“Dada” – This is what we would call my grandfather. He was “Dada” to all – to his sons (my father and two uncles), to his daugther-in-laws (my mother and two aunts), to his friends, to my friends, to my father’s friends, to the gardener, to the maid. This made him equal to all, yet each had his or her own “Dada” just for him/herself. He was very religious (although never fanatic about it), disciplined yet warm. He was about 5 ft 8 inches tall, lean (not an ounce of fat on his 75 yr old body), long face with strong features, a thin sharp nose, grey eye brows, grey moustache and long ears. He had thin grey hair which covered most of his scalp. He would walk with long confident strides with his long cherry wood walking stick. We kids used to run with him or slightly behind him when we would accompany him in on his walks. He was only slightly bent in the back. The walking stick was more of an accessory than a tool for support. He had false teeth and thick glasses. He had no other ailments of old age other than these two. Dada would wake up before sunrise each day, every day (until he became really sick). The first thing he would do before opening his eyes: would place his palms in front of his closed eyes like a book and would recite the “Hand Shloka” –
Karaagre Wasate Lakshmi
Kar Madhye Saraswati
Kar Moole tu Govindam
Prabhate Kar Darshanam.
(Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, resides at the tip of the hands
Saraswati, the goddess of Knowledge, in the centre
Govind resides at the base of the hands
Look at your hands first thing in the morning (and you have seen all Gods))
After reciting these magical words, he would open his eyes and touch his face lightly with his palms. Sometimes when I slept besides him, he would touch my face in the same manner in my sleep, waking me up slightly. After his morning ablutions, he would eat two soaked almonds that my mother had kept on his night-stand the night before. Dada would then proceed for his morning visit to the dairy for fetching milk. I could hear the front door open and him walking out with the rhythmic tik-tok of his walking stick. The opening of the door coincided with the waking up of grandma and mom. By the time Dada was back with the milk bottles, mom would be awake and in the kitchen. She would boil the milk and make tea for Dada, grandmother and herself. The newspaper boy would have delivered his goods by then and Dada would be all set with his hot cup of tea, and the newspaper on the verandah. This was the time when me, my brother and father would be waking up slowly and getting ready for our day at school and work respectively. After his tea, Dada would proceed to do his Suryanamaskaar (Sun salutations) and Pranayama ritual. He taught me and my brother these techniques and their importance, benefits and purpose. Little did I know that in the 21st century even Hollywood would be practicing these and there would be a multi-million dollar industry built around these simple techniques that Dada practiced? His tools were very simple compared to the ones marketed today – an old rug, a loin cloth, and the fresh early morning air.
Until I was in my 3rd standard, Dada would drop me and pick me up from school. My school was less than a kilometer away and so it we would always walk this distance. I guess my fondness of walking has its roots here. Dada was never late to pick me up at the school – rain or shine. In fact he was never late for any commitments he made. I believe when a 60 year old man can be on time for a 8 year old kid every day, there is no reason for anyone to be late for their commitments. I think my obsession with timeliness and punctuality can find its roots with those years when Dada picked me up from school. It annoys me when people commit to a time to me and are not able to keep it up purely because they assume that they can be late (genuine reasons is a different story, sheer tardiness is unforgivable in my world – courtesy Dada).
Dada taught me and brother the very few shlokas and prayers that I know today. “Shubham Karoti Kalyanam”, “Shantakaram” etc were our daily evening prayers. He would light an oil lamp and an incese stick (agarbatti) in our poojaghar after sunset and we brothers would chant these shlokas. This ritual would end with us touching his feet and then pushing our right cheeks for his peck.
During the scorching hot months of the Nagpur summer, we would all sleep on the terrace of our house. Dada was the only one who would sleep in our front yard. I had the duty of keeping a copper flask full of cold water next to his metal framed bed. My father would ensure that his mosquito net was installed properly. The rest of the family would sleep on the terrace. These were the late 1980s. We were growing up and Dada was getting really old. He had trouble reading for more than 5 minutes. I would read to him the newspaper articles that he would point me to. I noticed most of the articles that he would ask me to read were about the Rashtriya SwayamSevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Dada would remark that India was better off when it was governed by the British. He was always very angry with the current state of the Nation (especially with the pseudo secular politicians). I think he believed that the RSS, VHP and BJP will change the course of the country. I did not much understand his anger or disgust about everything then, but thinking about it today, it all makes sense and sadly very little has changed.
Dada passed away in September 1993 on the last day of Ganesh Pooja. I was in my first year of engineering in Karad and was visiting home for the Ganesh Festival. Dada was hospitalized. He was never a believer of modern medicine. He always treated all his ailments – sprains, cuts, wounds, fevers, colds and any other illnesses using traditional Ayurvedic means. It was sad to see him laying on a hospital bed with IV drips and syringes next to him. I am sure he did not cooperate with the treatment. He knew it was his time and there was nothing that modern medicine could do to stop him from leaving this world. He was deeply spiritual and believed in Karma and Moksha. When he breathed his last I was at the hospital in the waiting room. The doctors informed me and asked me to call home and tell the rest of the family. Thankfully, an older relative walked into the hospital and took charge of the situation. I sat next to Dada, looking at his lifeless form, knowing positively that he has attained his Moksha. This was the first time I was experiencing the emotions of “Death of a loved one”. I was sad although I do not remember crying that day or at his funeral. I don’t think he meant for anyone to cry when he passed away, because he truly believed that dying is just as normal as living. I am yet to meet a human being who was so OK with “death”. I think his extensive practice of yoga, pranayama and meditation was instrumental in this. He used to say “If you live with the fear of death you die every day”.
It will be 14 years since Dada left, this September. The ten days of Ganesh Festival is cut down to three in my household. The day of Ganesh Visarjan (when the Ganesha idol is immersed) is marked as Dada’s Shraddha (death Anniversary). Dada continues to live with us in many ways – when we come across the old wooden trunk in the attic, his cherry wood walking stick, when I see Arnav (my brother’s 3 year old son) recite “Shubham Karoti”, when I do the Suryanamaskars or when I see an old man and an 8 year old walking down a street.