At a point in time in 2008, I was a “heavy” Facebook quiz user, and it was fun. Lately I’ve realized the only quizzes I want to indulge in are the ones that seem to be pointing towards something I’d like to see. For instance- if I got storytelling (er) on this one and was very tempted to share it. I do not think I would be thrilled to share this update, if I were getting something like you are an engineer- even though that would (also) be true. Wonder what the other options are- find yours here.
After school, at 17 when I decided I was going to be an Engineer, I thought oh I wanted to know how conversation goes from one mobile phone to another without a wire (not that I understood how wired communication on our landline phone worked either). The Motorola mobile phone had been an attractive toy after the pager that my sister and I left a hundred weird messages on (for dad). The power of being able to connect no matter how far a person was from a landline phone was not lost on us. Of course now I seem to have come the full circle with an absolute need to go through a mobile detox many a times- although I use data apps far more than voice.
The need of connectivity in our lives came because of Grandfather.
I’ve always wondered why Grandfather died. He was diabetic for a bit with high blood pressure and had health issues in general. But he was still in his early 60s and had been gardening. Grandmother thinks there was an element of the evil eye. Several others felt that he died because of the shock that he had to leave the home and garden (with roses and pansies) that he built with a lot of effort and care. Something that he fought hard for included keeping his family and a thousand other relatives close by was no longer possible after we had to get into a truck at dawn to save our lives in a bloody Srinagar and create new ones in unknown big cities. As a kid I also overheard how his biggest dream of dying in his “own property” was shattered as he passed away in a rented accommodation in Jammu. I wonder if he thought we were never going back again.
In the winter of 1990 we had already moved to Noida and my parents were restarting their lives in a rented flat which Grandfather had once visited. It was new and we did not yet have a landline telephone. This was much before mobiles and pagers of course. I do not recall if it was a holiday or were we at home all day- but the postman came with a Telegram which had two words: “Aathaji expired”. Grandfather was called Tathya and Tathaji and Tathu Maharaj (by me). We all knew what it could mean. My sister and I took turns at reading it. But we waited for dad to come home from office. There was no way to contact him or call him home earlier. We were also fully in denial. As soon as dad came, he entered our room, where the both of us were in our frocks and on the bed. Mother went straight to the kitchen to get Lipton chai. She came back with a glass full of Chai without Namkeen and the telegram. At first, he still gulped a sip of tea but read it many times over. And the next thing I remember is that a tear fell into his glass. We were all looking at him intently at this point. He said, it is him.
The rest of the evening feels like a blur. I remember the four of us going to a long distance bus station in Delhi (it was too late to get train tickets and we were not going to fly in those times). I faintly remember mom wearing a pink printed saree. We must have fallen asleep in the night bus. The next thing I remember is being in Jammu. Dad was lying in Grandmother’s lap and howling. Grandfather had already been cremated. Dad kept howling and crying that he was informed too late. I have a faint feeling mom was also saying this, but not so aggressively. It seemed like everything had crashed in his world. I do not remember being emotional but I remember feeling out of place. As if everyone was watching me. Other younger kids were playing. Adults kept repeating stories. We heard the story of how Grandfather was getting ready to go out to distribute some cards. He in fact also told Grandmother about buying her a new saree, she said. And then he was gone, in a blip. People fasted. I didn’t know what to do and I went to his room and found his blanket on a morning that felt unusually cold. My fully grown aunt cried, snatching it away from me, claiming that the blanket was her father’s ( and thus for her). She was unable to stop competition with a child in her sorrow. I went salt-less for a day to honour his love for salt. It was mom’s idea- the salt fast.
After several days of mourning everyone seemed exhausted. And so, all of us watched Kitty entertain us and dance on “Tamaa Tamaa loge”. We marveled at her ability to be such a great dancer at 3. She was in demand. Elders in sorrow found their respite in her performances. I wonder if it is possible to feel sorrow for more than a fixed time. Our human reflexes must kick in- fight, life has to go on and all that profound shit that adults say. Except that it was confusing. Grandfather had died. We were late. Because of a phone.
We reached home and promptly passed on the phone details of our neighbours to our relatives for further such emergencies- as if they were guaranteed. They gladly obliged. There were these awkward and random phone conversations to begin with. Through years, every new communication and device brought its own awkwardness along. Till, it became intuitive and natural. The wireless phones made me an awkward Engineer. Till, sharing that awkwardness became addictive, eloquently or not- but then in the psycho quiz- sure, I got storytelling.
Maybe I think of them like Sue Monk Kidd says,
“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”