In memory of my grandfather, Raj Kumar Jain (1952-2022)
The last time I saw my Nanu, it was on a hot summer afternoon, earlier in May.
The last time I saw my Nanu, It was almost as if I didn’t recognise him.
So much had changed. He was a frame of bones and skin, wearing clothes that were many sizes too large for his shrinking body. I had never seen him look that way in my twenty-two years.
I remembered him differently. I remembered his wide smile, roaring laughter, the eagerness with which he spoke to me loudly on the phone, as if he was making a long-distance call in another era, despite being adept at technology. ‘Beta awaaz nahi aarahi hai!’, he would exclaim, ‘Zor se bolo’; the way he scolded all those around him, but equally the way he showed us his love in a multitude of different ways.
The last time I saw him, he was wearing a striped blue shirt, a pair of trousers, his rectangular glasses perched on his face, a classic outfit for him. His phone was in his pocket, as it always is, but he made no attempts to look at it even when it rang. It was almost as if he didn’t hear it at all.
Those who knew him (and perhaps even those who didn't) knew that he was unafraid of speaking his heart. He would say exactly what he felt, despite the consequences, calling you out and asking all the questions he wanted. And he loved to talk; he could keep talking to different people all day. The last time I saw my Nanu, he didn’t ask me any questions. He didn’t complain about how I never call him; he didn’t complain about how I don’t come to meet him often enough. But I wanted him to.
We sat outside in the grass with the fan creating the illusion of an evening breeze. His face was shining in the soft evening sunlight. He looked so old, older than ever before. As he was sitting, with his eyes closed, I watched him. I thought about the photographs Nani ma had shown me from their honeymoon, where he stood tall posing in his flared trousers. I thought about the polaroids in the archive of photos and how his thick, black and wavy hair sat at the top of his head; his black moustache and mischievous smile were hard to miss. Those photo albums where he was surrounded by people, some I vaguely recognised, others I didn’t even know. He was always surrounded by people. His phone was always ringing, or he was ringing someone or the other. He was always a people person, roaring with laughter, chatter and joy.
It was only when Mom made him eat food that I saw a glimpse of that joy in his eyes. She made him eat palak paneer, which is his favourite. Food is a memory that is synonymous with his memory of him. ‘Kuch khilaygi nahi?’, he would always say, at every meeting, no matter what day. He would never leave without eating or let you leave without eating, regardless of where he went and who he was with. It was his way of loving, perhaps.
Later in the evening. Mom pointed at the pink flowers that grow in bunches along with the bougainvillaea and asked him If he remembered anything about them; he gestured to his neck and said she would make necklaces by stringing them together. At one point he was about to scold her, and when she knew exactly what he was going to say, a smile crept up on his face. ‘Bas main bol sakta ho ye, aur koi nahi’, he whispered. I made rings by stringing together the pink flowers and putting them on his fingers. He smiled.
A morning walk, a visit to the temple, an orange chandan tilak; a golden pocket watch, a drawer of treasures, a collection of coins, a book of stamps, bags full of postcards, a Nikon camera with multiple lenses, a heavy Godrej typewriter; a long chat with a friend far away, multiple phone calls to say ‘i love you', open mouth kisses left on our cheeks, his shirt pocket full of flowers the last day he met me.
This list of memories, though, will never reflect his existence like one singular being does. The one who carries him inside her, forever a daddy’s girl; my mama. A photograph comes to mind. It’s black and white and was in the drawing-room in a frame for the longest time. It has been etched in my memory; a seven-year-old Kaveri dressed in a lehenga sits on the shoulders of a young and handsome Raj. He has his camera around his neck because it’s a school event, and he’s been taking photos of her as he always does. I’ve had some beautiful memories with my nanu, but beyond those, the ones that forever will stay with me are the stories and memories of him and my mama; of how he carried her from the car up the stairs to the room every time they returned home late because he wanted her to stay asleep, or how he would always buy her bunches and bunches of tube roses, or how he scolded her as she scolded him back, yet in the end, he always listened to her.
Yesterday when he passed, it rained here in Scotland as it rains in Delhi. It was a heavy downpour, not the regular soft drizzle. The ground smelt like the wet soil back home, and then there was sunshine. A rainbow emerged in the sky outside my window. It was as if it was his way of saying goodbye to me.
I will always remember Nanu as he wanted to be remembered; happy, laughing, eating, talking, full of life, and my mama’s papa.