Rewind. Pause. Play


“Let’s see if you can imitate well.” His eyes would twinkle as he’d challenge me to a game he liked to play with me.

“Yesss, let's!” I loved to play with thatha.

He would then hum or whistle a series of complex notes and urge me to reproduce it. He’d listen to me, as I sang with near precision, with pride-filled eyes. As a child, I always refused a direct request to sing for an audience, even if it was family. This was his way of making a diffident young kid break out of her shell and find wings.

Ironically, I won my first ever award at a music competition the year he passed away. The void he created can never be filled but thatha’s presence lingers. Each time Amma makes Jeera rasam, I'm reminded of his musical parody about this comfort food and my face breaks into a smile. Every time I sing or listen to “Jagat Janani”, the kriti in his voice plays in my head; I’m aware it’s the only recorded song, a precious souvenir we have, in his melodious voice.

But, the years have piled on heavily and created a foggy path between me and memories of thatha. It’s as though a videotape of yesteryears has grained out except for bits of clear scenes: His serene face during the daily and elaborate morning poojai; his slender frame supported taut against the wall as he rested his almost bald head on the soft mattress, his supple body belying his age; his easy laugh revealing the slightly crooked line of teeth as he’d narrate funny stories or played silly games with me as I sat on his lap. I’d count his worry lines as they stacked up tall when he raised his eyebrows. I’d look on with a silly grin as he stuck his tongue out blowing air and making it vibrate. He could bend his palm easily enough for the fingers to touch the back of the hand. And, this would fascinate me to no end. He never denied a “once more” request to the inane games I loved and which, I now realize, can exasperate an adult.

When he left without a warning, I felt cheated, robbed of a doting grandparent who could’ve easily lived for many more years. That night of intense grief and unending tears is etched forever. I had slept from the sheer exhaustion of unrestrained sobbing and the shock of seeing the lifeless body of a person I so dearly loved. In my semi-wakeful state, I dreamt that he was still alive and the whole thing was a mistake. It was a dream that recurred in the many months to follow.

Years later, my mother confessed to experiencing a similar dream as mine. Many a time, I’d catch Amma’s eyes go all misty when an old photograph, a song or a recipe scraped at the scab of a wound that never healed completely.  She had lost a parent and her pain was deeper. Her stories of him shine a light on the person who quietly did his duty never expecting anything in return. I can completely imagine him being that person. When extended family and friends speak of thatha, it is easy to believe that he had touched them all, in many ways, by his genuine goodness. I’m bitter about not having an exclusive story to tell.

The pain has been numbed with passing years. But, the fragmented memories spring upon me when I least expect, bringing on a dull ache. I imagine how it would have been to watch my son play in his arms as I once did, to trust his sapience during my troubled adult phases in life, have him cheer me on, or watch his face erupt in joy at my small achievements.

I cup the sepia-tinted impressions together, worried they might crumble to powder. I’m desperate to piece them all together for eternity.


24 comments:

  1. That reminded me of my grandfathers, whom I admired and found intimidating, at the same time. Grandparents play such an important role in children's lives, they leave memories that stay alive for years! I can understand how you wish you could gather all of your thatha's memories and treasure them forever.
    it was a truly beautiful reminiscence, Uma!

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    1. True Shilpa. Having loving grandparents is one of the best things in life. Thank you, dear <3

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  2. What a lovely tribute to your grandfather.

    It's paradoxical and poignant that you say you are bitter about not having an exclusive story to tell. And yet, he clearly touched you - playing the whistling game and giving you the wings to enter the music competition.

    lovely.

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    1. True, he touched me in the brief time I had with him. It's my greed that asks for more. Thank you for reading!

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  3. Uma, more love to you! By writing this post, you have immortalised your memory. By writing this post, you have planted your thatha's kindness in all of us. From us, it would reach so many hearts. His memories will live till this gorgeous world stops tolerating humanity. But that won't happen in the near future. Thank you for sharing yourself with us!

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    1. Thank you, Deepika, for your kind words.

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  4. I'm so very sorry for your loss. You do a good job of incorporating non-English words into an English story.

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  5. Lovely tribute to your grandfather. I like the incorporation of non-English words.

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  6. Though time has passed, still I'm sorry for your loss.
    This has some lovely scenes. I'm glad you shared a glimpse of your grandfather with us.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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  7. Grandparents are like that, aren't they? They seem such big parts of your lives, but pinning down a story about them can elude you. I think it's clear your grandfather had an impact on your life, and the sum of the moments you can remember are still important to hold on to. :)

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    1. They are the best! Thank you, Melony :)

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  8. This was so easy to relate to. Lines like - I’d count his worry lines as they stacked up tall when he raised his eyebrows. All children seem to love doing that. Hold onto those pieces.

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    1. Thank you, Tara! Glad you could relate to this piece :)

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  9. I loved the last two lines, but also the part about being bitter about not having an exclusive story to tell. Very sentimental and loving.

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  10. Very nice tribute. Filled with genuine emotions.

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  11. I loved reading this piece, it made me nostalgic about good old times when I could rely on endless stories and sweet treats on demand from people who doted on me.

    I don't remember my grandfathers, they passed away way too soon, but I have fond memories of both my grandmoms, their brand of love and affection is something that no one can ever replace.

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    1. Thanks a lot, Shantala for your words! Grandparents have a special place in our lives :)

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  12. I could relate your experiences with mine Uma, especially the story telling, the elaborate pujai and so much more. For some reason while reading this post I felt I was reading about my own thatha. The bond between a grandparent and grandchild is sometimes ever more selfless than that of a parent and child. You were blessed to have experienced his company and be showered by his love. A beautiful ode to a dear thatha. Love and hugs.

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    1. Thank you, Kala! It was a difficult post to write.

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