"Ajja", that's what I used to call my grandfather who passed away on Tuesday, the 8th of September. I had never experienced the loss of someone in my life before. My maternal grandmother expired long before I was born. My paternal grandparents passed away when I was 7 and I never lived with them. Besides, I was too young to understand what death is. When you're a kid, all you really care about is when you'll get to play next; a lost doll is forgotten when a new one comes in and the only pain you feel is when you scrape your knee whilst you're playing. So this came on differently.
Ajja was a jovial man. He was admired for the strength and will power that he had. A gold medalist in law, he practised law till he was 84. He was a philanthropist- always giving away his books and a part of what he earned in charity. Spiritual and an avid reader, he'd read books on yoga, medicine and ancient stories with life-time subscriptions to books like "Yogasudha", "Wisdom" and "the teachings of Swami Vivekananda". He would ask for the newspaper the first thing in the morning, and would watch only News channels on TV. He wouldn't miss a single newscast for anything and I'd fight for the remote with him if any of my TV shows clashed with the newscast. He would remind me to say my prayers before supper every night.
In September 2004, in his 85th year, he slipped and fell in the bathroom fracturing his leg. That's when he stopped practising law and could move around only with a walker. We hired a caretaker for him; he became part of our family, and we called him "Mama". Mama took very good care of him. Besides the routine work that he was paid to do, he would talk to him, see to it that he always kept busy, engaged in activity. He would give him company all day when we'd be at work and on days that he would be on leave to visit his native place, Ajja would feel restless and uneasy. He valued friendship a lot and two of his best friends, Jane aunty and Pradhan uncle would frequently keep visiting him and would not miss his birthday for anything. As years went by, Ajja got weaker and since the past 28 days, he could not stand on his feet. That's when the doctor asked us to accept whatever came our way. He could still recognise all of us and joked around with us.
On the 7th of September, Monday, he looked very tired for some reason. He did not utter a word all day, he did not even speak to Mama. One of my aunts that he's very fond of came to visit but he had no strength to talk to her and to tease her like he did always. He'd always hide her chappals when she'd come and on that day, though he was tired and unwell, he still managed to hold her shoes down with his feet if not hide them. Classic Ajja- jovial and naughty! However, as night set in, he sinked even more and when everyone retired for the day at 12, I felt uneasy. My parents were fast asleep on the loft. I was up till 1 a.m. surfing the net as usual and before turning the lights off, I went over to him and looked at him. His eyes met mine too, and I just knew this would be the last time I'd be seeing him. I gave him a peck on his cheek and when he closed his eyes to sleep, I switched off the lights. I couldn't sleep, I was so sure he'd pass away any minute that I already prayed for his soul to rest in peace. At 2.30 a.m. as I was still awake, he coughed and I went over to him again and tried putting him to sleep. I was scared. For some strange reason, I feared being all alone with him that night. I messaged a few friends who I thought would be awake at that hour but no one replied. Fear gripped me completely and at 3a.m. when I heard him coughing louder I just lay on my mattress scared and confused. I thought to myself, if in the next 5 minutes I continue to feel this way, I'd give up trying to sleep, switch on the lights and take some action. I opened my eyes at 7a.m. when mom woke me up saying "Ajja is no more".
I couldn't digest the fact that he's gone, none of us could. We were expecting him to wake up any minute even after the doctor issued the death certificate. It's only when people started coming in weeping that we realised what had happened. Mama cried bitterly. Of all the people who had come for the funeral rites, he cried the most.
Ajja was to turn 90 next month. He died a peaceful death- in his sleep. It was the 8th of September- Mother Mary's feast for the Christians and Angarika for the Hindus. A good day. He could even meet my brother last month when he had come down from the States for the holidays. He was satisfied and people say he's very lucky in that respect.
I regret a few things though. I regret suggesting my mother to hospitalize him till his wounds get dried up. I regret talking of an Old Age home cum hospital once when my parents faced great difficulty handling him and my mother's health was deteorating. I am glad we didn't go ahead with any of that. Most of all, I regret not staying up that night. I regret not being able to go back in time.
We sometimes still feel Ajja's with us, it's hard to believe he's gone forever. Sometimes I think God has a way of helping us deal with the loss of a loved one... The feeling doesn't sink in too soon, and when it does, time has already done the healing.
Rest in Peace Ajja, you'll always be remembered for your special ways.