Yesterday, while most of the nation mourned the martyrdom of Lance Naik Hanamanthappa K and his nine brave colleagues, and others played politics per usual, our family grieved the death of another soldier: my grandfather, Lt. Col. Badan Singh; a veteran of the second World War, a weaver of magical anecdotes, a man with a most colourful disposition. He was 97 years old, with all his teeth intact and not a denture in sight, and a repository of tales and legends only a nonagenarian could be.
Like in most relationships, ours had its ups and downs. His temper was legendary and I was no featherweight myself. It was only natural, therefore, that we had our share of run-ins, singeing loved ones and not-so-loved ones in the wake of our disagreements.
And yet, as the skin around his eyes softened in to a collection of lines, his personality mellowed too. In the man I had thought to be cast in iron, I found softened indents ready for a proverbial tickle. Little nudges made stories spring, insistent prodding brought forth sagas: of his days in a Rangoon hospital during WWII where he was being treated for malaria and the matron who admonished him for his refusal to eat, of my sister sneaking in to his room as a four-year-old in Chandigarh to bribe him with her pout for kulfis in the afternoon.
In the last few decades he lost his sight to glaucoma and the hearing in his left ear. What he didn’t lose though was a vigour for life. He didn’t trudge through his nineties, he strode through them with his back upright, even after being confined to a wheelchair. He stuck to his dictum of eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a peasant and dinner like a pauper to the last. He remained committed to fitness throughout his life. In fact, in his last few years, incapable as he was of walking like he used to, he’d lie back on his bed and cycle in position, even on the day of his last hospitalization this past Tuesday.
He was a proud man, made most proud by his children and theirs in turn. He was sharp as a tack, keeping his radio by his side at all times, listening to the news and music and refusing to let the impact of age affect the quality of his mind. So much so that my sister and I would be nervous of being caught off-guard when he asked us for our opinions on the state of things; the spectrum of his interests ranging from the American elections to Kohli’s performance in the last one-day international India had played.
As I shouldered the weight of his stretcher on its final journey to the pyre, I felt a stream of tears make its way down my reddened cheeks; the weight of realizing that our conversations were now at an end felt heavier than him. With his life lived and his journey complete, he was now headed to that unknown place of after. And as I saw the flames engulf the stillness of my grandfather, I could only think of how much richer that place would be, now that he was there.
Goodbye, go well.