Of Birthdays, Cake, and Canines

Grief hits me late, I think. It’s difficult for me to put my thoughts into words at instants where I’m feeling emotionally drained, or physically exhausted as a result of the way my emotions work.

I also get really annoyed when people suggest writing prompts to me, but sometimes it takes a kick up the backside to figure out that you need to let your thoughts out.

My paternal grandfather passed away about 2 months ago. It’s not something I was able to address on the blog as quickly as I was able to write about the other losses, because it took me a lot of processing time. To be honest, I think I’m still processing things. I haven’t for example, changed the contact details on my phone. My grandparents residence number still reads “Pune Ajji/Tata”, and it’s difficult for me not to ask about my grandfather when my grandmother calls up. It had become habitual.

Every memory of my grandfather is linked very strongly with my understanding of my father and the relationship I share with him. The paternal side of my family, we’re all very similar beings. Tough people, strict, disciplined, but sharp, humorous, and hard-working.

All my mental images of my grandfather feature a bomber jacket with lots of pockets. The kind you could stuff several things into: sunglasses, an inhaler, a pen, a notebook, even some mints for the kids.  He was organized. Everything had a place, and a time. Nothing could be out of place, not even reprogramming the order of the channels on their cable television.

I think a lot of that came into my grandfather’s personality as a result of his time at the National Defence Academy, where he was the Head of the Physics Department.

Ah, was he in love with that place. Each time I visited Pune, I got the sense that he would do anything to live through those years again. I could see it in his eyes, each time I sat and marveled at the photo albums, and asked him to tell me what my dad was like when he was younger, or I asked him who the people in the photographs were. I could see it when he once forced me to watch the Independence Day parade on television, even though I really did not want to. When I saw it the most was when we celebrated one of his birthdays by visiting the National Defence Academy. It’s the happiest image I have of my dad, his brother, and my grandfather spending time together. We cut cake in the morning and departed for Khadakwasala, where we spent the day doing fun things like walking around and hearing my grandfather narrate stories about the place – with my uncle and Appa chiming in with their own stories. My grandmother used to tell me the funnier side of the serious versions they portrayed – which always bought a smile to my face.

He would never tell you when his birthday was, would you believe? Till today, I’m fazed by the fact that we celebrated his birthday 3 times in the July/August period – yet, it’s one of the most marvelous memories from childhood because I got to eat cake three times in quick succession.

Today’s one of those birthdays. I’ll probably get cake tomorrow to celebrate.

Pune Tata named me, so we’ve been pretty connected in that sense. Considering how attached you become to what people call you, I think he was the first one to ascribe upon me a unique sense of identity – to give me a purpose. Come to think of it, he’s also the first person I remember calling when I felt absolutely lost. In Grade 5, I learnt Newton’s Laws of Motion. I cared very little for Physics for a very long time, so I absolutely didn’t understand why these laws mattered. I remember calling him on the phone – our regular weekend call and telling him I didn’t understand the example my teacher had given me in class. He explained the laws using Cricket. That’s when I realized he got me, despite the fact I only spent three weeks under his wing each year.

Over the years, I understood more facets of his personality. I understood how much routine began to govern his life, and while I was critical of it, it’s only in his death that I understand how routine was a way for him of living life on his own terms and spending time the way he wanted to. Not how others wanted him to spend it.

I think that’s what a lot of us took from his passing.  That’s actually how he spent his final few days – asking to be discharged and taken home, taken to live, independently, on his own terms.

Thinking about things, I can recall him watching NDTV, and me getting super frustrated as a kid because I did not care for stocks – I wanted to watch some Pokemon thing. He yelled at me that day, I still remember, because 1) I accidentally shot a paper pellet past him with a rubber band, and 2) I was being irrationally stubborn about who had control over the television. That night, he gave me ice-cream.

All of that reminds me of my dad. He doesn’t like scolding people or yelling at people either. I find it hilarious. We’ll fight, and then sit in silence for a bit, talk things out, and then go eat something we love, or I’ll be afforded some privilege to do something I like – because I was yelled at.

My dad gets a lot of things I love about him from Pune Tata.

And my grandmother, who I think is the most independent woman in the world? She’s been able to carve out an identity for herself in a lot of ways because of Pune Tata and her exposure to the world through their relationship.

My grandpa gave me not just my name. He also gave me the canines I loathed while growing up, and began to accept as I matured. Just as mine grew, he began to have issues with his teeth – needing to get them pulled out and such.

That didn’t really stop him from eating things he liked.

Like I said earlier, the man lives on his own terms. And that’s what I’m going to miss about him the most. If there’s something I’ve learnt, it’s that you’re responsible for how you spend your time here, and you’ve got to take time out for yourself – no matter how hard it is.

I’ll miss you when I go to Pune, Tata. But I’ll see you around. I know I will.


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