Every holiday, she would wake up early and wait for her grandfather to take her along for his morning walk... for those were also her learning-to-ride-a-cycle sessions. They would hire a small bicycle (the ones without support) and she would hop on to it, glowing with happiness. He would hold the seat from behind and jog along as she rode her little horse. Every evening, they went out for small walks, usually to the temple close-by and there he would talk to her, tell her stories, tell her what the 'big' and the 'small' hand in the huge temple clock indicated and listen to her narrate her eventful day.
While her grandmother took care of her routine activities like going to school, having meals on time, studying and so on, her grandfather took care of everything else, being there as a friend and guide. Being the first child guarantees all your grandparents' love and she sure basked in it. Her mother was very young when she was born and father, a thorough businessman had little time for conversations or activities beyond her school and studies.
Her grandmother passed away when she was six and soon after, her grandfather assumed the role. His stories were based on his experiences and the little and big things that made him who he was. One of those things that really fascinated her was that he was the most punctual person she knew and yet he never wore a watch! The little story behind it was - Once he went to meet a high-rank officer and was late for the appointment by fifteen minutes. The officer refused to meet him and asked him to take another appointment. That day he broke his watch and vowed to be punctual always. A vow he took when he was starting his career and something he kept all his life. She heard these and many other stories many times over and never grew out of them.
The little girl was sent to a boarding when she was 8, a world she was an alien to, but his letters kept her going. Short and crisp, they were always written in numbered points, rather than paragraphs. Every birthday she received a hand-drawn card from him and every holidays, he would be waiting for her with more stories and little lessons from his life, which built the foundation of her life. Years passed and on one much-awaited summer vacation, he informed her of her mother's sudden demise. She was too shocked to react when he hugged her and said, 'I'm here and will take care of you always.'
Soon after, she returned from her boarding school and continued with her studies at her hometown. All of 13, she had a brother, who was much younger, to take care of. While she tried to adapt to the sudden change of circumstances, there was always this one person who was with her - her grandfather. He was there to talk to her, advise her, pamper her, listen to her... Every morning, before leaving for school, she would go to his room with her brother and he would give her a 20-rupee note and every evening, they would wait for him to return from work and ransack his bag for the surprise he would get for them. And it was always there - from sweets to ice creams to toys... he never disappointed them. He would help her with her Hindi and Sanskrit lessons, her debates and speeches, and elocution. And he would always have that one point that gave her an edge in every competition. She once delivered a speech of Napoleaon and was not able to find an appropriate end for it. Somehow, the text didn't seem good enough. She recited it before him the night before the elocution. He listened to the entire speech and when she finished, he added - There's not the reason how, there's not the reason why; But to do and to die! That was it! She knew she had got the words that would give her speech the mark she wanted. These lines gave the speech the impact it lacked and she won the competition. Though not many knew that those lines were not Napoleon's, but her grandfather's!
There were many things he disapproved, Maggi and late night TV being few of them. Though he was far much liberal for his age and not biased towards way of living or dressing up! All he would say to her was - Jiasa desh, waisa bhesh (live and dress according to your surroundings) and his own motto in life was the four 'A's' that he stuck to - Adopt, Adjust, Accommodate and Accept. His life and energy surprised her each time. Close to 90, he took care of the entire business, ran a charity trust, published several books every month and was there for the poor and needy always. Stories of his secret charities would reach her every now and then and each time, she would savour that moment for being his grand daughter!
Every morning, she would sit with him while he did the day books and ledgers, and talk to him endlessly. He would listen to everything, keep responding in between to assure her he was listening and would react to few. And there was nothing she could not discuss with him - from college ragging to events to friends! At the beginning of every month, they would make the budget together and at the end of it, they would take a stock of expenses.
After college, he realised that his little girl had grown up and was least reluctant in letting her go and pursue a career. Having set up his business from scratch, he knew and valued the importance of standing on your feet. When she had to leave the comfort of her home towards a promising career, his eyes shone with happiness and pride as he told everyone he met, 'My grand-daughter has got a nice job in Delhi.' Little did relatives' and well wishers' apprehensions deter him for he told them bluntly that he wants to see his daughters as independent as a son. And so the first among many daughters from the conservative business class family set out to make her mark in a new world and not without the approval and blessings of her grandfather.
She bought him gifts from her first salary and he scolded her for spending that much money; but that didn't stop her from buying more gifts for him. Every time, she was to go home, she'd call him and ask what he wanted her to get and would get the same reply, 'I have everything, what will I do with more. You come soon.' Though recently, he asked her to get some bright-colored shirts she brought him last time. He said happily, "I feel young and radiant and everyone compliments me when I wear that shirt." On hearing this, she was happier than ever and got him nice shirts whenever she went home. He would make sure someone went to receive her at the station and he would himself wait for her at the door. The first thing she did on reaching home was talk to him, have tea with him and give him his gifts (being extra careful of removing the price-tags).
The distance between them only brought them closer as they discussed everything while becoming more sensitive to each other's feelings and opinions. His dream was to see her happily settled while she wanted to publish a book dedicating it to him and surprise him. For it was he who encouraged her to write when he read few of her compositions and it was he who published her first book when she was 13. He, somehow, got to know about the book and called to tell her that he will get it published for her. She knew then that what had taken a backseat due to her own hurries and worries would be realized through him. Her surprise was over, but the fact that he loved her compositions made her happy and more confident.
Every time they spoke, he would ask her about new developments, hinting at her marriage; and she would give him the same reply that she needed more time. The last time they spoke about it, she asked him for two months and that she would take a decision by then. He agreed and didn't question her further. All he said was that he wanted to see her happy with someone who would give her the love and respect she deserved. She assured him that she will have someone like that as he and his blessings were with her. And she added, like she always did, that he would even see her children's marriage! He laughed and she smiled. She called him the other day and asked his advise on investments, they discussed her book and she was to send him the typeset copy after reviewing it over the weekend. He, then, told her that he had severe cough and she told him to see a doctor and take home remedies. Their conversation was the usual one - short, crisp with all details and information each one had.
The next day was a bright and cheery one. She thought of calling him in the morning, then thought that she would call him around noon when he would have settled in the shop. It was her father's birthday that day. At half past eleven, she got a call from her father, 'Neha, be calm and listen to me....Dadaji is no more.' She stood, shocked and shaken....her entire world collapsed around her. He had left her without a hint. In a moment, her life had taken a U-turn. She cried, she howled, she rushed to her hometown to see him for one last time.
That day, he didn't send anyone to receive her at the station, he didn't wait for her at the door. He lay there, still and motionless. She cried, she pleaded, she howled, but he didn't respond. He had gone and she couldn't do anything.
Yes, Dadaji has gone and I couldn't do anything. I could not even be by his side. Can't I see him one last time, talk to him, hug him, have morning tea with him, give him all the small and little happiness I could not...just one last time!
Dadaji, I know you are still here with me, much closer now. I can't see you, but I can feel your presence. I don't know how I will move on from here for you were and are my biggest strength and support. You knew you could have asked me for anything and I'd do that willingly for you, but you never did. All you wanted was to see me happy and independent. And it is you who made me who I am today. You were my mother and father and without you, I feel lonely and scared. I know you would hate to see me this way and I don't want to hurt you, but where do I go without you? You said you would be there with me always and you left quietly. I miss you, Dadaji and wish that I could spend all those moments with you that I spent away from you. I wish I could talk to you the way we did... endlessly. I wish I could fulfill your dream to see me settled. I wish I could gift you my book, dedicated to you, and see the happiness and pride in your eyes. I wish I could give you many more bright-colored shirts that you made you look radiant and young. I wish I could do all those things that made you smile and happy. I know you can see me, hear me, but you won't talk to me. I miss you Dadaji; give me the strength to live the life you wanted me to, to fulfill all your dreams for us, to complete the work you left undone. Be with me like you always have, for without you, I am nothing.