulded our behavioural responses. These days young boys as well as girls do not crave for home surroundings when they go out to faraway places for studies . I once expressed my surprise over it to a young girl. She repliedimmediately, "you did not have mobile or internet. We are always assured of being connected. Virtual company is always available to us." Emotions have got customised and streamlined
I had a good learning experience. It has been a study in the evolution of individual approach to kitchen in a family over three generations. While I agreed with my wife that kitchen is an exclusive domain of women and the manhood was averse to be inside. The ladies of the family resented the entry of males in the kitchen as interference in their exclusive domain. This exclusivity vanished in the next generation and now males are found to be proud chefs in domestic spaces as well.
I asked my Dadubhai – Were we your Baby sitters?
His reply – No, Baby sitters are paid for the job.
I ask myself---- Was he just our caretaker? just a formal and an efficient caretaker?
My reply--No, he was and remains much more and undefined.