Sweetness and Light

Just want to bring a smile to the reader's lips - and an occasional thought. Will try to stay away from controversial topics - rather create my own! And would definitely welcome comments. :-)

Monday, October 02, 2006

An Obituary

We had a good dussehra break at office, and I went to Visakhapatnam (a.k.a. Vizag, a.k.a Waltaire) to spend some quality time with some relatives. Let me elaborate. My father's elder brother is now settled in Vizag for close to twenty years, and apart from him and my aunt, I have there a cousin sister, two cousin brothers (with matching sisters-in-law), a couple of nephews and a neice thrown in for good measure. In all these years, I have never visited them, though we have met on family occasions like weddings etc. The overall effect was that I did not know about the existence of my younger nephew (all of 5 years old) when I planned this trip, and that, more than anything else, struck me as being absolutely unpardonable. Little wonder that my uncle / aunt had actually stopped asking me to come over after innumerable futile attempts over all these years.

Anyway, I had a great time in Vizag friday through monday and was already thinking of posts to write - about the visit, about the place, about the relatives, etc. etc., when something else happened. My paternal grandfather passed away today (2nd October) evening around 5 p.m. By itself it would not have been remarkable. It is just that I had lunch with him in the afternoon before departing for the airport to catch the flight back to Bangalore. He was as hale and hearty as you could reasonably expect a 96-year old to be. Couldn't hear too well, couldn't see too well, couldn't eat too well, was weak generally, and so on, but no specific ailment.

For as long as I could remember, he had been "old" - at least by my standards. And he was always there. And he was an inspiration in being self sufficient. Our extended family (and it does extend quite a bit) held conversations in awed tones about his ability to walk a distance of nearly 40 kms every 3 months to a pilgrimage near Calcutta, carrying what we call "kaawad" in Hindi (can't translate, but it is basically a load balanced on shoulders) - and he did this well into his seventies. He was famously short-tempered, though never with me, and enjoyed his own company more than any one else's. For the last 15 years, he spent at least half an year at an ashram near Allahabad. It was only last year when his health deteriorated with age finally catching up with him that my uncle got him down to Vizag - much against his wishes, of course.

When grandpa was told about my planned trip to Vizag, he told my uncle that now it was time for him to leave the world. His guru had told him that he would depart the world surrounded by his loved ones. He was already staying with his eldest son, one grand-daughter, two grandsons, and three great-grand children (the age in the household ranged from 5 to 96 - isn't that amazing?). My father had visited him last month, and so had my other uncle. And now I was coming to complete the quota. My uncle told me this while attempting to explain the vagaries of a 96-year old mind, and we both had a good laugh. But the old man had the last laugh.

Is it possible to will oneself to die (am obviously not talking about suicide here)? For that is what my grandpa seems to have done. I took his leave around 1 p.m., and then he sat down to watch some TV (Sanskara channel, I suspect, though he was also taking an interest in Shashi Tharoor's candidature at the UN). It seems he just stopped breathing after some time while sitting on the chair. Did he decide to do so? It almost seems that way to me, when I recollect him now sitting at the lunch table with me, and looking just fine for another year or two. If he wanted to, he could have gone on. May be he didn't want to.

The left side of my brain tells me grandpa would have passed away anyway on 2nd October, and I am just terribly fortunate to have made it in the nick of the time. The right one tells me my grandpa was just waiting for me, so that I would not have to live with a lifetime of guilt.

I am inclined to believe my right side today. Thanks grandpa!