“Why are you venting out your anger on her? What’s with that temper of yours?” he said as he pulled my frail body towards himself while saving me from my father’s anger.
Grandpa was always my shield. Protecting me from all the odds. He always kept a jar full of toffees in his cupboard. All of my cousins never had that courage to touch it in his absence, except for me. It was his habit, every evening he gathered all of us and handed one of each. Being the eldest of the lot, I received two every time. He was like that, openly partial.
A cricket enthusiast to the core. That’s what one would call him. Sacrificing hours of sleep during the international matches was something no one could stop him from doing, not even my grandma’s nagging. Disturbing him while he was at it, totally out of question. During a world cup match, grandma ended up in between him and the television set to remind him of dinner. Blaming her for missing the winning moments, he refused to talk to her for five straight days.
My most cherished moments with him would undoubtedly be those autumn evenings. He always took me with him on his walk. The walk under those Gulmohar trees in the neighborhood. The most beautiful and peaceful piece of land around the city. My own getaway from all the chaos. The stone paved path studded with the bright red leaves. The low pitched chirping of the small birds, setting your mood perfectly. There it was, the tree that stood out among the others, the tallest one, about a fifteen feet high. Standing tall, like a head held high, keeping out all the sunrays from reaching the ground. “That one!” I said pointing out to the biggest flower hanging on the lowest branch. Immediately, he carried me on his shoulder and I plucked it, treasuring it in my chest. For the remaining part of the evening, we walked in silence. He liked it that way. Lost in his own thoughts but never letting go of my hand. The weak gusts of air blowing in the direction we walked, leaving the leaves unsettled under our feet.
Summer vacation was round the corner. The heat wave, unusually strong. That afternoon, I was out playing with my little brother and cousins. At the end of the alley, I spotted a vendor. A man in his late forties with wrinkles all over his face. Huge basket resting on a cloth atop his head and carrying a stand on his right arm as he tried to balance them. Sweat drops traced the outline of his face as he struggled to wipe them off with another piece of cloth hung around his neck. The basket filled with things like puffed rice and roasted groundnuts left my mouth watering. I turned back to run into the house. As soon as I did, I dashed against my mother who was standing right there, keeping her keen eye on me. “Don’t even think of it!” she said, seeing right through me. With my neck hung low in disappointment, I walked back, towards the other kids who were still engrossed in their play. “Come here!” grandpa said raising his hand and calling out for the vendor. Turning towards him, a wide smile crept on my face.”This is the last time sweetie!” he said bending down and holding me. It was the third time in the week he said that and yes, for the many weeks that followed too.
He could never refuse what I asked for nor did he refrain himself from arguing with my parents for me. He did that even when I was sent away for study to another city. “Just name those who trouble you. I’ll make sure that they learn a lesson for life” he always said.
Three summers later, after I returned home from boarding, I went straight into his room. In a dark corner he sat, looking out of his window, perfectly still. As I moved closer to him, expecting him to leap out of his chair and pull me into his arms, he turned towards me and returned to face the window. He didn’t move an inch for many minutes that followed. Perplexed and a bit scared at what I witnessed, I stood at the entrance to his room. After a minute or so, I felt a slight tap on my shoulder. “He’s been like that for months now. Keeps forgetting things and started to hallucinate off late. Waiting for your dead grandmother to appear out of the blue, he stares at that window all day long” my father said wiping a small tear off his left eye. I was shell shocked, for I had never seen him like that before. So much that I couldn’t get myself together to watch him again.
One day at a time. That’s what he believed in. So do I. It always kept me going against all odds.
Seventeen years later, as I walked down the same stone paved path, the sense of belonging hit me strong. The familiar scent of flowers that filled the air, the red leaves fallen off the trees and the breeze that embraced me. As I held out my hand, emptiness greeted me even as I felt his presence there. Right there, under that tall Gulmohar tree where he rested in peace.