My Grandfather died last month at the ripe old age of 94. Which is old, if you consider the years; young, if you were to consider his mental health and general physical state. He wasn’t just a man of principles, he was the one who introduced me to the concept!
My earliest memories of him are as one who always wore khaki clothes with a hat and worked hard at his welding workshop in Poona. I would follow him around all day as he gave orders to his workers and even did a lot of the work himself.
At some point in time (the exact year being lost in the haze of my childhood) his wife (my Granny) died. And Grandpa moved permanently to our farm in Pimplegaon near Ahmednagar leaving the workshop to my eldest ‘mamaji’.
Nothing spectacular about his life you might say, and I would have said the same, had it not been for a weekend trip I made to his farm when I was in college.
Meeting him in his element.
More than the love for him, what drove me there was my newly acquired bike which I was dying to test on the highway. And what more legitimate reason could I have, than ‘to visit my Grandpa’.
The maturity that came with adulthood was showing signs of breaking free from the shackles of my adolescence at that time. And Grandpa was well over seventy-five, matured as mature can be.
And in the gap that spanned our generations, I discovered the greatness of the man.
At first, an awkward silence filled the space between our barter of superficial information on each other’s lives and the people that made up our family. Then he would go about doing his work and I would watch him with great curiosity, much as I did in his workshop.
He would wake well before dawn, complete his daily brush-bathe-etc., then go for a walk around the farm followed by half a dozen noisy village dogs and local kids who hung around him all day. Quite a sight they made as they walked briskly through the slushy fields, inspecting a water channel here, and him staring intently at the ground in many places.
I hadn’t bothered joining them, because my fragile ego reminded me of what happened on previous evening. I had to run to keep up with the pace of this seventy-five-something old man. I had ended up winded and tired, while he walked everywhere effortlessly.
Then came the afternoon and the news that a water pump had broken down in one of our wells. The pump was inside at water level, so a rope was tied to a tree and thrown inside. And before my startled eyes, Grandpa grabbed it and slid into the well! A brief inspection later he pulled himself out at a speed that made even my youthful brain spin.
My newfound respect for his physical strength made me a more keen observer of the way he thought. I began listening to him and paid more attention when my mom spoke of her father.
A man of principles, Parsi principles.
My Grandfather was a man of strong beliefs, some of which may seem out of place in today’s world. He stood by them, and lived by them, while never trying to enforce them on others, not even his close family.
Besides the usual honesty, integrity, and faith in our God Ahura Mazda, he was the kind of man who believed he should not even drink water from his married daughter’s home. So we never had the pleasure of his company in our home for long.
He was from a generation in the past, yet took in his stride the fact that I, a Parsi, got married to a non-Parsi, got divorced, then got married again to a non-Parsi!
My mom agonised before telling him of each of the above episodes, but he always laughed and accepted that times have changed. He simply wished me all the best, prayed that my second marriage worked out fine, and hoped we’d have a child soon!
He was honest enough to believe that all the land he tilled was gained by his own father in a not-so-correct manner (that’s another story for a later time). And he came to terms with the drought that faced the farm, saying it was cursed land. And by doing good and working hard we could redeem ourselves.
He gave a lot of the land away to the locals that worked with the family for years. He made my mother promise that she should never sell the land but cultivate it, or give it away. Preferably we should keep it and that we should all come and spend some holidays there – like my mom and her cousins did all their childhood.
A family man, amid changing times.
Unfortunately, the relationship my mother, her brothers, and their cousins shared as children, was frazzled today thanks to lack of communication, fragile egos, and greed for material wealth.
Grandpa’s only desire was to see his family together and happy. And as I think back now, I do believe at least a part of his desires have been fulfilled.
A week before his passing he stopped eating. And in return for eating he’d want to see some family member or the other. He’d ask for people he’d not seen in a while and who were not very close to him. He’d have nice things to say about people he’d not had much regard for. He forgot his illness and wanted to travel to see my sister’s child in Nagpur and visit his sister in Bombay.
On Thursday, the second of November 2000 his younger son and his family visited his elder son’s home to see their father. It was the first such visit in many years. He just smiled and watched all of them. He cleared his throat and left to meet his wife who was waiting for him for so many years in heaven.
Heaven is where I’m sure he’s gone because that’s where people like him go. He lived with honesty and dignity. And as I told my mom, in the end, I believe he decided to clean up his worldly slate. With a few good words, and heartfelt gestures he brought together his two sons and their families.
In the end, there was no pettiness, only happiness. Something which I hope will continue.
You will be missed. We love you, Grandpa. Farewell.
Ps. In the three days that I was in Poona with my mother for the last rites, I found new value in my relationship with my mother. Met relatives I hadn’t seen in a long time. Talked, shared, and felt something I hadn’t for years with my uncles and cousins. And for that, I have only one person to thank. A man of love and principles.