You are told that death is the ultimate truth. That what comes will one day have to go. You know that it is near, when you see the hands that held you as a baby, the very hands that you clasped tight while you took your first step, start seeking your hand for support as they climb down a flight of stairs. You know that at 84, your grandfather is frail, fragile and yet you salute his spirit of life. And then as he complains of a tummy upset, you shoot off orders on what he needs to eat. And then suddenly, while you’re busy with mundane chores, your phone rings and it changes your life, turns it upside down and puts a weight on your shoulders that you’re unable to bear. That’s exactly what happened to me on 20th August.
My grandfather was a zestful young man at heart. At 84, he was the most social person in our family of six. He always had visitors, phone calls and a ton of plans. Six months ago, he was in Pune for an event (he loved attending those, and I loved accompanying him) and he fell down in the bathroom injuring his left arm. The injury put him on house arrest. He looked miserable. One round to the hospital for an X-ray and he came back with a glow on his face. Yes, he was that social. He’s been unwell off and on for the last few years. And every time he mentioned something about his passing away, I’d brush off the topic with a smile, “Papa you’re going to hit a century, you’ll see.” And when two weeks ago he complained of severe backache, that’s exactly what I told him. He needed a surgery and it was scheduled for after Ganeshotsav – his favourite time of the year. Things seemed fine. My grandfather, my Papa was going to hit a century, I was convinced. A tummy upset didn’t change my conviction and when he was admitted to the hospital to deal with the tummy upset, I thought it was just a minor visit.
I woke up bright and early, and visited him my mom in tow. My darling Papa always walked tall, and always smiled. But in the hospital, his smiles would be forced. As I looked down on him lying in bed, I felt a fear grip me from within. I wasn’t used to seeing him look so frail and tired. “You look cool in the scrubs,” I said. It was my standard greeting to him on so many of his earlier hospital visits. And my brahmastra (the ultimate weapon) was making him speak to my sister, who he admitted was his favourite granddaughter but only by a millionth fraction. He’d light up at the mention of her name. So I rang her up in New York and put him on the line. Though my sister’s voice invigorated him, he quickly looked tired again. What I thought was a routine visit, ended up being the last time I saw him awake.
I spent my Sunday cooking, cleaning, doing the chores. Some time around evening, my mom called to tell me that my grandfather was critical and was shifted to the ICU. It felt like a déjà vu. He’d been into the ICU about 9 years ago, and though I remember being really scared then, I knew he’d be just fine this time. I was wrong. His age, the complications and the illness made things difficult for the doctors. We spent the next 30 odd hours praying that the man who lived a filmy life filled with incredible anecdotes, would add this little anecdote to his list. I sincerely believed he’ll wake up and point at the doctors and laugh. And fight he did. In the ICU he kept swinging between improving and deteriorating. And when finally his body started to give up, it sunk in. My grandfather had decided to surprise us all. He was going to give up this fight.
I looked at him – intubated, breathing artificially and I knew he was still in there. I wept. I wept because as I read him the Ramaraksha, he wasn’t awake to correct me where I mispronounced. I wept because I hadn’t said enough I love yous. I wept because I was looking at the nurses take his vitals, trying to determine when he’d be gone. It was the worst 36 odd hours of my life. He went peacefully around dawn, a time when he usually woke up. Everything after felt like life on autopilot.
I heard reassurances, words of encouragement to be the strong one. But it wasn’t sinking in. He lay in his living room. His chair, his glasses still in place like he’d wake up and take charge of the morning papers. His last journey on a flower adorned truck caused a traffic jam. And both me and my father smiled through tear stained faces. He always joked about wanting a traffic jam for his last journey. The rituals, the goodbyes, they just seemed to drain me away. Even as friends, family, acquaintances streamed in to offer condolences, there was a vague sense of calm. Because he made me believe in destiny. And this, however unfortunate, was his final destiny.
My grandfather was a destiny’s child. Born in a family of modest means, he thrived on his mother’s ambition for him. He left Malvan to go and find work in Solapur but someone stole his suitcase and he landed up in Mumbai. He worked hard to make ends meet and then ended up setting up a successful business. The good times rolled and bad times came, but through the bad times, he was determined to make it big again. Make it big he did. Both my father and grandfather built a business that is today synonymous with every Marathi household. I always joked about how filmy his life was.
A father to three sons, his desire for a daughter was fulfilled with the birth of his eldest grandchild – me. He doted on me. He doted on me and my sister so much that he left our lives enriched. I took annual trips to Malvan, his hometown, with him. The 12-hour car drive was a delight. I discovered my grandfather on these trips. Filled with endless anecdotes, tales and more, the trips have a special place in my heart. Someday, I’ll have the strength to revisit these trips and pen them down. Someday, I’ll try to write about the man that he was, and the man that he became. But today, I write this because it is the one thing he took great pride in – my writing. While I wrote my first novel, struggled to publish it and on the day of the release, my Papa was a proud grandfather all throughout. “I thought I’ll make my first English speech at my granddaughter’s book launch,” he said at the event as he spoke with pride I had never seen before.
My grandfather was many things – a journalist, an astrologer, an orator, a businessman, a copywriter, an editor, a public figure, a religious scholar, a film buff, a music aficionado. He gave me his passion for words, love for searching for a deeper meaning in religious rites, poetry and more. He gave me his passion for cinema. What more could I have asked for?
There were times when my rationalist approach to religion, modernist outlook clashed with him. And he always heard me out, giving me his inputs without ever forcing his view on me. He taught me to speak my mind, to be my own person. And yet, most people knew me as his granddaughter. People would ask me, “Are you related to Jayantrao Salgaokar?” And I’d proudly say yes. My ambition in life was that people should one day ask Papa, “Are you Shakti’s grandfather?” I hope to do something that makes him point down from the heavens and say, “You see her? She’s my granddaughter.”
Most things I needed to know about life, I learnt from my grandfather. And it is rather poetic that handling grief, bearing a great loss became his final lesson to me with his death.
I lost a piece of my heart on 20th August, 2013. But I also know that a piece of his heart will always remain alive in me.